Role of IT and communication in sustainable farming in India

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Agriculture being the core of the Union budget for the year 2019-20, has the prime attention of the Government of India. The government has decided to invest widely in the field’s infrastructure to provide secured income to small and marginal farmers.

This has further made Niti Aayog a national think tank for establishing and conducting programmes and research on technologies of the future namely, machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) to facilitate the economic development of the nation.

Applications including Uzhavan app, Ag mobile, CCMobile app, IFFCO Kisan are some of the names which are developed to take care of the need of the hour requirements in farming. Several notable initiatives like e-choupal, Agri market, Kisan Suvidha and the more recent e-NAM had long been trying to place agriculture as the forerunner.

The current budget has outlined setting up of 20 technology business incubators to develop at least 75,000 skilled entrepreneurs in the agro-rural industry. Further, Rs 805 crore has also been given to Pradhan Mantri Matsya Sampada Yojana (PMMSY) for addressing critical gaps in the value chain including infrastructure, modernisation, traceability, production, productivity, post-harvest management and quality control through integration of the latest technology. This will slowly make way to achieving long-term sustainable agriculture goals of environmental health, economic profitability and social and economic equity.

In a study, conducted in China in 2013 on agriculture-based on cloud computing and IoT (Internet of Things), the integration of IoT in farming majorly facilitated soilless culture, solution balance technology, artificial photosynthesis technology, growing environment control technology (carbon dioxide density, humidity, wind pressure, and speed) and intelligent irrigation technology.

After many years of extreme work, China’s industry, and information ministry has achieved outstanding success in projects like ‘Every village project’, ‘Golden Agricultural Project’, ‘The three Dian project (Computer, Television and Telephone network coverage in the rural areas)’.

However, as more focus was given to hardware than software, there was a lack of communication of the right information to the farmers. This led to the development of an agricultural information cloud with integration of IoT and RFID (radio frequency identification) technology. Also, the agriculture sector has recently visualised the integration of IoT and farming practices in development and conceptualisation of plant factory technology.

In Brazil, a Smart Farming project was studied very carefully. It included digital revolution, AI, mobility with intelligent sensors. It led to the recognition of more innovative products, process optimisation and managing effective agricultural production.

The project was, in 2014, started as a collaboration between Dutch research institutes, Dutch industry, and Dutch agricultural businesses. The collaboration led the Smart Farming consortium to investigate the possibility of using remote sensing solutions in the cultivation process.

The trend in variables like sunlight, humidity, temperature, the rain was gathered from the archives of Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute to gain prior information on deviations in seasons in comparison with previous years.

From the satellite images, the Normalised Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) values were deduced, which served as an indication of the amount of photo-synthetically active vegetation in the region. Using historical analysis, the variety-specific NDVI curve was set and its relationship between the variables was identified. This information was noted to be important in the formulation of data-driven models.

In the year 1980-1983, a study across the world on vegetation types was conducted using satellite images. It was observed that the NDVI highly correlated with vegetation parameters such as green-leaf biomass and green-leaf area. India was found to have high NDVI values. This could potentially serve as an important driver to expand sustainable farming practices in India.

Next, a South Korean company in 2018, successfully made the country’s largest smart farm inside an abandoned road tunnel. The indoor farm provided ideal conditions with a steady temperature and the right amount of artificial light and the rest of the factors were controlled by IoT.

The company signed an agreement with the nation’s government to make an indoor vertical farm as an optional solution to stop damages to crops due to utmost weather conditions. It successfully cultivated more than 60 different types of fruits and vegetables. Foods produced from the farm were found to be healthier as they had reduced insect infestations being in a closed environment.

In India, the Union Ministry of Earth Sciences and Agricultural Meteorology Division of the India Meteorological Department (IMD) have in their mission 2030, proposed the development of a non-segregated unit incorporating the IMD, Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) in collaboration with the various institutions inclusing agricultural universities, ICAR Institutes, state department of agriculture, department of information technology, department of space, MS Swaminathan Research Foundation, and non-governmental organisations, to name a few in a phased way.

The inter-institutional alliance could be in future build-up at national and international arena in the field of agro-meteorological activities. The National Mission on Agricultural Extension and Technology (NMAET) as a part of sustainable development group targets to strengthen and restructure mechanisation and plant security to enable the delivery of improvised agronomic practices to farmers. This was thought to be attained via interactive methods, using information and communication technology (ICT), which includes messaging services, web-based applications, capacity building, institutional strengthening, encouragement of public-private partnership and training services to guide farmers.

Our government, thus, has accepted the role of ICT in agriculture for sustainable intensive farming; and the newly made farmer producer organisations guarantee the conducive atmosphere between the central and state government enabling farmers to get good money for their products and understand the ease of doing business.