Advancement in digital technology, ubiquitous internet connectivity, and ever-increasing penetration of smartphones are all manifestations of the digital revolution. Agriculture too is taking advantage of this revolution in many ways.
During the last few years, technology has empowered farmers with access to information and markets, streamlined supply chains, provided tools for food safety and security, and more. In a post-pandemic world, the transformation will only become faster. Here is a look at what has been done so far.
Farmer level interventions
Giving tools to farmers that put the power back in their hands is the biggest contribution of digital technology.
Just like an entrepreneur, farmers now have access to a suite of solutions that tells them what crop will fetch them better returns, the best time to sow, when to water, where to sell and at what price, and much more.
Most of these solutions already come at a price point where even a small farmer can afford them; and a few others need groups of farmers to come together. Digital technology has also enabled farmers to use their phone camera to identify a pest or disease. They can also get customised weather advisories or information on mandi prices, etc.
However, while an average farmer in the US or Europe can afford drones to spray pesticides or have IoT-enabled irrigation systems, farmers in developing countries still have to come together to make these technologies affordable. But in spite of that, we have seen new models evolve, and farmers across the world are gaining access to some advanced technologies.
Ecosystem level transformations
Digital technology has not just empowered individual farmers, but it has made the whole ecosystem more efficient and more sustainable. Market linkage platforms connect farmers with potential buyers, providing them with a guaranteed and sustainable market.
Digitised certification has made it easier to share farming practices and connect with conscious buyers who are willing to pay premium prices. Moreover, visibility to market prices and commodity futures can improve the price paid to farmers.
Technologies like remote sensing, artificial intelligence, and machine learning are helping governments, banks, and large corporations estimate yield, crop losses, and plan all operations well in advance. This will soon change the way we anticipate and plan food production.
Similarly, data on the consumption side is impacting how organisations come to know and learn about their customers.
Digital technologies have also helped cut food loss and waste, which is to the tune of 14 percent of the world’s food produced. Sensors are being used for crop monitoring, post-harvest, and market quality monitoring. Artificial intelligence and machine learning too has made great strides in detecting plant diseases and receiving advisory from authorised sources, and prevent crop loss.
Technology for a globalised world
Food trade in a smaller and more connected world is changing what is produced, consumed, and the way food travels. Not so long ago, it was impossible for an average business to know whether the produce was sustainably grown, and whether the labour was fairly treated. But now, with the help of technologies like traceability, it is easy to know the ecological footprint of any produce.
As more and more countries adopt stringent standards and compliances, traceability becomes a fool-proof mechanism to provide information on the provenance of produce and guarantee food safety. This is the reason why various countries and regulators have put in place their own system for traceability.
For e.g., India’s APEDA has a system called Tracenet that traces the origin and end-to-end movement of produce. While Europe has a system called Traces to enable tracing of imported produce, Australia has a new traceability system called smart fingerprint, an optical-based technology.
Digitisation of the agri value chain also includes bringing farmers, who were previously excluded, into the economic mainstream. Digitising payments to farmers at scale not only eases operations, but also saves cost. This is being achieved through digital finance solutions.
One such successful case is the Colombia Coffee Growers Federation, which issued ATM cards to 82 percent of its out-growers. Between 2007 and 2013, it helped the company save $15.5 million in payment disbursement costs, apart from bringing farmers into the economic mainstream.
The India Focus
India is at a critical juncture when it comes to the scale of adoption of advanced digital technologies in the food and agriculture sector. The Indian government has an ambitious plan to double farmers’ income. The vital part of this plan is the increased thrust on export of agricultural produce. India, while being the second largest producer of food in the world, has only a 2 percent share in global agriculture exports.
Digitisation of agriculture value chain all the way to the first mile can go a long way in boosting India’s agricultural exports.
Digitisation of agriculture is already showing transformative impact, although it is still at a nascent stage. From improving local ecosystems to making global agriculture more sustainable, digital technology is transforming the way our food is grown, consumed, processed, and transported. And that brings new hope for our planet.
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)
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