By Dr. Smitha Kurup, Scientist, Mahyco
In a previous blogpost, my colleague Dr. Venugopal spoke about the importance of having artificial intelligence and its potential in agriculture.
In simple words, artificial intelligence or AI is the development of computer systems that are able to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence. These include visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making etc. Artificial intelligence has become a big part of the lives of people living in urban areas in the form of app-based cab aggregators, food delivery apps, etc. In addition, national initiatives like Make in India, Skill India and Digital India are also an opportunity for leveraging AI technologies to make them sustainable and cost effective programs.
Unfortunately in India, despite being the most important sector, agriculture is often the last field to benefit from innovation. Having said that, the encouraging aspect is that agriculture has a lot of potential to embrace AI innovations and become a more efficient sector benefitting from increase in productivity and holistic growth.
Artificial intelligence robotics is one of these technologies that promise to provide a solution. An increasing number of farmbots are being developed that are capable of complex tasks that have not been possible with the large-scale agricultural machinery in the past. In an article I read recently, it showed the various technologies that are making in-roads into agriculture such as – Apps to track quality of soil, providing advice on farming techniques, use of drones for spraying of pesticides and keeping track of the crops, Farmbots which can tend to crops and harvesting them, driverless tractors, Hortibots – a machine which can detect various kinds of weeds and eliminate them. Farmbots work in team to plant and even fertilise crops. These are just a few examples of AI in agriculture.
While the opportunity of using the innovation is immense, so are the challenges. Farmers continue to be less educated and traditional. One can anticipate delay in adoption of this innovation purely from accessibility and affordability point of view. However, we must leverage the fact that Indians and especially farmers are so enterprising that they are open to new innovations. The ecosystem must work to make these innovations accessible to the farmers, so they can take the best decision for their fields and produce. Another challenge one foresees is that the innovation gets stuck in the policy ecosystem as many private companies may be more pioneering in bringing the innovations to the fields. However, if we all keep the ultimate motive in mind- which is to help farmers and double their income- then it would be immaterial whether the innovation is brought in by private, public or PPP.
I cannot reiterate enough that the advancements in innovation with AI will be more practical and feasible for Indian agriculture where resources are limited and demand is increasing. All we need to do is keep an open mind and collaborative outlook.