When this year’s rabi or winter crop in Haryana’s Kurukshetra ripens, drones will circle them as part of a series of simultaneous experiments in three other states — Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra.
The country’s vast and antiquated agriculture sector has largely been a stranger to such high-tech, although it feeds a billion people.
Yet, slowly, the country has realised that without technology, its farmers aren’t going anywhere beyond eking out a tough living. Frequent weather shocks push them back into poverty. Food-price spirals annoy consumers and hobble policymakers.
From traditional handholding measures, such as subsidies, farm solutions are now moving to the Internet, a vast rural mobile phone subscriber base and space-telecom technologies.
The drones, for instance, will scan two select districts in each of these four states. They will carry out special imaging with the help of one among a constellation of homegrown satellites.
The images will be transmitted back to scientists at the Mahalanobis National Crop Forecast Centre in the Capital’s Pusa campus, a state-run farm science hub set up to harness space technology in agriculture.
The drones will give a wealth of information — they could tell accurately if climate is impacting yield.
Some innovations are a lot simpler. The country’s growing cell phone subscriber base — projected to overtake the US next month — is proving to be handy to tell farmers what to grow or actions to take in case of pest attacks in real time. India’s Internet user base is expected to see a 49% jump over the past year to reach 402 million in December. Of this, 153 million are rural subscribers. Over the course of a year, the government has enrolled 89.3 million farm families for its mobile farm advisories.
Several such projects are on trial. ‘Chaman’ in Hindi means garden. But it is also the high-tech acronym for the Coordinated Horticulture Assessment and Management that has used geo-informatics since 2014 to assess the health of seven horticulture crops grown widely.
“There is always a problem in getting timely and accurate data, due to which payment of claims to farmers gets delayed. A new high-tech programme, Kisan, is being launched on a pilot basis to help farmers,” minister of state for agriculture Sanjeev Kumar Balyan said.
An even more critical project is NADAMS, developed by the National Remote Sensing Centre that now provides real-time information on drought and its severity level. Currently, it covers 13 states. Small, belated steps but milestones nonetheless.