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India is embracing technology and the Internet, thanks to its low tariff rates for data, access to budget-friendly smartphones, and government initiatives such as Digital India and BharatNet. The recent Nokia annual Mobile Broadband Index (MBiT) reported that 99 per cent of the country’s data consumption is via 4G services, and around 16 crore smartphones were shipped in 2021; the highest so far.
So how are things looking in rural India?
The Internet phenomenon is also making a huge impression here with an estimated 20 per cent more Internet users compared to their urban counterparts, based on a study by Nielsen. The report further expands that there is still room for growth since only 40 per cent of the rural population are active users as of now.
Setting the stage for agritech
With technology and the Internet reaching more and more people in the country, agritech becomes a more viable reality as well. What exactly is agritech? In the most basic definition, it is the use of tech within the agriculture ecosystem to help improve, yield, quality of yield, and ultimately profitability for the farmers.
Why is agritech important? In terms of numbers, India has an economic potential of $50-65 billion through digital agriculture by the year 2025, according to a report by the ministry of electronics and information technology and McKinsey & Co. The implications are massive, and this could translate to a 23 per cent increase in the current value of agricultural produce in the country.
Horticulture in India
It will be an incomplete picture talking about agriculture without touching upon horticulture considering the value it brings to the country’s economy. The sector produces about 320 million tonne of horticulture products in the country and contributes around 33 per cent of the total gross value added (GVA). Furthermore, an incredible 33 per cent of agricultural value is added by this segment alone coming from just 10 per cent of the land under horticulture.
The value of horticulture as an industry can’t be understated. Just as how technology is helping agriculture, the same principles apply to horticulture.
The problem with the current system
As for where things stand, without technology in agriculture or horticulture, there are serious challenges ahead of us.
Impact on climate change: As the global population increases, so does the need for more arable land to grow more food. This is done by reclamation of forest lands which ultimately leads to fewer green cover, increased global temperatures and higher production of greenhouse gases.
Poor farm management: As the dependence on artificial fertilisers and pesticides grows, the fertility of the land diminishes over time. Overuse of these farm inputs greatly affects the health of the farm, leading to poorer harvest and even poorer quality of crops.
How technology in farming helps
Challenges are aplenty but with tech on our side, addressing these issues will be a lot easier. Technology tackles a lot of the pain points and makes farming a lot more streamlined and easy on the environment. It does so by:
Hyper local climate forecasts: Predicting local weather conditions greatly helps in preparing farmers against adverse climatic conditions and also planning out seeding and harvesting cycles.
Better yield at cheaper costs: An informed farmer is able to make scientifically-backed decisions in a timely manner which helps in achieving better quality products at a cheaper cost.
Environmentally friendly and sustainable: Thanks to the precision in farming processes, agritech helps farmers reduce wastage of water through smart irrigation and prevent wastage of farm inputs through Variable Rate Application (VRA). This helps in reducing costs and minimizing environmental impact.
Unlocking agritech in India
Currently, there are two key factors that are making a dent in the global food supply, the pandemic and the ongoing Russia war on Ukraine. In a country like India which has 58 per cent of its population employed in the agriculture sector, it is even more important to reinforce this industry and make it resilient against external forces. In addition to public-private partnerships (PPPs), the following measures can also expedite this transition:
Access to the farm-related data stack: It has been shown that farm-level advisories computed through datasets can improve productivity by 15 per cent. Data stacks like the Indian Digital Ecosystem of Agriculture (IDEA) and Agricultural Digital Infrastructure (ADI) can help farmers as well as policymakers in tackling the various challenges in this sector.
Accessibility: With over 1,500 agritech startups in the country, there is no lack of tech offerings available for farmers. But the problem lies in accessibility for the farmers in rural areas. Luckily, government initiatives such as the Digital Seva Portal (also known as Common Service Centers) are providing various e-governance and business services including agricultural services to rural India through their platforms.
Tie-ups with academic and research institutions: Building credibility around new technology is very important to win the trust of the farmers. This can be achieved by having tie-ups with established academic and research institutions that can test out new agritech solutions on a bigger scale and attest to their effectiveness.
Government support: Government initiatives such as the MDHI, IDEA, ADI and National Agriculture Market (eNAM) are also helping farmers access agricultural technology with enough room for support and incentives to help them transition as easily as possible. Boosting PPPs will also help in keeping the wheels of research turning and building a robust agritech ecosystem in the country.
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been seen across industries and compounded by the ongoing war in Ukraine, the global food chain is under strain. Considering how reliant India is on its agriculture sector, it is very important to seek out sustainable and predictable options. With the increasing rural Internet penetration and access to affordable tech, the shift to tech-backed agriculture is not an impossible feat anymore. With enough startups making headway with innovation in the agritech space, the Indian agriculture sector is ready to embrace technology fully in the coming years.