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Policy Review- Can AI revolutionize Indian agriculture & solve India's Hunger problems?

Updated: Sep 30, 2023


AGRI AI
Can AI revolutionize Indian agriculture & solve India's Hunger problems?

If you are interested in applying to GGI's Impact Fellowship program, you can access our application link here.


 

1.Introduction


The agricultural sector in India is at a turning point. When India gained its independence 75 years ago, agriculture dominated the economy and accounted for more than 50% of its GDP. India continues to be one of the greatest and most diverse food producers in the world, and agriculture which accounts for more than 20% of India's income remains a key sector of the country's economy. However, serious issues prevent the country from reaching its full potential. If the problem could be resolved, a thriving agriculture sector would benefit the economy and greatly enhance farmer livelihoods and revenue.




2.India’s struggle with food security


India is an agrarian economy and roughly half of its population depends on agriculture for its livelihood. However, the country still grapples with food insecurity. According to the UN, there are nearly 195 million undernourished people in India. India’s size, economic growth, and limited land and water resources present a challenge to meet its current and future demand for food.


The four pillars of food security, as per the World Bank, are availability, access, utilisation, and stability. Diving deeper into the relevant pillar - physical availability of food. Food availability addresses the supply side of food and is determined by the level of food production. The prevailing production methods exhibit resource-intensive tendencies. These resource-intensive practices within Indian agriculture have consequently given rise to pressing sustainability concerns. The escalating strain on the nation's water resources requires a fundamental reevaluation and restructuring of existing policies.



FIGURE 1: Data from the Global Hunger Index: India has slipped to 101st position in the Global Hunger Index (GHI) 2021 of 116 countries, from its 2020 position of 94th



Around 85 percent of the agricultural households in India fall under the category of small or marginal farmers and own less than 2 hectares of land. Among these, approximately 70 percent possess less than 1 hectare. The mean landholding per household stands at merely 0.5 hectares, as per the National Statistical Office's data from 2021. However, smallholder farmers contribute 51% of total agricultural output and 70% of high-value crops with 46 percent of operational land holdings. The output of small farms is of enormous importance to meet India’s current and future food demand. Agricultural growth has been fairly volatile over the past decade, ranging from 5.8% in 2005-06 to 0.4% in 2009-10 and -0.2% in 2014-15. Such a variance in agricultural growth has an impact on farm incomes as well as farmers’ ability to take credit for investing in their land holdings.


FIGURE 2 - Source: Agricultural Statistics at a glance,2015; PRS




3.Digital Agricultural Revolution in the 21st Century


The world population is expected to reach 9.8 billion in 2050. The agriculture industry stands at a crossroads where the future demand for food production has doubled while available arable land is only 5% more. Amid this conundrum, a beacon of hope emerges in the form of the digital agriculture revolution – a transformative force offering a panacea for the challenge of meeting the food demand sustainably.


The agriculture industry has undergone notable revolutions in the 20th and 21st centuries that have led to soaring efficiency, yield, and profitability levels. The introduction and implementation of mechanisation between 1900 and 1930; the green revolution of the 1960s that saw the development of resistant crop varieties and the use of agrochemicals; and the rise in genetic modification from 1990 to 2005. As we stand on the precipice of another critical juncture, the digital agriculture revolution beckons, offering a modern-age arsenal of technological marvels – from precision farming and IoT-enabled smart sensors to AI-driven analytics – promising a flourishing and sustainable food future.


By participating in the digital agriculture revolution, India can address the challenge of food insecurity. AI holds immense potential to transform agriculture in India and address various challenges.




4. Agricultural life cycle and emerging technologies


To assess the impact and potential of Artificial Intelligence in agriculture, we must understand the challenges faced by the agriculture industry in the different stages of the agriculture life cycle.



4.1 Pre-sowing


The pre-sowing stage is a crucial phase, farmers have to make many decisions relating to crop and seed selection, soil health, and planting at the right time. Poor planning and preparation during this stage can significantly impact the crop’s growth and overall yield.


Challenges


1. The lack of real-time data regarding weather patterns, soil health, and demand leads farmers to make suboptimal decisions while planting the crop.


2. Farmers have to bear the high cost of purchasing inputs such as fertilizers and pesticides, a huge part of which goes to waste due to inefficient ordering.


3. Planting the crop at the right time can be the decisive factor between a profitable crop and a failed harvest.


4. Limitations of current soil analysis - Due to increasing soil degradation, it is hard for the farmers to determine the quality of the soil. The crop suffers from nutritional deficiencies which cannot be captured and addressed.


