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Can Indian Farmers Afford Satellite Data, IoT Devices Needed For Precision Farming?

Can Indian Farmers Afford Satellite Data, IoT Devices Needed For Precision Farming?

Many agritech startups are incorporating drones and sensors and using artificial intelligence, machine learning, satellite imagery, automation and deep learning algorithms to increase crop productivity and farming process efficiency.

The precision farming startups offering hi-tech tools have raked in $35.2 Mn funding in the past six years. Some companies like CropIn have expanded to 52 countries.

Most startups, however, operate in the B2B space or cater to large farmers to keep the unit economics going. Smallholder farmers, who own 86.21% of total operational holdings, are still left in the lurch. Will we see startups cater to these farmers in the future?

Agriculture remains the backbone of the Indian economy, but smart and sustainable farming is not exactly our forte. Decades ago, one might have come across a family or two in every village who could accurately predict the weather, irrigation requirements or the crop yield, but that ancient knowledge had slowly died out. However, tech-driven and environmentally sound precision agriculture has taken its place globally, promising maximum productivity, minimum variables risk (read unfavourable weather conditions and fast-falling soil fertility) and minimal environmental impact. 

As the name suggests, this new practice requires a scientific approach, meticulous planning and management based on humongous agri data and computerised machinery to give simple farming a futuristic flavour. Add satellite imagery, drones and other IoT (Internet of Things) devices to the mix, and one would witness near-automated agriculture across wired villages. But how affordable will it be for India’s small and marginal farmers who cultivate only small patches of land (0-2 hectares) and have little or no access to formal credit? 

Agritech startups in this space could be in a similar plight. Their services are varied and exciting be it predicting the right amount of water for different fields or different parts of the same field, checking moisture levels or analysing micro-climate, soil condition or the damage caused by pests. And much like the developed world, quite a few precision farming startups in India are leveraging sensors and drones, using computer vision and satellite imagery, and making good of artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), deep learning algorithms and automation to help increase crop productivity and farming process efficiency. But how sustainable are they? 

Thankfully, not many of these startup founders are daunted by the gloomy prediction that India is still not ready for scientific farming.