A cloud-based smart agriculture platform for India

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Head of Earth Observation and the Agri Lead at the Satellite Applications Catapult, Mark Jarman, considers the challenges facing farmers in India, and highlights the key outputs from the recent Smart Agriculture Conclave in New Delhi.

The Catapult recently joined an invited international delegation to India to attend and participate in the Smart Agricultural Conclave organised by India’s Department of Biotechnology, in partnership with Research Councils UK India.

The conclave’s objective was to engage national and international experts in science, policy in industry and farming in a collaborative discussion to build consensus on co-designing and developing ‘FarmerZone’, a Smart Agriculture platform for smallholder farmers in India. This platform will harness cutting-edge science-based data from multiple sources and serve as the authoritative data repository and solutions that enable smart agriculture at the farmer level. This is aligned with the Indian Prime Minister’s vision for “effective decision making in agriculture that integrates science, technology, innovation and the farm ecosystem by asking for an ‘Evergreen Revolution’.”

Addressing the challenges of smallholder farmers

Small-scale agriculture is limited not only by access to information, but also by its affordability and market fragmentation. Technology-led decision making to improve smallholder farmer productivity holds the key to enabling food security for more than a quarter of the world’s population. Today, 475 million farms in developing countries collectively support two billion people.

Farming in India

In India, 80% (~46 million) of the rural farmers are smallholders (those that own or cultivate less than two hectares). There has been a decline in food production across states, and small and marginal farmers must rely on agricultural labour opportunities. Increasing land productivity through optimal resource use and smart agricultural practices through the latest advancements in technology is imperative for India’s growth.

International collaboration

The UK delegation, co-ordinated by BBSRC (Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council), featured representatives from STFC, Innovate UK, Centres for Agricultural Innovation, various research / academic institutes, and the Catapult. This delegation was joined by representatives from organisations including Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition, the US Department of Agriculture, and Canada’s International Development Research Centre to meet with an Indian delegation bringing together leading senior research, industry, policy and agri-business individuals, including farmers.

Discussions at the conclave focused on:

  • Understanding the current landscape for smart agriculture and agri-data, learning from examples of success in agri research for development
  • Articulating the needs of small and marginal farmers
  • Identification of technological gaps in data acquisition and transfer from farm to cloud and vice versa
  • Capturing and curating agri-relevant data from multiple sources to enable the application of analytic tools and machine learning to problems faced in small and marginal farm-holdings
  • Application of data insights to generate solutions for resource-constrained farming conditions to reduce climate risks and increase adaptive capacity
  • Creating an interface for usage of advanced cyber-physical systems, machine learning and artificial intelligence
  • Identifying business models such as public-private partnerships to leverage resources for building an effective and affordable platform for innovation and dissemination in smart agriculture
  • Defining an action plan for a small number of sentinel sites to pilot test the implementation of FarmerZone.

Moving FarmerZone from concept to reality

Addressing the change of providing smart agriculture solutions to small farming families in rural India to enable exponential improvements in yields and incomes, will require a consolidated effort by various entities operating in-country and worldwide. The conclave has laid the foundations for the creation of FarmerZone, with participants now looking to inform the next steps to translate the FarmerZone vision into a reality, creating test models and driving growth and opportunity. This provides the opportunity to harness collective capabilities of UK research and innovation to support strategic relationships with India, create commercial opportunities and underpin wider UK aid objectives in Africa and elsewhere.