The biggest challenge of the coming decades for all of humanity will be food. As populations grow, and climate change makes seasons hard to predict, we will have to work harder and find better ways to feed the new teeming billions. Harvard Business Review estimates that the global food demand will be up between 60-98% from current levels by 2050.
Ordinarily, someone looking at the data might say that we must bring more land under cultivation. However, with emerging economies looking to industrialise rapidly, we can’t bring proportional amount of land under cultivate to abate the crisis. Many countries are looking at technology to solve this. Agriculture, like people, will have to get a lot smarter.
What is Smart Agriculture?
Smart Agriculture is a method of farming that infuses modern technology with traditional agricultural practices. By using technologies like GPS, modern data collection methods, data analysis, Internet of Things, and Machine Learning, farmers can expand their yield per hectare. With the ability to measure the effectiveness of farming interventions like pesticides and fertilisers precisely, farmers can use them more selectively.
The ‘revolution’ that the agricultural sector is looking for is one that optimises fields and processes. Lack of precise approximation about the amount of water needed, amount of pesticides to be used, etc. costs farmers a lot and ends up making the whole process extremely inefficient. Big Data can be a powerful tool in the hands of the farmer. IoT can change how farmers visualise their fields, as demonstrated by the start-up WaterBit, which enables the farmer to get aggregated data and visualise the resource expenditure of thousands of acres of land. These apps are powered by IoT-enabled sensors that can be placed all around the field. By combining statistical-analysis through Big data, Machine Learning, and IoT, start-ups like WaterBit are changing how farmers use their fields and what informs their decisions.
The market value of smart agriculture
Many start-ups that are building new solutions for smart agriculture are being heavily invested into. According to market research the smart agriculture market was worth $6.4 billion in 2017, and is expected to grow to $13.5 billion by 2023. The good news is that the rate of investment is accelerating. In 2018, Indian smart agriculture start-ups raised $73 million. In the first six months of 2019, the investment was up to $248 million, up 300% in half the time period.
Recently, NASSCOM data has also revealed that there are 450+ start-ups in India working in the agritech sector. In fact, every 9th Agritech start-up in the world originates in India. Indian companies are aiming for markets not just in India, but also Africa, South America, East Asia, and Europe. Around the agritech start-up ecosystem, the motto seems to ‘Make in India, for the world’. The demand is driven by new areas such as market linkage, digital agriculture, and better access to inputs, which have attracted a lot of investment.
While these are definitely promising signs, there are challenges ahead. Agritech is a capital intensive field, requiring a lot of R&D. A positive investment climate, and investor confidence needs to be sustained for it to make a sizeable dent in agriculture output. The biggest challenge that the industry faces is the lack of skilled knowhow. Given that most farmers are based in rural industries, and don’t have access to advanced technology, the industry will need a lot of skilled professionals who are willing to make a difference.
At the School of Smart Agriculture, we’re working on creating the large tech-educated workforce who will be instrumental in bridging this gap between technology and farmers. With a rapidly growing industrial base, and a market that is poised to evolve with the climate, this sector creates many lucrative opportunities for those who want to build a career in the new economy. With cutting-edge specialisations, focus on technology, and application and industry-oriented course structures, we believe that our graduates will not only revitalise our fields, but also the world.