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US Tech Giants Roped in to Help Digitise Indian Farming

Farmers have welcomed a move by the Modi government to ask tech giants like Amazon, Microsoft, Cisco and local tech firms to help modernise the country’s outmoded farm sector

Amazon, Microsoft and Cisco are among technology giants lining up to harness data from India’s farmers. Photo:Reuters

 

(AF) India’s decision to ask technology giants like Amazon, Microsoft, Cisco Systems and local tech giants to help modernise the country’s outmoded farm sector will be transformational for not only the sector and the people involved, farmers say.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration is reportedly betting on US and local corporates to ensure food security in the world’s second-most populous nation.

The Modi government has been seeking help to boost farmers’ yields via apps and tools built from information such as crop output, soil quality and land holdings.

According to international and local news reports, it has signed preliminary agreements with the Amazon, Microsoft and Cisco, as well as Reliance Industries’ Jio Platforms and agri-giant ITC Ltd, to share farm statistics gathered over the past seven years.

“This will not only be beneficial to the farmers in India but it will also usher the much-needed transformation of the farming sector by modernising the processing sector, boosting exports, and facilitating better distribution of farmers’ harvest,” P Chengal Reddy, chairman of Hyderabad-based Federation of Farmers Associations, said.

Reddy said that while India’s farm production matches global standards, productivity and traceability of farm products are “abysmal”.

“For instance, India produces 21 million tonnes of mango each year, but hardly a kilo of that production is traced.

“Besides, farming is a widespread sector and production varies according to the diverse agro-climatic conditions. Digitising farming data hence, will also help in better distribution and standardisation of farm products.”

Ushering in Reforms

Under the agreement, the big tech companies will help the government develop concepts to offer tech solutions for farm-to-fork services, which farmers will be able to access at their doorstep, the reports said.

And that could be a big step forward in ushering in long-overdue reforms to upgrade a farm sector that employs almost half of the nation’s 1.3 billion people and contributes about a fifth of Asia’s third-biggest economy, analysts say.

“This move follows India’s drive of formalising procurement channels in India and bringing in efficiency. While each player will focus on various aspects of farming individually, collectively these players will bring in a lot of reforms that the sector needs badly,” Hetal Gandhi, Director, CRISIL Research, said.

“Besides, the digitisation will also help enable better farmer lending through use of digital tools that will can also open up different channels of funding in various parts of the value chain.”

Reforms are “badly needed” to boost rural incomes, cut imports, reduce some of the world’s worst food wastage, and help the sector become globally competitive, these experts say.

“The biggest benefits will be that it will enable higher value additions, processing and long-term exports,” Reddy said.

Need for Digitisation

According to the report, the digitisation of data will start with seeding all the information such as crop patterns, soil ‘health’, credit, insurance and weather patterns into a single database and then analysing that data through AI and data analytics.

Farmers hope that will eventually lead to better advice and information on yield and water management, plus infrastructural services like warehousing and automated distribution.

“Post-pandemic digitisation is increasingly emerging as crucial for greater efficiency and transparency across the farming sectors,” says Reddy.

According to Niti Ayog, the government’s public policy think-tank, agriculture must grow at 4% or higher rate for the country to maintain an annual growth rate of 8-10%.

To achieve this target, digitisation is critical, and so is the use of technology like sensor-assisted soil assessment, automated monitoring of farm produce, and targeted control of agricultural machinery, the think-tank says.

When completed, the government hopes the project will facilitate better planning, profitability and execution of policies.

 

• By Indrajit Basu

 

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Indrajit Basu

Indrajit Basu is an India-based correspondent for Asia Financial and wears two hats: journalist and researcher (equity). Before joining AF he reported on business, finance, technology, wealth management, and current affairs for China Daily, SCMP, UPI, India Today Group, Indian Express Group, and many more. He is also an award-winning researcher. If he didn't have to pay bills, he would be a wanderer.

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