Farm IT: Mobiles in the Mud

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How Farm IT can transform a nation and change the world

Want to directly impact the most people on earth? Start with agriculture in India, add the use of innovative mobile technology to current farming praxis, and witness the radical increase of agricultural yield and transformation of a nation. Farm IT in India has the immediate potential to renovate the agricultural sector by allowing individual small farms, access to the benefits associated with being a large agricultural producer.

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IT Opportunities

IT can enable immediate diagnostic information for farmers by providing timely weather trends that affect planting and harvesting schedules. Farmers can also receive immediate answers from agricultural specialists related to crop or animal disease identification or eradication.  One example of a company using technology in an innovative way is Ubio Biotechnology who has created a small, affordable, diagnostic kit able to identify and cure common diseases occurring in farm animals.  For example, within ten minutes of administering their bovine tuberculosis test, a farmer will know if the cow has contracted the contagious and debilitating disease which is harmful to both humans and animals.

Other services, like the Indian Institute of Technology’s aAQUA  – almost All Questions Answered – allow farmers to text questions like “how to deal with a certain pest” or “how to properly fertilize wheat”. Prices for these services have remained relatively low; the most expensive is approximately 800 rupees per year ($13 USD), a relatively small price to pay.  Farmers across over 400 districts claim such services have helped them avoid dramatic losses and increase profits by several thousand rupees a year.

Information technology and the increasing availability of mobile enabled technologies are allowing companies to create affordable services that enhance overall productivity of farms. Farm IT provides the desperately needed support services that assist farmers in making wise decisions about what crop to grow, how to grow it, how to support and harvest it, and finally how to sell it.

For daily regional insights into weather and market conditions there are companies like Skymet, Uniphore and Reuters Market Light providing SMS, and even voice messages, to farmers at affordable rates. The collection of information at the source creates timely opportunities for experts to diagnose and provide assistance and automatically adjust growing practices remotely. With GPS-enabled mobile technology it is now possible to identify specific parcels of land in India, determine best practice in regards to choice of crops and growing season, irrigation needs and weather patterns, in order to maximize yield. Without this technology, a farmer doesn’t have access to the most critical information and farming becomes a hit-or-miss, trial-or-error process that all too often results in waste or unrealized opportunity.  (Learn more about how support services are being bundled together and/or with financial services here Financial Services that Improve Agriculture)

Lack of Yield and Waste – India’s Two Biggest Agricultural Challenges

One of the biggest issues facing the agricultural sector in India is lack of yield. India’s farm yield is 30-50% lower than that of developed nations due to the fact Indian farms are generally very small (on average two hectare) and simply don’t have access to financial services, credit lenders, support expertise, or the educational services that large farms employ, enabling them to be more productive.  As a result, India’s agriculture exports currently only account for 2% of the global food market.  IT is now giving farmers the opportunity to enhance their productivity and therefore increase their crop yield.   One area IT is filling the gap is within education.  An illiterate farmer with little formal education and can pick up a mobile phone, take a picture, and have immediate access to agricultural experts and receive much needed assistance at an affordable price.

The dreaded partner of low agricultural yield in India is waste. Stunningly, one-third of all food produced in India is wasted; it never makes it into someone’s mouth to eat. For example, if a particular market wants to buy corn and a local farmer is growing five different of crops—all small and of poor quality— and if corn is one of the crops, it provides such a small yield on a two hectare parcel, that buyers won’t even look at these farms, resulting in no sale, and waste.

With 60% of the Indian population in agricultural services, the levels of recorded waste are very troubling. Surprisingly, with nearly two-thirds of the population involved in agricultural work across the continent, there is currently little to no training provided in primary or secondary schools that encourages early-skill-development for the next generation of Indian farmers.

Skill acquisition and access to desperately needed resource is a critical conversation because too many Indian farmers find themselves squeezed to the point of breaking. Tragically, farmers are committing suicide in historically unprecedented and epidemic numbers. Caught in debt cycles with no possibility for paying off what is owed, and seemingly left without options for change or improvement, farmers have no hope for their future.

Good news. Data and IT are creating significant, scalable opportunities able to transform farmers’ abilities to increase efficiency and yield.  As quality and quantity of output increases, farmers become more attractive and sought after members of the value chain.  This inclusion not only enhances and grows the market for additional agritech solutions, but also creates more opportunities for investment and further integration, while increasing agricultural access to markets. This is exciting; as farmers succeed, the larger their market and opportunity for additional goods and services at scale.  And the more efficient and enabled a farmer, the more attractive they will be for investment and integration into markets – locally, regionally and nationally.  Through SV Agri Processing for example, thousands of farmers across 5 Indian states are being integrated into the larger potato supply chain.

Agriculture Is The Rising Tide That Lifts All Of India’s Economic Ships

As global agri-business becomes more complex, volatile, and scrutinized in route to an anticipated 2050 global population of 9 billion people, food production will need to increase 70% from today’s levels. Why is this significant? The value of every piece of land and agricultural resource will also increase. Those individuals and businesses most successful at connecting India’s farmers with agricultural best practices, financial and informational resources, in a profitable, humane, and impacting manner will have incredible opportunity.

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