5. Need for authentic information on the status of crop production to plan for imports, exports, or buffer well ahead of shortages or surpluses.


6. Crop insurance system - Delayed submission of yield data to assess damages as the system utilizes unreliable data and a lack of trust in the quality of the data.


Digital Solutions


1. AI sowing app - Microsoft, in collaboration with ICRISAT, developed an AI Sowing App, which sends sowing advisories to participating farmers on the optimal date to sow. This application does not require the farmers to install 1. any sensors in their fields or incur any capital expenditure - all they need is a phone capable of receiving text messages.


2. Weather advisory - Meteorology and environmental technology company, BKC WeatherSys, developed a farming advisory app called Fasal Salah. Fasal Salah provides accurate and detailed weather forecasts at the district and village levels. Timely weather forecasts allow farmers to estimate yield, get information about traders, and receive highly personalized weather forecasts. This app also acts as a tool for improving the crop insurance system.


3. Deep Neural Networks -A German-based tech start-up PEAT (Progressive Environmental and Agricultural Technologies) trains self-learning algorithms to distinguish between different patterns that are left by plant diseases, pests, or nutrient deficiencies in India. PEAT has developed an AI-based application called Plantix. Plantix can identify the nutrient deficiencies in soil including plant pests and diseases by which farmers can also get an idea to use fertilizer which helps to improve harvest quality.


Trace Genomics is another machine learning-based company that helps farmers conduct soil analysis. This helps farmers to monitor soil and crop health conditions. Trace Genomics allows insights regarding the measurement and modeling of microbes in the soil. These insights are important for optimal seed selection and the use of seed treatments. Interpretation of soil selection is important to choose the right agricultural management practices.


4. Crop yield prediction model - An AI-powered crop yield prediction model has been developed by NITI Aayog and IBM to provide real-time advisory services to farmers. The system uses AI-based predictive tools to control the wastage of agricultural inputs and warn of pest or disease outbreaks. This system uses remote sensing data provided by Indian Space Research (ISRO), data from soil health cards, the India Meteorological Department’s (IMD) weather prediction and analysis of soil moisture and temperature, etc.

The data and insights provided will provide crucial information which can be used by the farmer to make informed decisions leading to a profitable harvest and reduce wastage.


Emerging Technologies


Technology is being used by suppliers of agrochemicals, fertilizers, and seeds to build direct-to-farmer sales channels that cut out middlemen and retailers. For instance, through its digital portal, UPL (traditionally a core player in agrochemicals) offers mechanized services and agrochemicals to farmers. Additionally, the business has grown to offer market, advice, and financing services. Companies that sell farm equipment have also started providing mechanization as a service to farmers. Mahindra, for example, offers a tractor rental service.



4.2 Post-sowing


After the seeds have sprouted, several factors need to be considered. Each step poses challenges to the farmer due to uncertain conditions. These range from monitoring the soil and crop health to detecting crop diseases and pests.


Challenges


1. Providing irrigation to crops has become difficult due to unevenly distributed water resources and manual irrigation systems. Low per capita availability of water, pollution, and contamination of surface and groundwater pose a difficult challenge for the industry.


2. Weeds compete with the main crop plant for air, water, sunlight, and nutrients. Weeds extend the harmful effects steadily and inconspicuously and the effect is almost unchangeable. Unrestricted growth of weeds can result in yield reduction.


3. Pest infestations can have detrimental effects by disrupting the crop’s ecosystem. Pest damage can reduce the crop yield, quality, and market value of the crop.


4. Crops that are grown in soil with low nutrition value result in poor quality produce due to stunted growth, poor root development, imbalance in nutrition uptake, and delayed maturation. The average farmer does not have access to quality and timely data regarding the nutritional value of the soil.


5. Fertilizers are essential for wide-scale sustainable growth of agriculture. However, smallholder farmers aim for high net returns, leading to over-use of unregulated nontraditional products. Untimely application and over-usage of chemical fertilizers can reduce the quality of the crop and cause disease in the crop.


6. Limited monitoring, lack of knowledge and training, and inadequate technology can lead to failure to detect crop diseases. Small-scale and resource-limited farmers may not have the means to invest in disease management strategies or professional expertise to detect and diagnose diseases.


