The rapid growth of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has significantly made its impact on agriculture sector. From remote sensing of standing crops through satellites to mobile apps, ICT has become an integral part of farm practices. Bangalore-based CropIn Technology Solutions is offering such technologies in 14 Indian states along with some other countries. The founder and CEO of the company KRISHNA KUMAR speaks to MOHD MUSTAQUIM on his offerings and impact on agricultural practices
Kindly shed some light on the features of digital monitoring of farmers’ fields.
The access to digital monitoring of farms enables the agribusinesses to work closely with the farmers and follow the best practices. Data driven farming empowers right decision making, thus, enhancing profitability and sustainability. This enables simplified control of complete farm undertakings/set-ups scattered over geographies through a single click or a single touch. The benefits of such a system is actually realised when it directly connects the business strategy to the field operations through detailed analytics of data ranging in scope from a single plant in a plot to a complete holistic view of continents, utilising a gamut of latest technologies like big data, cloud computing and predictive modeling to improve the systems continuously.
Digitisation enables traceability, real time data availability at a central place, accurate measure of plots, harvest forecast, benchmarking practices, right advisory on farms, scheduling harvest, weather advisory, remote sensing through satellites, among others.
Migrating from diaries to digital helps post season analysis and better planning for the new season. Overall through billion of data sets generated on the farms. There is a continuous mapping of actions to deliver better outcomes.
How does the technology help farmers in managing their farms and crops?
Digital farming helps to keep a tap on day to day farming operations possible through real time flow of data from the plot to the company office. The agribusiness can make use of end to end features to take care of entire value chain, right from sowing to harvesting.
Right from sowing, the package of practices are set at a crop level on the plot and are communicated to the farmer through digital systems. There are systems of advisory for right quantity of chemicals and fertilisers application as well. The field staff attached to the farmer ensures best practices on the farmers field.
Digital monitoring of the farm enables instant notification of the pests and diseases affecting the farmers field to the right stakeholders. The plot in these conditions can digitally be managed by giving the right course correction advise and taking regular updates on the health of the farm through pictures.
Another advantage that follows is pacing farmers activities on plots with the weather changes. This is of strategic importance to the field as weather play impacts the output. Providing not only short term and long term weather but also agricultural metrics can give farmer a quick health and time to maturity of the plot.
How is digitisation going to change the agricultural operations?
The digitisation is going to change the agricultural practices in various means such as remote sensing of plots through satellite systems with precision as close to 5X5 meter resolution can help identify the pest or disease affected areas of the plot. This can be done through Big Data Analytics, with indicators like Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI), Red Edge Index etc. It will be immensely helpful in weed and pest management.
A field staff can also do quality checks on farms and see which lot of his produce meets the customer order, in case of an exporting company - it can do Lab Test Integration and see if the inventory he has checked in to the system meets Maximum Residue Limits (MRL) requirement or not. The digitisation of agricultural practices can provide traceability across the entire supply chain.
On a different perspective, technology in its frame also helps the farmer to connect with the right stakeholders in case of need whether connecting with an input provider or an equipment supplier. In case of managing crops the farmer also needs to connect with the buyers to initiate sale. An online marketplace can not only connect the buyers with the farmers but also give the farmer independence and options to choose a buyer.
How does it boost farmers’ income?
The companies working with farmers are benefited in multiple ways, not only does digitisation boost income but also reduce costs. This is essential to make this industry lucrative and motivate the farmer’s son to take forward his farther's profession with pride.
The cost of operation can be reduced by optimum usage of chemicals and fertilisers as well as timely management of activities to control over spill of bottlenecks.
Around boosting income, timely management of activities on his farm, timely advisory on pest management by remote sensing, weather can ensure quality crop harvest increasing the marketability of his produce. This gives an added advantage, even in an online marketplace to bid better price for his crops. A buyer can see the farms entire story in pictures captured during the process. And therefore farmer will be able to give an end to end traceability. This is especially true for organic farmers and farmers who export and need such data to back their claims.
How many farmers are getting benefitted from your services?
Currently, we work with farmers through the agribusiness companies, NGOs, Government’s agriculture departments and development agencies who use our system to provide timely reminders to farmers for fertiliser application of right quantity in right time and addressing any issues in the farm timely and providing right advice through our system. So far we have worked with 500,000 farms which accounts to 110,000 farmers.
To avail these services, how much fee the farmers have to pay?
Since we don't directly work with small farmers currently, they don't have to pay when they get associated with one of our customers (agribusiness companies, NGOs, Governments agriculture departments, development agencies) through contract farming or farmer livelihood development programmes. These companies or agencies take the implementation cost. However, large individual farmers can use the system for Rs 50 per acre per month.
Education is a big challenge with the farming community. How do you make them aware about your services and their use?
With our experience of working 100+ different customers we understood education is not a barrier if the product is simple to use. If you take an example of WhatsApp and Facebook, they have spread to the remote villages of India. We have customers who deploy staff from local villages who are barely literate and could use CropIn app easily. We kept in mind of our user base and designed a simple and easy to use application. Moreover, the application supports local languages.
In what geographical area are you providing the services?
We are present in 14 states in India such as Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Rajasthan, Haryana, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, Sikkim, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala and Bihar. We received overwhelming response from the clients and farmers in Ludhiana, Jalandhar and Moga districts in Punjab and Sabarkantha, Patan, Mehsana and Gandhinagar districts in Gujarat. In other parts of the country, we are getting similar response which has pushed us to expand services in rest of the states.
Apart from India, we are providing services in 9 other countries such as Kenya, Nepal, Portugal, Indonesia, Vietnam, Brazil, Columbia and Mexico.
Do you have any expansion plan of your services in other parts of the country too?
Yes, we are expanding nationwide and also to other developed and developing nations.