[Kurukshetra January Summary] Smart Farming: Towards Sustainable Agriculture – Explained, pointwise

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Smart farming is performing agricultural operations smartly with more precision, and it relies on the use of the Internet of Things (loT) and Artificial Intelligence (Al). Smart agriculture addresses many issues related to crop production as it allows monitoring of the changes in climatic factors, soil characteristics, soil moisture, etc.

What is defined as climate-smart agriculture?

The FAO defines climate-smart farming as an approach that transforms agri-food systems towards green and climate-resilient practices.

It aims to tackle three main objectives: (i) Sustainably increasing agricultural productivity and incomes; (ii) Adapting and building resilience to climate change; and (iii) Reducing and/or removing greenhouse gas emissions, wherever possible.

The main idea of smart farming is improving the spatial management practices to increase crop production and avoid the misuse of fertilisers and pesticides.

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What are the smart agriculture technologies available at present?

At present, Smart farming technologies can be divided into three main categories:

(i) Farm Management Information Systems (FMIS): These represent mainly software systems for collecting, processing, storing, and disseminating data in the form required to carry out a farm’s operations and functions.

(ii) Precision Agriculture (PA): Precision agriculture is aimed at optimizing use of inputs through use of technology, improving economic returns and reducing environmental impact. Precision Agriculture is able to increase input efficiency using remote sensing technologies for data gathering (satellites, aircraft or UAVs), sensors for ground data acquisition, wireless networks for interconnecting them, geospatial data analytics and Smart Decision Support Systems (SDSSs) for optimised farming decision-making.

(iii) Agricultural Automation and Robotics: It involves application of automatic control, AI techniques and robotic platforms at all levels of agricultural production. Robots are being used in agricultural operations such as harvesting and weeding, and drones are being used to fertilise crops and monitor crop growth stages.

In short, Smart farming mainly relies on the use of artificial intelligence (Al) and the Internet of Things (loT) in cyber-physical farm management.

Read more: Year End Review: 2021- Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare
Why is there a need for climate-smart agriculture?

There are many challenges associated with 21st-century agriculture. These include

First, Climate Change: Abrupt weather fluctuations around the world have put huge pressure on agricultural food products for quality and sustainable food production. Robots can reduce up to 80% of the environmental pollution caused by farm’s pesticides.

Second, the natural resources are dwindling and there is an increasing pressure of population on agricultural systems. There is another issue of requirement of more feedstocks for a potentially huge bioenergy market in many agriculture-dependent developing countries including India.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has estimated that the world population would reach 9.73 billion by 2050, and the increase will continue till it reaches 11.2 billion by 2100.

Third, challenges pertaining to agricultural production like soil degradation through salinity, nutrient deficiencies, low soil organic carbon content, lower groundwater table, etc.

Fourth, lack of adequate water: Water for irrigation is becoming scarce not only in arid and semi-arid regions but also in the high rainfall regions; because of the uneven distribution of rainfall patterns that is not suitable for most of the crops.

Fifth, lack of monitoring systems: According to the FAO, about 20-40% of crops are lost annually due to pests and diseases due to lack of good monitoring system of the state of the crop.

Therefore, there is a need to make agriculture smart so that crop productivity could be sustained through the mitigation of such challenges.

Read more: Government to Promote Drone use in Agriculture – Financial Support Being Extended Under ‘Sub-Mission on Agriculture Mechanization’
How is the Government of India promoting smart farming?

India’s National Strategy on Al aims to realise the potential economic and social benefits the technology offers. Further, the National Strategy on Al recognises agriculture as one of the priority sector areas for implementation of Al driven solutions.

Many ICAR Institutions have developed various mobile applications related to field crops, animals, horticultural crops etc. which helps in the identification and subsequent diagnosis and treatment of various plant diseases.

Agriculture Ministries both at the central and the state levels have been using drones for anti-locust spraying.

Recently, in India, the Government has released Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for use of drones for the purpose of spraying pesticides on agricultural crops.

Read more: [Kurukshetra December Summary] Rural Women: Key to New India’s Agrarian Revolution – Explained, pointwise
“Grain Bank Model”

Ergos has developed a unique model in the Agri-tech landscape called the “Grain Bank Model” that is providing doorstep access to end-to-end post-harvest supply chain solutions to small and marginal farmers. In this model, the farmers were able to convert their grains into tradable digital assets and avail credit against those assets through partner NBFCs and Banks and get better prices for their produce.

For instance, farmers have the flexibility to store/withdraw even a single bag of grains. Farmers get immediate liquidity and better income, as they don’t have to sell all their produce at once at the prevailing market rates during harvest season. 

What are the advantages of smart agriculture?

Digital Technologies will enhance farmer incomes and increase the overall efficiency of the agricultural production processes as well as the entire value chain.

Smart farming will provide added value to the farmers e.g., it will help in more accurate and timely decision-making and more efficient operation and management.

Smart farming will improve soil health monitoring, facilitate Smart Irrigation, identify plant diseases, improve post-harvesting activities, etc.

The other advantages include, 1) Increasing the amount of real-time data on the crops; 2) Remote monitoring and controlling of farms; 3) Controlling water and other natural resources; 4) Improving livestock management; 5) Accurate evaluation of soil and crops; 6) Improving agricultural production, and 7) eco-friendly farming.

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What are the challenges in developing smart farming?

1) The main challenge delaying smart farming in India is the small landholdings and fragmented farms; 2) Farmers are unable to adopt smart farming with limited knowledge and skills3) High cost associated with smart devices: Drones are expensive, especially those with good software, hardware tools, devices, high-resolution cameras, and thermal cameras. An average Indian farmer cannot afford such devices; 4) Internet Connectivity: The success of smart systems depends on high-speed internet, advanced mobile devices, and satellites to provide images and positioning; 5) Global Positioning System (GPS) signals: GPS signal transmission is difficult in heterogeneous topography like hilly, forests and field with a dense tree planting; 6) Energy Requirement: Data collection and processing centres and many loT based sensors need uninterrupted and continuous energy for a successful application. Whereas, in many developing countries like India, there is a lack of access to uninterrupted power supplies in rural areas.

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What should be done to promote smart farming in India?

Focus on faster adoption: The smart farming innovation must be focused on a) Low-cost technology; b) Simple and easily portable tools; c) Developing a custom hiring system module and credit facility.

Promote of Farmer Producer Organisations (FPOs): FPOs might make smart farming a reality by enabling farmers to afford expensive tools. They provide the biggest opportunity for smart farming/digital agriculture across the entire agriculture value chain, from inputs and production processes to post-harvest and value addition/food processing.

Smart agriculture also needs ease of access and operations, easy maintenance of systems, timely grievance redressal and appropriate policy support.

Robust research and development in the field of smart farming are needed so that smart farming can empower Indian farmers to sustain their farm productivity and livelihood.

In conclusion, smart farming will undoubtedly increase production and improve the efficient use of land, water and other resources used in agriculture. Therefore, smart agriculture is the future, and the Government should facilitate the proper adoption of smart farming technologies.

Source: Kurukshetra January 2022, FAO

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