Digital Solutions


1. Internet of Pumps - An agriculture-based start-up, KisanRaja, delivers innovative and cost-effective cloud-based IoT solutions integrated with wireless sensors, mobile pump controllers, and wireless valve controllers for smart autonomous irrigation. ‘Internet of Pumps’ allow pump sets to be operated remotely. The pumps are connected to a cloud served for monitoring water levels. The ability to monitor water leads to a 12-15% increase in farm productivity and reduces pump maintenance costs.


2. Pest Identification using Deep Learning- Tamil Nadu e-Governance Agency (TNeGA) piloted a farmer-friendly AI-powered solution to help farmers with the early identification of pests and diseases. These are identified from digital images of the crop using a deep learning-based model. This is a low-cost solution that can benefit smallholder farmers as the only technology required is a smartphone. TNeGA’s collaboration with the Agriculture development was able to serve around 10,000 requests in 3-4 months, assisting farmers in their local language.


3. Data fusion - IBM developed a technology platform based on the data fusion approach. Data from the satellites and the IoT-based field data were combined using AI technology to provide timely, localized, and actionable agriculture advisory to farmers. The integration of weather data and field-specific analytics by the AI system empowered Indian farmers to make well-informed choices, resulting in improved crop yields year-round. This offers cost-effective and easily expandable farmer advisory services by combining Remote Sensing, Weather Information, and Local Sensing through IoT.


4. Precision Pesticide Spraying - Niqo RoboSpray uses robotics and AI to make the process of applying pesticides efficiently and reduce costs. A robot with multiple AI-enabled cameras conducts a real-time field analysis and sprays pesticides on the plants, avoiding waste of pesticides being sprayed on the ground. Precision spray farming can save up to 60% on chemical costs and water usage.


5. KissanGPT - KissanGPT is an AI chatbot designed to assist Indian farmers with their agricultural queries, providing real-time advice on crop cultivation, pest control, and more. It bridges the information gap between farmers and experts, providing farmers with knowledge and resources. With its user-friendly interface and multilingual support, KissanGPT helps farmers to overcome the challenges of farming and achieve greater success in their fields.


6. Sustainable Livelihoods and Adaption to Climate Change (SLACC) Project - SLACC is a public-private partnership project of the Government of India and the World Bank to improve the capability of the farming community to adapt to climatic changes and unpredictability. CropIn Technologies is the Agtech partner.


a.SmartFarm - Farm management solution that enables quicker decision-making with the help of prescriptive, predictive, and descriptive data analytics. Farm data calculation through geo-tagging and area auditing of the farm plot.


b.SmartRisk - Machine learning algorithm that provides weather insights at farm, village, and regional levels. An intelligence solution for agri-business leveraging agri-alternative data to provide risk mitigation and forecasting.


c. AcreSquare - A mobile application that allows companies and cooperatives to interact directly with farmers to educate, share content, and provide consultation without the intervention of intermediaries.


This project digitized 12,000 plots providing a positive impact to over 8000 farmers in India. CropIn developed season-wise crop configurations for all the major crops and helped schedule and monitor farm activities.


Emerging Technologies


The industry can benefit from farmer collectivization through easier digital reach. The government has promoted farmer–producer organizations (FPOs), granting $750 million to set up over 10,000 FPOs in the next five years. FPOs collectivize the otherwise fragmented farmer base, helping tech companies (such as Samunnati) to easily access and scale up their business models.


Development of the “agristack”, which will be linked to farmers based on their land holdings. This will enable ag-tech companies to customize offerings and products based on farmers’ needs, which vary by land size, crop sown, and soil conditions.


Digital soil-health cards - A digital soil-health-card program entails mapping soil composition and quality at the farmer level. It could help ag-tech companies in India to promote precision-farming initiatives and tailor offerings for specific farmer groups.


Digitally enabled direct benefit transfer in fertilizer sales. This initiative can directly transfer subsidies for fertilizers and other goods to the farmer. It authenticates the farmer’s identity at points of sale and through verification. It could significantly encourage the adoption of fertilizers and reduce leakages in transportation, maintaining affordability for smallholder farmers.




4.3Post-harvest


This phase is crucial for ensuring the quality, safety, and marketability of agricultural produce before it reaches consumers. The post-harvest stage encompasses various steps and considerations - handling, processing, storage, transportation, quality control, and market access.


Challenges


1. Many Indian farmers, especially those in remote or rural areas, struggle to access markets due to poor transportation infrastructure, limited connectivity, and a lack of organized marketplaces. Fluctuations in commodity prices can leave farmers vulnerable to sudden drops in income. Lack of price predictability makes financial planning and risk management difficult.


