Can Tech-innovation Serve as the Panacea to Age-old Agricultural Challenges?
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Agriculture is one of the most important sectors of Indian economy and contributes about 17 % to the GDP of our nation. The technology advancements in farming evolve, as the demand for agricultural products increases with increase in population. The conventional agricultural practices had many drawbacks like huge water needs, higher greenhouse emissions, lower productivity per hectare, top soil depletion, unmonitored pesticide/fertilizer usage etc.
Advances in technology like internet, machine learning, GIS, AI, IoT, data analytics, biotechnology etc. are now supporting the farmers in building solutions for most of the conventional problems in agriculture. However, the lack of clear government incentives for high-end food technology start-ups and a dearth of large-scale cooperative farming initiatives, continue to remain as challenges.
According to Dr. Asharaf S, Associate Professor, Indian Institute of Information Technology and Management, Kerala, the latest farming approaches like precision farming, vertical farming, hydroponics etc require efficient technology interventions to ensure better productivity.
Food Technology Fast-Changing the Agricultural Scene of India
“The farmers can know the crop patterns, climatic conditions, crop monitoring, water needs, market demand, future forecasts etc. with better technology connectivity. Smart and intelligent supply chain networks can fine tune the food supply chain and cut down waste significantly. Moreover, with mobile apps and online portals, farmers are given free education regarding the best crop patterns, farm practices and marketing strategies,” shared Dr. Asharaf S.
According to Ravi Jakhar - Founder, True farm Foods, from Aquaponics and vertical farming to remote irrigation, the farming world over is witnessing a giant leap towards future.
“Indian agriculture is still in a very nascent stage of food tech advancements. But it’s already showing concrete results. Technology is enabling farmers to produce more, and reach markets faster and they are exploring new products based on science and nutrition. Advanced processes allow rural entrepreneurs to improve earnings,” he notified.
Problems and Solutions Addressed through Tech Innovations
Today the biggest problem with food and the agriculture sector is the challenge of increasing yields and reducing wastage in the supply chain. “Technology provides an answer for both. Think of cities that are self-reliant with consumers getting fresh local produce. That's the end goal technology can deliver,” asserted Jakhar.
However, technology in last two decades has primarily been associated with genetic engineering and large-scale processing, both of which actually destroy the nutrients in our food.
“It’s time we look at technology to improve our food, not by adding harmful chemicals, but by researching means to enhance nutrition, because that is what human race needs from the food we eat,” proposed Jakhar.
With the exponential growth in human population and dwindling fertile land, the dependence on existing farmland is increasing. Global warming and other climate changes are also reducing the crop yield drastically. We need technologies that can produce more food from less land at cheaper cost.
However, most of the farmers are unaware of latest farming practices, crop patterns, demand-supply ratio, market predictions, using mechanized tools, weather updates etc. Technology can provide solutions through online marketplaces (like eNAM, Kisanpoint, farmer portal etc.), which connects farmers across the country and helps to sell their products directly to customers and gain better profit.
“Mobile apps (like Mannu, RuBSIS, Kshemam etc.) which provides timely information to farmers to yield better profit and the Climate Resilience Farming (CRF) practices are other tech innovations which make smart weather forecasting using big data analytics,” shared Dr. Asharaf.
Entrepreneurial scopes in the food-tech space
Entrepreneurs have a huge potential in the agriculture and agro-allied sector of Indian economy as a large portion of rural India is still devoid of latest technology advancements in agriculture.
Some of the prominent areas having tremendous business potential and social value in the agriculture domain are smarter farm connectivity, crop information portals, drones, soil nutrient monitoring, payment systems, online marketplaces, farm machinery supplies, storage and warehousing services, remote farm access, low cost energy solutions, desalination of water, bio-waste management equipments etc.
“Due to lack of labour force, many developed countries have also started developing farm-bots (robots) to performing farming activities,” informed the professor. “Agriculture is the ever-growing industry as the world appetite is increasing with the population growth. So investing in agriculture and exploring better solutions to improve productivity will always be a profitable venture,” he appended.
Jakhar maintained that there is an immense opportunity in providing fresh organic supplies in the cities with hydroponics, aquaponics and tech-enabled vertical farms. “There are abundant opportunities for tech hardware companies to build smarter irrigation and other farming equipment. There is a huge demand for soil microbiology scientists who can work on yield enhancements without using chemical fertilizers. The list of opportunities is endless from farming and processing to logistics and equipment!” he enthused.
Creating Cost-effective Tech-Solutions
Industry experts today feel that there is an enormous scope of automation in agriculture one of the oldest industries of mankind and aquaponics is the way for developing small automated farms. It is time to build intelligent, self-cleaning, aquaponics systems that help people grow completely organic food in the comfort of homes while solving the urban farming needs of the people in a cost-effective way.
Ashish Khan, Founder, Crofters Technologies Pvt Ltd, an Indian startup in the agri-tech industry, is building smart indoor gardening products for urban dwellers.
“It is time we work towards a sustainable, diversified agriculture with a range of products and technologies that empower people to grow local fresh food and apply the core strengths of IoT on a more fundamental problem,” shared Khan.
“We are bringing them an experience like never before, a technology-driven approach to solving the urban farming needs. Our technology will help our clients save 80% water on gardening and urban farming. We are also empowering them with data to grow food,” he concluded.