The Agriculture Ministry’s recent move to assign government officials to various States for assessing damage to standing crops due to unseasonal rain seems to indicate the reluctance of the government in adopting new technologies.

Relying too much on manual intervention, at a time when things can be done faster and more accurately and at a lower cost using technology, may be inappropriate and undesirable.

Reluctance to change The government depends on inputs received through an organisational structure with a village-level officer at the lower rung estimates on area under various crops, estimating yields around harvest time, assessing damage to crops. The use of statistical methods in such estimations is fine. However, in most cases, the initial input coming from the ground level might be an approximate one given the resource constraints at the disposal of the officials concerned. Errors in the basic unit of data collection will only magnify as one goes on aggregating at higher levels.

As a result, the government has to come out with nearly four estimates for yield and production data and the final figures are published almost a year later. Further, there are chances of wide variations between the initial estimates and the final data, which distort supply-demand scenarios, leading to loss to farmers and consumers.

In cases of damage to crops due to vagaries of the weather, the compensation calculations take time and the needy farmer might have to wait longer to get compensation. Worse, there could be errors of inclusion and exclusion when crop loss estimates are done manually.

Faster, cheaper & reliable The answer to such problems lies in tapping remote sensing technology.

Satellite-based technology has made tremendous progress and it is possible to assess the area covered by a crop at different stages using direct images or on the basis of the wavelength of the colours reflected by the crops. This can help provide near accurate estimate of the area under a particular crop.

The same can be tracked at different stages of the crop, right up to harvest. Satellite images that can map heat produced can also be used to estimate the approximate yield of a crop, after correlating the actual yield with the wavelengths produced by the crop at harvest stage.

Ease in compensating The same logic can be extended to assessing crop damages, not only due to weather abnormalities but also severe pest or disease incidences.

Superimposing the satellite maps with revenue maps can help in identifying the exact field or farm that has suffered damage and the compensation can be worked out at a much faster pace.

The Centre can, in fact, use the faster compensation mechanism as a means to encourage States to hasten and complete computerisation of land records and use GIS for maintaining land records.

Timely assessment of crop production will help in identifying the supply-demand scenario and some price ranges too can be arrived at, which can be disseminated to farmers. This would help farmers in taking decisions on holding or selling their stocks and plan for the next crop as well.

Accurate and near real-time information can also enable crop insurance companies to develop better products that are more useful to farmers. And all this is possible using extant technologies, perhaps with some fine-tuning and customisation to the agricultural sector. It is high time that we make a quantum leap from human dependent interventions to technology-based ones in agricultural data collection.

Ways ahead The government is using remote sensing technology in natural resource management, with agriculture and soil as one of the nine areas that have been included for enabling application of remote sensing technology.

ICAR institutes such as Indian Agricultural Statistics Research Institute can collaborate with National Remote Sensing Agency for initiatives in developing the model for data collection and analysis. Needless to say that agricultural data collection through modern technology will help not only bring in structural changes but also in capacity building of manpower.

Aashish Argade is pursuing Fellow Programme in Management at IIM Ahmedabad. Enamul Haque is Director at TransRural AgriConnect Services. Views are personal.