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India Reforms Organisation to Support Digital Agriculture

Over the past decade, the Indian government has launched several initiatives to promote the digitalisation of agriculture, a sector that nearly 70% of the population depends on. In 2012, the Agriculture Ministry set up an organisation as an attached office of the Department of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare (DA&FW). It was called the Mahalanobis National Crop Forecast Centre (MNCFC) and set out to enhance satellite remote sensing and GIS technologies in crop estimation.

According to a press release, considering the recent advancements in geospatial technology, DA&FW has recognised the need to scale up the technology solutions in agriculture decision support. In this direction, the first meeting of the technical advisory committee to strengthen and transform MNCFC into a centre of excellence for geospatial technology applications was recently held in New Delhi.

At the event, Manoj Ahuja, the DA&FW Secretary, highlighted the need to scale up the utilisation of satellites, drones, smartphones, and artificial intelligence/machine learning (AI/ML) techniques. These scientific IT products and services will empower stakeholders across the agriculture sector to make informed decisions. An official also urged the MNCFC to take part in global initiatives on crop surveillance.

After deliberations, major recommendations of the committee included:

  • adopting new technologies and data products
  • utilising the recently-launched Indian microwave satellite RISAT- 1Adata
  • increasing the development and use of bio-physical products
  • working to better use AI/ML techniques for automated crop mapping, crop health monitoring, and crop yield estimation
  • encouraging collaborations with national, international, private, and start-up organisations

The committee also discussed developing a national framework at MNCFC for all scalable technology solutions to standardise the methodologies, enabling them to become more widely used in decision-making processes. The major themes for developing national initiatives are crop surveillance and estimations, disaster risk reduction in agriculture, farmer-centric services (weather, pest/disease surveillance advisory, nutrient management advisory, and agro-forestry decision support), and environment and energy.

An official at the meeting noted that satellite-based assessments be extended to the horticulture sector by pooling the data and expertise currently available in the existing projects and schemes by the Ministry and Indian Council for Agriculture Research (ICAR).

With the support of technology agencies like the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), officials believe that MNCFC will be fully equipped to reap all the possible benefits of digital technologies in a holistic manner in the agriculture sector.

Earlier this year, in a bid to increase crop yield and quality, the Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) developed a sensor-based irrigation system for farmers in Goa. The system can be controlled through a mobile application or the web. The sensors can start and stop water motors depending on the moisture value of the soil. This process prevents water erosion and maintains the soil quality throughout the field.

As OpenGov Asia reported, the system is powered by renewable energy resources (solar-powered pumps) to provide clean water to farmers in off-the-grid areas. The technology has saved time, especially for daily wage farmers giving them freedom and flexibility to sell their harvest in the market. Using riverbank filtration (RBF) technology, the system provides clean water for irrigation.

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