Despite its importance to the Indian subcontinent, however, this industry has long struggled with low profitability and productivity, which has worsened over time. However, there is a new period of hope on the horizon. The previous two years have demonstrated how far and deep technology can go in removing even the most daunting impediments and enhancing our lives.

And as digitization takes hold, we recognise that the primary sector must be transformed first in order to realise its full potential for India. According to the government's Periodic Labour Force Survey for 2019-20, agriculture employs around 45.6 percent of the population, despite its contribution to GDP hovering around 18 percent. According to a recent NASSCOM report, India suffers a 40% post-harvest loss and its farmers have one of the lowest income growth rates in the world, at 3.4 percent. In this context, technology has the potential to be a powerful enabler in reducing fundamental hurdles in Indian agriculture.

Agriculture is undergoing a revolution, and connectivity is at the centre of everything.

The internet is the cornerstone of farming's modernity. During the pandemic, we saw a glimpse of this when farmers began using WhatsApp to communicate. The internet is the cornerstone of farming's modernity. During the pandemic, we caught a peek of this when farmers began utilising WhatsApp to sell their crops directly to a much broader client base. This is only the beginning of how the internet can provide information and access to farmers. And, as connectivity improves and 5G becomes more widely available, providing lower latency, better bandwidth, and quicker speeds, the use cases that result, particularly in the areas of sensors, IoT, analytics, and other fields, will be game-changers for farmers.

Sensors and IoT devices are assisting in the development of intelligent ecosystems.

Sensors, satellite technologies, and IoT devices are transforming traditional farming as connection advances. Smart sensors powered by IoT solutions are strategically positioned across the farm to collect data on soil quality, temperature, and other factors.

High-value horticulture and floriculture operations are frequently carried out in a greenhouse's-controlled environment. Temperature, humidity, irrigation, lighting, and a variety of other vital characteristics may all be monitored using IoT-enabled connected devices, resulting in increased yield. Many innovative farmers are also using these devices to optimise water usage and monitor the health, temperature, grazing pattern, activity, and nutritional levels of cattle. Supply chain management is another area where linked devices are proving to be quite beneficial, resulting in reduced waste. Data generated from linked devices is eventually used to make intelligent inferences and predict future events.

High-value horticulture and floriculture operations are usually conducted in a controlled environment within a greenhouse. IoT-enabled connected devices help in monitoring temperature, humidity, irrigation, lighting, and many other critical parameters for greater production. Additionally, many progressive farmers are optimizing water usage through these devices, as well as monitoring the health, temperature, grazing pattern, activity, and nutritional levels of cattle. Supply chain management is another area that is greatly benefitting from connected devices, leading to less wastage. Data collected from connected devices eventually leads to the drawing of insightful inferences and predictive forecasting.

AI-powered solutions are empowering enhanced decision-making

And with data collection becoming more automated, sophisticated, and streamlined, enabled by AI-powered solutions, decision-making is becoming far more intelligent and precise. For instance, thousands of farmers in the southern states of India are receiving advisories concerning the sowing of groundnut, ragi, maize, rice, and cotton leveraging AI. These advisories, accessed by farmers through their feature phones, contain information on sowing dates, fertilizer application, farmyard manure application, seed treatment, sowing depth, etc.

At Cisco, we recently launched a pilot with the Kerala State IT Mission to bring smart agriculture, including sensors, IoT-connected devices, and satellite technology to Kerala farmers, providing intelligence on soil content, moisture, weather conditions, etc. Presently, 260 acres of paddy and shrimp farms are under intervention.

Similarly, a combination of AI, cloud solutions, and predictive analytics has led to the development of disease detection models that can predict pest and disease infestations. Some states have started forecasting prices of Arecanut using predictive analytics. These initiatives have not only increased farmers’ yield but also improved decision-making.

Recognizing the potential of AI, India’s National Strategy on Artificial Intelligence (NSAI) considers agriculture as a priority sector for the implementation of AI-driven solutions. As these programs gain traction, Niti Aayog estimates that AI in agriculture is expected to grow at a rate of 22.5% CAGR to reach $2.6 billion by 2025.

An integrated approach is the only way to make a difference at scale

Digital technologies can help improve farmers’ income by delivering tailored recommendations based on crops, planting dates, varieties sown, real-time observed weather, and projected market prices. However, given the scale and complexity of this challenge, an integrated approach is critical with all stakeholders, including government agencies, industry bodies, technology companies, start-ups, etc., working in tandem.

According to a recent EY report, the addressable AgriTech market potential of India is expected to touch $24 billion by 2025. We need to come together to tap into this vast opportunity. At Cisco, to accelerate the innovation of digital solutions, we recently partnered with The/Nudge Centre for Social Innovation, in association with the Government of India to roll out the ‘Cisco Agri Challenge’, aimed at mobilizing AgriTech start-ups to innovate solutions that can positively impact 10 million lives by 2025. At the same time, through our startup incubator Launchpad, we continue to work with Agri-Tech start-ups to help them develop, test, and scale their inventions.

New growth awaits

Today, Indian agriculture is at a crucial inflection point. Traditional agriculture is making way to modern farming practices. However, the country has some unique challenges. Landholdings are shrinking every year; climate change is becoming more and more daunting. If we stand united and work together, wielding technology as the greatest tool of transformation, I believe we can create new possibilities for India’s farmers and, in time, for the rest of the nation.

(This is a slightly modified version of an article originally published in Times of India. The original article can be found at  https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/blogs/voices/technology-is-forging-new-possibilities-for-indias-farmers/)