COVID pandemic has created an unprecedented level of disruption across the world. The sheer nature of the event has pressed the reset button on many traditional practices. From manufacturing to the services sector, this black swan event has brought in a paradigm shift in their operating models. In this context, the agriculture sector is no exception.
Globally, agricultural activity has been severely impacted due to lack of labour availability, restriction on mobility, and closure of key agricultural produce markets amid strict social distancing measures. As a result, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimates that as many as 132 million people are likely to go hungry this year owing to the global economic recession. This will be over and above the 690 million people who are facing acute food shortage now. Unless the nations take immediate collective steps, a food emergency in some nations can’t be ruled out.
In this perspective, technology can play a critical role in avoiding such an impending crisis. Usually, the food supply chain involves a chain of activities that touch upon producers, consumers, input providers, processing and storage, transportation, and marketing. With the help of digital technologies such as machine learning, artificial intelligence, the internet of things, satellite technology (geo-plotting and geo-location mapping), big data, and sensors among others, the efficiency of the whole food supply chain can be improved. This can play a vital role in boosting food production within a short period apart from supplementing farmers’ income. As the world fights this ‘once in a century’ event, any boost in farmers’ income can go a long way in fighting the COVID-induced economic slowdown.
Farmsio offers smart agritech solutions starting from land selection to crop choice selection to crop choice, ploughing, weeding, sowing, irrigating, and harvesting can be done better through the intervention of digital technologies such as machine learning. Take for example the case of differentiating between healthy and disease-infested crops. Usually, it is difficult to determine whether a particular crop is disease-infested or not at the early stage of infestation as it is not obvious to the normal eye. However, through the assistance of ML-driven image processing, the grower- whether a farmer or an agricultural expert- can determine which crops are healthy.
Similarly, disease-infested by fungi, bacteria, or viruses can not only be detected but also various plant disease management measures such as application of pesticides, uprooting, and destruction of diseased plants can be undertaken.
The machine learning algorithm can enable the grower in suitable crop selection based on historical agro-climatic data, crop pattern, yield variations, and demand-supply dynamics through finding out patterns and correlations. Predictive models on crop yield can be drawn through machine learning, artificial intelligence, and data analytics. Any sort of predictability in crop production during these uncertain times can provide a cushion to farmers’ income apart from enabling agro-based enterprises to plan their investment.
Moreover, digital technologies such as artificial intelligence coupled with data analytics play a critical role in precision farming, which is the need of the hour to tide over any shortfall in food production due to this global pandemic. Especially, solutions powered by these technologies for agriculture solutions enable growers to predict various conditions related to crop including weather conditions, presence of diseases or pests, plant nutrition levels apart from analysing the data like temperature, precipitation, moisture level, and windspeed among others. In developing nations like India and most of South East Asia, early forecasting on weather and climatic conditions has a lot of bearing on output. AI-driven solutions also generate timely advisory on procurement and marketing, which help in generating a higher return on investment for the grower.
Similarly, digital agriculture is incomplete without the deployment of AI-powered chatbots, which are the major interfaces between the users and service providers. As it is physically impossible to reach out to each grower by any service providers, smart agriculture practices demand man and machine interface. Through the chatbots, conversational virtual assistants give out advisories to growers on various cultivation-related matters. With the penetration of smartphones across the globe, a grower can receive assistance in real-time, enabling him to take required actions. Robotics and autonomous systems (RAS) used mainly in the agriculture sector in developed economies have their foundations on AI and automation.
Ever improving satellite technology has been working as a great enabler for the agriculture sector globally. Through this technology, farmers are not only able to receive advisories on weather and other climatic conditions, but even field management decisions such as irrigation and fertilization can be aptly taken, which are critical components of precision agriculture. For instance, farmers can determine over or under irrigation in a vast patch of land through this technology. Such precision in water management boosts productivity and saves costs for growers. Fertilization is another area that gets support from this technology. With the increasing penetration of agri-financing companies such as insurance firms and banks, satellite technology has proven to be a boon in settling claims along with lending decisions.
Precision agriculture hinges on the combined technologies of Global Positioning System (GPS) and Geographic Information System (GIS). These two segments can be taken as the derivatives of satellite technology. Through these technologies, site-specific farming has been made possible as real-time geospatial data helps in farm planning, field mapping, crop choice, soil sampling, and yield mapping among others. The data generated through GIS also enables agtech companies to prescribe site-specific recommendations, resulting in higher productivity.
Coupled with GIS & GPS, sensor technology has brought in drastic changes in the field of agriculture. For instance, soil moisture sensors can measure the moisture content of a crop on a real-time basis. In case of any variations from the desired level, it is being informed to the grower on an app. Moreover, an intelligent irrigation management system can be designed based on these data. Whenever soil moisture varies, the extent of irrigation can be altered. IoT-powered sensors can also be deployed to gauge temperature and determine crop patterns. Apart from these new-age technologies, even drones have slowly made inroads into the field of agriculture. From taking up the image to the application of pesticides and insecticides, drone technology is slowly evolving in the field of agriculture.
Easy access to technological solutions is vital for effective implementation. In this perspective, innovations in the field of agriculture have reached the last mile due to the wide penetration of mobile phones. Most ‘SaaS’(software as a solution)-based platforms are accessible on android-powered handsets, making it easy for farmers to receive the critical inputs on crop growth in time. Also, predictive analytics-based solutions on yield and productivity enable farmers to plan their investments.
Usually, these cloud-based platforms gather data from the field, which are transmitted to the service provider. In return, the agtech firm analyses these data with the help of AI, ML, big data-powered algorithm and find patterns for recommendations. Then, these recommendations are sent back to the grower. As cloud-based platforms are agile and available on subscription-based pricing models, users can get the benefit without committing a lot of upfront investment.
Contact Farmsio, a pioneer service provider in agtech space, provides holistic applications touching upon every aspect of farming. Starting from providing smart weather solutions to crop production, pest and disease alerts, supply chain management, and market-facing advisories, all are available on this platform. This android-based solution can fit in for both farmers of small landholdings and growers pursuing commercial agriculture.
The COVID-induced slowdown is going to change all facets of the economy in multifarious ways. After the wide adoption of farm mechanisation across the globe in the pre-COVID era, post-COVID-world is likely to witness acceleration in the adoption of digital technologies. So, those players, be it the growers or agro-based companies, which can adopt these technologies faster, will have a fast-mover advantage.