2. Middlemen often dominate the agricultural supply chain, leading to price manipulation and reduced profits for farmers. Traders generally charge a fee of 30-60% on the produce. Farmers may be forced to sell their produce at lower prices and face a protracted payment cycle.


3. Quality assaying is done manually, a process that is a time-consuming process that is vulnerable to malpractices. Labs and machines are expensive and have limited availability.


4. The post-harvesting supply chain is unorganized, resulting in the wastage of about 30-40% of produce. Market information asymmetry can lead to unfair deals and unequal negotiations. Predicting consumer demand and matching supply is a difficult challenge.


5. In the conventional supply chain, the journey from production to market spans approximately 24 to 30 hours, leading to significant wastage.


6. Several challenges arise while storing the produce post-harvest. Improper storage conditions can lead to spoilage caused by factors such as humidity, temperature fluctuations, and exposure to pests and diseases. This results in significant losses of agricultural produce. Access to and affordability of advanced storage technologies, such as controlled atmosphere storage or refrigeration, can be limited in some regions, impacting the quality and shelf life of stored produce.




Digital Solutions


1. Quality Assaying - Intello Labs, an agri-tech start-up, uses AI tools such as computer vision and deep learning to grade and monitor the quality of agricultural produce. It provides an image-based solution through a smartphone app. Their application tests, grades, and analyses visual quality parameters of agricultural products. They offer services for nearly 12 commodities. This application reduces the quality testing time from 15 minutes to 2 minutes and provides quality results with higher accuracy.


2. Storage Sensor Analytics - AgNext is working to improve the quality of agricultural produce, using a combination of innovative AI-driven hardware, software, and analytics. AgNext has developed calibrated sensors that encompass temperature, humidity, gaseous emissions, and other pivotal parameters essential for grain silos, warehouses, food processors, and storage services. These sensors offer real-time alerts regarding control metrics and employ data analytics to recommend actions aligning with strategies formulated by research institutions. This serves to improve food quality management.


3. Agri10x - Agri10x created the world’s largest digital agriculture e-Marketplace developed on a consensus-driven blockchain network. This platform consists of AI programs and provides features such as instant payment, quality assaying, competitive pricing, and storage and logistics support for farmers. The inbuilt AI engine analyzes data on differential prices of produce and then arrives at the minimum and maximum price for that commodity. This uses several algorithms which take inputs from multiple factors, including quality, transport costs, demand-supply trends, and commodity prices.


Farmers enrolled in the platform engage directly in trade with buyers, bypassing the intermediary requirement. Following the completion of a sale, the respective farmer promptly receives a digital payment. Traditionally, farmers have had to endure a waiting period of 45-60 days to obtain payment from traders. Agri10x takes a 6 percent cut from each transaction, a notable contrast to the 30-60 percent commission typically levied by middlemen. This platform, functioning as a marketplace, facilitated the connection between farmers and buyers across both domestic and international markets. Agri10x played a pivotal role in enabling farmers to export commodities to countries within Southeast Asia and the Middle East.


4. FarmPal - Pune-based agri-tech company FarmPal organizes the post-harvest supply chain, providing farmers better access to alternate markets and fair prices for their produce. Farmpal predicts demand and matches farmers' supply to keep wastage below 5%. The company uses Oracle ERP historical supply-demand data and places an AI layer over ERP to curate historical data. AI extracts insights from the accessible data to find fluctuations in demand, considering peak and off-peak days in a week for each customer segment. Additionally, AI can anticipate seasonal changes for individual stock-keeping units (SKUs), such as the surge in demand during festive periods and similar occurrences.


Emerging Technologies


Firms, including banks and nonbanks, primarily engaged in providing finance through farm and rural loans, are using technology to understand the farm, provide targeted products, and reduce loan risks. For example, the State Bank of India (SBI) developed the YONO Krishi app to meet farmers’ finance, inputs, and advisory needs.


The pan-India electronic online trading portal connects existing Agriculture Produce Market Committee (APMC) mandis, forming a unified national market for agricultural commodities that ensures better prices for farmers through the transparent auction process. Additionally, the government announced its intent to build an open-source digital public infrastructure that will likely support techs with relevant information services across the value chain.




5. Ground Reality: Can AI solve India's food crisis?


In the dynamic and evolving landscape of modern agriculture, the voices of farmers are essential to gain insights into their experiences, challenges, and expectations.

