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Indian Council For Agricultural Research Sets Up New Centre To Leverage AI

Indian Council For Agricultural Research Sets Up New Centre To Leverage AI

The new ICAR centre in Hyderabad is equipped with artificial intelligence, deep learning software and tools

The tools could be used for pest identification through image analysis, detection of ripening of fruits, among other things

Agritech startups have been helping the agriculture sector in India leverage AI, IoT and deep learning to improve crop productivity

In yet another step aimed at leveraging the disruptive force of technology for the betterment of farmers and the agricultural output, the Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR) launched the National Agricultural Research & Education System – Cloud Infrastructure and Services, also called Krishi Megh, in Hyderabad.

The new ICAR centre in Hyderabad will integrate data available with the Indian Agricultural Statistics Research Institute, New Delhi, and the Disaster Recovery Centre at the National Academy of Agricultural Research Management, Hyderabad. The new centre will be equipped with artificial intelligence (AI), deep learning software and tools. These would be used for pest identification through image analysis, detection of ripening of fruits, diseases in livestock, among other things. 

The new institute will come up at the National Academy of Agricultural Research Management, Hyderabad, as the city lies in a different seismic zone than Delhi. During the virtual launch, Union Minister of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare Narendra Singh Tomar talked about the importance of ensuring 24/7 access to important-research based data anywhere in the country, to meet the country’s growing IT needs. Further, Hyderabad was also chosen because of the skilled IT manpower which the city affords. 

Besides national initiatives for boosting the country’s agricultural output through the use of technology, a host of Indian startups are also leveraging AI, machine learning and IoT to help farmers engage in sustainable agriculture practices. Moreover, the new centre in Hyderabad is coming up just a couple of months after reports emerged in May about farmers not being able to harvest their crop because of a lack of migrant labourers in the fields.

Agritech Startups Develop Solutions For Supply-Chain Disruptions

More importantly, for the farmers who managed to harvest their crop, supply chain disruptions caused by the Covid-19 induced lockdown were a major hindrance. According to reports, farmers had to discard tonnes of produce and some had to leave many quintals of crop and fruit to rot. This is on top of already existing issues such as poor post-harvest management, absence of cold chain and processing facilities. According to the government statistics, various studies on fresh fruits, vegetables and fisheries in India have indicated a loss percentage ranging from about 8% to 18% in 2018.

To help farmers tide over the crisis caused by the country-wide lockdown, various agritech startups came to the fore. For instance, AgriBazaar allows farmers to register and list the produce for sale, while buyers like merchants, traders and corporates give orders for purchase. Once the deal is complete, the startup ensures the logistics of picking up the grain from the farmer’s doorstep and delivering it to the buyers’ godown or warehouse.

Further innovations are being made in the payments process for farmers. While usually, farmers are paid in 2-3 days, startups such as Farmpal are working on immediate payments in order to not just help farmers but also motivate others to bring in more produce which is in huge demand in cities. Farmers get their payments online in their bank account within the stipulated time from the startups. The Pune-based agritech startup connects farmers to businesses directly and has launched new collection centres to help farmers maintain their daily income and to provide consumers with easy access to fresh produce.

There are also startups such as Fasal, using solar-powered IoT devices which collect data in real-time and transmit it to the cloud. The data is then crunched and analysed using an AI platform to predict various stages of the crop, from the seed stage and climate change. Once analysed, it provides preventive action to farmers, thereby helping them achieve better yield and produce.

Based in Bengaluru, Fasal provides farm-specific, crop-specific and crop stage-specific actionable insights to farmers. The insights could be in terms of irrigating the crop, predicting possible disease, and spraying of pesticides, among others. 

According to DataLabs by Inc42+, the agritech sector recorded total funding of $244.59 Mn in 2019, an increase of over 350% in the amount of funding, compared to the previous year. Several agritech stakeholders told Inc42 that whole startups have expanded rapidly in the last few years, the sector, however, has been held back due to lack of structured data, fewer large investments, poor infrastructure and policy lag.