Artificial intelligence (AI) is making rapid inroads into the Indian farm sector. The ease with which farmers are adopting it indicates that it would soon become a major professional guide for the farmers. A key reason for the farmers’ growing interest in AI is the gradual transformation of traditional farming into smart agriculture which requires knowhow and information that goes beyond their conventional knowledge and wisdom. They now need reliable, forward-looking and problem-solving advice which they can get from the AI. Moreover, the rural youth, especially the educated ones, feel more comfortable with mechanised, technology-driven high-value agriculture than the tedious traditional knowledge-based routine farming practiced by their forefathers. 


Mobile phones have penetrated deep into the rural areas. About 30 million farmers are estimated to own such phones already. Their count is projected to swell rapidly. The way has, thus, been paved for the AI service providers, such as public sector farm research organisations, information technology companies and startups in this field, to generate and pass on situation-specific and need-based contents to the farmers.


Microsoft is said to be working with Indian farmers in Andhra Pradesh to dispense advisory services in areas like crop sowing, land management, fertiliser application and similar others. The local arm of another multinational company, IBM India, last week signed a “statement of intent” with the agriculture ministry to take up a pilot project on the utilisation of AI and weather technology-driven solutions in agriculture. This project would operate in one district each of Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Maharashtra.


This apart, a large number of startups have come up to disseminate the next generation technologies in several critical fields of agriculture. Some of these enterprises are deploying sensors and information technology tools to monitor crop and soil health for the benefit of the farmers. Some others are engaged in generating data-based advisories on the time of sowing, besides issuing alerts against potential risks. Yet another category is of startups collecting, analysing and providing information on input supplies and output marketing chains.


Significantly, the agriculture ministry, as also the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and the state farm universities, are putting in special efforts to popularise AI to improve productivity, production and profitability of farming. An inter-ministerial committee, set up by the agriculture ministry to suggest ways and means to double farmers’ income, has underscored the role the digital technology can play in making Indian agriculture lucrative. The technologies identified by this panel for this purpose include AI, big data analytics, block chain technology and internet-of-things (IoT).


The ICAR recently brought out a special edition of its popular publication “Indian Farming” (March 2019 issue) devoted exclusively to AI. This apex farm research body has been instrumental in developing over 100 easy-to-use and farmers-friendly mobile apps covering different areas of agriculture and its allied activities. Of these apps, 42 deal with mainstream agriculture, 27 with horticulture, 10 animal husbandry and veterinary sciences, six dairying, one poultry, three fisheries, 17 natural resource management and 11 integrated farming systems. They carry valuable information on agronomic practices, prices of different farm commodities, weather forecasts and warnings and other kinds of advisory information.


The “Kisan Suvidha” mobile app is a comprehensive portal carrying useful information on most aspects of modern farming. Its contents comprise weather-related information, including extreme weather alerts; market prices; plant protection methods; dealers of inputs like seeds, pesticides, fertilisers and farm machinery; soil health cards; cold stores and warehouses; and veterinary centres and diagnostic laboratories. The market intelligence available through this app contains vital information on the prevailing price and demand trends to let the farmers take informed decisions on selling their produce at the right time and at the right price. Another app, called “mKisan”, conveys agriculture-related counsel to the registered farmers through the short message service (SMS) and voice messages in local languages.


However, these are still early days of the application of AI in agriculture. But given the impressive track record, the future of this field seems quite promising.


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