We surveyed the Peddapalli district of Telangana state in July 2023 to engage with farmers from diverse backgrounds. By tapping into the wisdom of those who work the land, this survey provides valuable insights that can inform agricultural policies, innovations, and sustainable practices.




Due to the lack of structured digital platforms offering essential information for productivity enhancement, farmers resort to informal sources such as word-of-mouth, generic broadcast content, or agricultural suppliers. However, these sources could be inadequately informed or motivated to suggest incorrect products or excessive usage.


“ We are very interested in adapting to those technologies which will allow us to develop in agricultural production but have a fear of being insecure of data we provide to the field of financing.”

- Small-holder Farmer (30yrs of experience)


Many platforms already provide farmers with a broad range of goods and services to address various, significant pain points. These one-stop-shop agri-ecosystems are also building a physical supply network and backbone, which makes it simpler for established businesses and new ventures to reach the dispersed farmer base. Agtechs have a chance to develop into the perfect partners for businesses looking for market access. In this case, existing agriculture companies are adding value for the farmer by providing more effective and affordable access to the farmer than traditional setups that require a lot of people. Greater the extent that ag-techs understand the farmer, the better products they can create.


“ As a Software employee, I know these digital technological services will nurture the lives of people in the agriculture ecosystem but I think there should be more involvement with farmers in ground-level implementation.”

- Agriculturist ( Ex-software engineer)


For many decades, India's fields have provided food for both India and the rest of the world. Digital technologies have the potential to improve production at every stage, from quality agricultural inputs to top-tier agricultural products. This might increase economic fortunes in rural areas in a healthy ecosystem and benefit the overall economy.




Meet The Thought Leaders



Subham Rajgaria is a mentor at GGI an undergraduate from IIT Kharagpur. He is a MBA candidate at HBS. He has worked at firms such as Westbridge capital and Mckinsey & Co.









Meet The Authors (GGI Fellows)



Abhinav Laisetti - A young thinker who enjoys making sense of chaos, is inspired by challenges in climate space specifically in the fashion industry to come up with beautiful solutions to unexpected issues, as a recent grad in science from Hindu College DU, curious to join results-driven team to tokenize the problematic situations to make an impact in the larger scale.





Ojasvi Chandel is a business analyst with 3 years of experience working with an Investment Bank. She graduated from Christ University, holding a Bachelor’s Degree in Commerce. She is deeply passionate about solving problems and creating meaningful change and is continuously acquiring new skills to prepare for her future career endeavors. She is an ardent mountaineer and enjoys spending her time surrounded by dogs.




Amit Chalia is an engineer turned finance professional who brings along a unique combination of operational and investment experience. He started his career in the investment banking industry. He has had progressive investment roles while working on sector-agnostic transactions, right from origination to completion. He was working as a Manager for the Bank of India, a multinational banking and financial services.




Rieya Gupta, preparing for the civil services examination has done a post-graduation in Analytical Chemistry. She aims to bridge the gap between science and business to help build sustainable policies. She is also a keen painter and loves playing chess and a 'geek' bookworm.







Roopal Gupta is an IIT Guwahati Design graduate with a passion for creating exceptional user experiences. She works as a dedicated UX designer, crafting interfaces that bridge form and function. In her free time, she is an avid traveler with a knack for dance and art.








If you are interested in applying to GGI's Impact Fellowship program, you can access our application link here.


 

References


● IBM AI and Cloud Technology Helps Agriculture Industry Improve the World's Food and Crop Supply - https://newsroom.ibm.com/2019-05-22-IBM-AI-and-Cloud-Technology-Helps-Agriculture-Industry-Improve-the-Worlds-Food-and-Crop-Supply

● Microsoft And Icrisat’s Intelligent Cloud Pilot For Agriculture In Andhra Pradesh Increase Crop Yield For Farmers -https://www.icrisat.org/microsoft-and-icrisats-intelligent-cloud-pilot-for-agriculture-in-andhra-pradesh-increase-crop-yield-for-farmers/

● Digital agriculture: enough to feed a rapidly growing world? - https://www.ey.com/en_gl/digital/digital-agriculture-data-solutions

● Artificial Intelligence to advise farmers on pests and diseases in crops - https://indiaai.gov.in/case-study/artificial-intelligence-to-advise-farmers-on-pests-and-diseases-in-crops

● Sustainable Livelihoods and Adaptation to Climate Change (SLACC) Project -

● AI for agriculture: How Indian farmers are harnessing emerging technologies to sustainably increase productivity - https://www.weforum.org/impact/ai-for-agriculture-in-india/

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