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Friday, March 01, 2024
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Transforming Agriculture with AI

Nishith Pathak


Imagine the life of farmers if they know well in advance about what all requirements soil needs. Based on these requirements, farmers also get to know in advance on the need of the fertilizer, crop, and seeds. While you are at it, you also get insights well in advance on how to increase the yield and improve farming. Would these insights help entire agribusiness folks and individuals to do more effective planning with proper sustainable development?  Well, these all are very much not the future but technology is available right now to get it done even today.  New technologies have created opportunities to make agriculture more productive and predictive


Importance of Agriculture


Agriculture has its deep roots from the inception of human to its present day. Since the early age of humanity till date, agriculture has become the oldest and most vibrant area focusing on food supply. As the time grew, Agriculture has been adopting pace with the change in the technologies. With the increasing rise of population, Agriculture business has got more responsibility to produce more food than its previous decade. With the increase of land usage for housing, industry, factories et al, this becomes challenging when total agriculture land has also started decreasing. Over the last decade or so, there has been a lot of technological and digital enhancements that have revolutionized the world of food supply especially the Agribusiness.


Brief recap of Agriculture and Predictions


Indian farming and agribusiness have been dependent a lot on experience and human instinct. Farmers used to provide predictions about rains, crops, fertilizers, and yield based on their experience. This experience might work and for some time, doesn’t work all time.  Climatic is changing fast. Every year, good amount of crop get lost due to either excess and sometime shortfall of rain?   Precise reason is not about experience but more to do with the human errors.  Moreover, how would these experiences be shared manually to all the farmers?  Wouldn’t it be great if the experience can somehow be used by computer programs to predict the future?


Artificial Intelligence


Artificial Intelligence is not a new concept and has started since mid of 1950’s. With the change of time, there have been a lot of breakthroughs in the field of AI. with the rise of neural networks and then Deep Neural network (DNN), AI has been getting applied in solving some complex problems across the industry. One of the notions of Artificial intelligence is to help humans in a more unthinkable way. The figure below shows the google trends showcasing the interest of AI by region. As you look clearly, AI has been a hot topic currently and it envisaged to be bringing that traction globally for considerable period.



Precision Agriculture


Thanks to the emergence and rise of IoT and AI, Precision Agriculture has started becoming the new norm for Agribusiness. Farmers across the world have started getting benefitted with precision agriculture. In fact, precision agriculture has also been adopted in some of the states in India as well. Some of the experts have tagged precision agriculture as the next Green revolution in India. Well, undoubtedly, precision agriculture is going to revolutionize the entire farming economy.  With this advent of new connected devices, it also does pose some challenges, especially around unstructured data. One of the main problems coming with precision agriculture is how can these data be effectively used to enhance productivity.  There is a real need for putting right algorithm of machine learning on these data and provide these data in easy to use manner for farmers.


Cognitive Technologies


Various IT giants like Microsoft, Google, and IBM etc. have been working for a couple of years to create some of their offerings in the form of abstract cognitive APIs. These APIs are very easy to use as most of them are available in a secured REST manner for consuming. It also gives you advantages of consuming the API, without knowing the underpinnings of the actual implementations.  Creating smart applications using these cognitive services no longer requires writing tens of thousands of lines of code and then testing it. In fact, creating a cognitive application has never been easier. The only thing you need to know in order to consume Microsoft Cognitive API is how to consume REST Services. There are various cognitive technologies like Vision, Speech, Natural Language Understanding (NLU), NLP etc. can help agribusiness in a more influential fashion. For e.g. new technologies in computer vision, drones can help farmers to scan and monitor field through the use of a tablet. Guess what, you also can have the option to act on the tablet which sensors, drones, and other devices can follow easily.


Agriculture Robots


Artificial Intelligence is not just providing the resolution on soil and crop monitoring, predictive and precision agriculture. In fact, a lot of agricultural tasks is getting automated over a period. With the rise of robotics together with AI, successful and applied research have been done to harvest crops at higher volume, protect crops from weeds and sometimes, harvest at more faster pace than humans.

As per the “Agricultural Robots and Drones 2017-2027: Technologies, Markets, Players” report from “Research and Markets” shows a fantastic and detailed report on how Agricultural robots are going to transform entire agribusiness. As per their report, Drones market in agriculture would be reaching over $480m in 2027.


Educating Farmers


It is indeed up to the farmers and agribusiness on how to maximize their throughput by utilizing these technologies. Farmers can take better and informed decisions. Educating and utilizing these resources are very crucial for countries like India, where more than 50% of the population is dependent on agriculture for their livelihood. It is also important to provide these tools and services at affordable cost so poor farmers can also get benefitted out of it.   Needless to say, exciting time in agribusiness has arrived and slowly going to disrupt even our Indian farming economy in next few years.


Summing up


Our agriculture industry, especially in India, has somehow been a little late in adopting some of these new innovative technologies but has tremendous opportunities to grasp it sooner and make a leap. With invention happening in AI and transforming agriculture, another challenging task has been to provide low-cost affordable solution so it can reach to common farmers across the regions.  The need of an hour is to ensure that our farmers’ family should get educated with these technologies.


(The author is India’s 1st Artificial Intelligence Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP), architect, speaker, AI thinker, innovator and strategist. Views expressed are personal)