Although still nascent in India, Internet of Things (IoT) – considered to be the new age technology revolution by Department of Telecommunications (DoT), Government of India, has already impacted the country’s agriculture sector over the last few years.
Imagine the use of smart sensors, telecommunication and power of Information Technology (IT) for real time monitoring of crop health, checking of soil vitals, developing smart irrigation facilities and many more. That is exactly what the creators and system integrators in IoT ecosystem are doing to enable the not so tech savvy farmers enhance their crop produce with the use of cutting edge technology, thereby contributing to a booming agro-based economy.
Here are some smart agricultural products along with their benefits
Opencube Labs (OCL) based out of Bengaluru are currently working towards creating open source, farmer friendly IoT based agricultural products. A hand held device to check crop health, smart sensors to get real time soil health, smart irrigation system and smart livestock management system are all built completely on open hardware platforms like Arduino and Raspberry Pi along with ESP.
Explaining the working of the above products, Suraj Kumar Jana, founder at OCL, said: “A high precision, easy to use, open source tool has been designed to measure the Normalised Density Vegetation Index (NDVI) and get real time crop health. These health factor indicators help in understanding the right amount and time for the use of fertilisers and pesticides.”
“Our product also includes a real-time soil vitals measurement system that checks for soil moisture, nutrient and PH levels in the field. Our cloud then analyses all the sensor data and acts of the semi-automated irrigation system, gives inputs to farmers for better use of fertilizer in local language and predicts the returns from yield, best seeds for the soil and precautionary measures,” he added. These products can also help farmers predict revenue from their yield even before the end of season.
AgNext Technologies, a Punjab based startup is also using IoT based solutions towards precision farming. While it was initially launched as an imagery analysis company that included drones and satellite combinations for agriculture growers, it did not address the major issues of the farmers.
This made AgNext combine three technologies for data harvesting in agriculture and then adding a layer of Machine Learning (ML) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to make it more predictive that created more crop focused solutions combining agronomic sciences and data technologies.
Taranjeet Singh, one of the founders of AgNext, said: “We have combined four technologies – IoT, AI based image processing, weather forecasting and satellite imagery to create a single solution platform for stakeholders to monitor occurrence of pests and diseases over a large area and build predictive models for future.”
Not just crop and soil health measurement systems, Energy Bots Private Limited, another Gurgaon based startup has come up with smart watering system which is a GSM based three phase IoT device that allows farmers to remotely switch on/off their motor pump either by giving a missed call or by sending a text or by scheduling both at specific times of the day. Users are alerted and notified when any action is taken by the device thereby preventing the farmers from traveling few miles to water their fields.
Parth M Bhatt, product specialist at EnergyBots, said: “We use humidity and moisture sensors to get the data within controller and microcontroller to take decisions and perform actions, communication with mobile application is done through WiFi for indoor utility like smart gardening and terrace farming and for outdoor utility like actual farms, GSM is used.”
“EnergyBots has developed a central GSM based IoT console and all the humidity, temperature, soil sensors are wired to the central console. The central console controls water pumps, checks water level in the tanks and gets information from the moisture, humidity and soil sensor that provides condition of the soil and triggers action based on pre-set parameters. The parameters can be different for different crop and soil,” he added.
Not yet a giant in global market but India is growing fast
Smart agriculture, the global market size of which is $17.57 billion at present is growing by leaps and bounds and would soon achieve a market size as much as $26.76 billion by 2020, shows recent study conducted by Statista.com – a renowned portal that provides statistics and studies from over 22,500 sources.
Smart agriculture market in Asia accounts for 40 percent of the global market share out of which India’s contribution is still nominal.
In India over 40 IoT startups are dealing with smart agriculture as per National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM) report. While a majority of them are in research and development (R&D) phase, a few large-scale farmers have started implementing these IoT products on their farms for better output.
IoT, a chance to modernise agriculture, enhance output and profit
The Internet of Things (IoT) has opened up new opportunities for the agricultural sector through productive ways of monitoring agriculture process. Due to its immense advantages, IoT device installations in the global agricultural set up would increase from 30 million in 2015 to 75 million in 2020 at a compound annual growth rate of 20%, according to a Business Insider Intelligence report.
Several leading companies and startups in India are now creating and integrating unmanned tools such as drones to collect, analyse and transmit real time crop intelligence to keep a check on the usage of chemicals and irrigate dry fields to generate sustainable and high-yielding results.
IoT, according to the creators and system integrators in the ecosystem, is another opportunity to modernize Indian agriculture and achieve a new phase of exponential growth through IoT applications. It can revolutionise the way farmers cultivate, the warehousing, reduce wastage and ensure higher revenues and profitability for the entire ecosystem.
Ramani Sunderesan, managing director at Avnet, India – one of the system integrators in the ecosystem, said: IoT based solutions for agriculture seem to be of utmost priority for the Indian government at present under its flagship program ‘Digital India’. The fact that agricultural sector employs 50 percent of the country’s population claims a huge impact on the overall growth of the country.”
Lack of awareness among farmers a major challenge for the players
Paucity of knowledge among farmers to use agricultural machinery incorporating a higher level of technology has served as the major challenge for players in the ecosystem.
The creators and system integrators should develop their IoT based products keeping their customers in mind, said the major players. The methodology and thought process required to build a product for farmers are different from technology products developed for urban crowd as most farmers are illiterate and hardly have knowledge on technology. Creators need to focus on UX/UI in cases of digital products and also focus on the language that a product uses to communicate the needful to farmers.
Vendor lock-in where a customer has to depend on the vendor for products and services, being unable to use a different vendor without substantial switching costs is another serious challenge in the ecosystem that needs to addressed soon.
Quality and durability of sensors deployed on field is also a crucial challenge for the creators as very high quality sensors become unaffordable for farmers. Another major problem is scalability as Indian farms are of very small size and are fragmented, thereby creating a challenge for startups to scale or make profit.
Vinay Solanki, founder of IoTNCR, a community of over 5,000 IoT enthusiasts that conducts various workshops on smart agriculture and many more, said: “Critical piece missing in the ecosystem is support from Government in terms of regulatory policies, support for technology, incentive for both large and small players to enter farming sector. Another missing piece is body of industry association which can focus on adoption of latest technology in agriculture. Although we have separate efforts by NASSCOM and CII, we need a more concentrated and joint effort.”