Feeding the World Through Digital Agriculture

Welcome to 2050!
World Population: 9 billion
Spot Need: Farmers need to grow more food than they have done in the past 10,000 years, in
fact, 70% more food. Climate change has impacted the agricultural cycles across the globe.
Situation Alert: People are moving out of agriculture and the world has an even higher
number of mouths to feed. Farm size and number have drastically contracted in
agroeconomic countries like India. From 33%, the contribution of agriculture to the world’s
GDP had reduced to 3% by 2018 itself. The world now depends on the remaining few for
their energy needs. The food supply chain witnesses a huge supply-demand gap. Well, how
feasible is it to relocate to another planet? If not so feasible, what does one do?!
Thanks to technology in the 2000s, we might not have to face the situation as one described
here. Agriculture 4.0 has set in, with IT, devices and sensors among other inventions. The
digital phase has revolutionized the field of agriculture in many ways, especially in India.
The diverse set of applications have supported agriculture to increase farm productivity,
bridge supply-demand gap, improve product quality, speed up delivery from farm to fork,
realize higher prices for farmers and enhance lives of the growers. The expanse of
opportunities to benefit the food supply chain has attracted several start-ups as well as
established firms to digital agriculture.
Imagine a sensor installed in a farm that continuously captures variables like temperature,
humidity, rainfall, etc. and sends the information to a system for processing and analysis. The
previous night saw rainfall of 15mm, which the farmer couldn’t measure the next morning.
The sensor had recorded the rainfall and the processed information, thus, helped in informing
the farmer about the nil need for irrigation. The start-up Fasal has helped improve farm
prediction through such sensors. On the other hand, Aibono uses sensor and drone technology
to regularly monitor the state of the crop and helps farmer earn higher prices by matching the
supply with market demand. The technology suggests the farmer on the perfect time to
harvest and helps connect with the buyers to deliver when the demand is high. Aibono also
assists the farmers from the first step of soil analysis and agri-input analysis. Farmers are also
advised on the crop to be sown, basis the weather and market forecast. Start-ups like
Gramophone and Agrostar are using a digital infrastructure to deliver agricultural inputs and
extension services. Mukhi Dairy uses sensors and an integrated software system to regularly
monitor the cattle health on their farms and establish a causal relationship for any irregularity
in milk production and cattle behavior.
Let’s move a step ahead from farm production and talk about processing and travel of
agricultural produce to the customers. Our Foods has been working on the idea of pre-
processing farm output at the farm, in order to ensure a higher price to the farmer for pre-
processed food products. A simple example can be dehusking and polishing of rice. Large
farms across the world necessarily have a processing machine that pre-processes the farm
output for the market and fetches a relatively higher price for the farmers. This is where Our
Foods has ideated to function. Start-ups like WayCool have used technology and innovation
to quicken the process of delivery of farm output to customers like HORECA segment,
retailers, etc. Do you know that the fresh tomato you consume takes 3 days and 6 steps to
reach you from the farm? WayCool has utilized its collection and distribution infrastructure to

reduce the handling to only 1 step and bring down spoilage in the supply chain. Interestingly,
the start-up has ensured installation of its retail store within 10 days, as against the industry
standard of 50 days. SuperZop has succeeded in narrowed the information gap for the kirana
stores, through its presence as a digital agent between the mill and the retailer. Talking about
large corporate players, Mahindra Agri has used its MyAgri app to reach its customers. ITC
e-Choupal has been a pioneer in using technology to minimize information asymmetry for the
farmers regarding the mandi prices.
Coming back to the present, we must become cognizant of the many obstacles that prevent
digital agriculture from reaping its full benefits. One, digitalization in agriculture has been
fragmented in its outreach. Having heard of the many success stories in the domain, I didn’t
personally find sufficient application at Kansa village in Mehsana, our RIM (Rural
Immersion Module) location. The farmer community hadn’t used different digital-based
services like online ordering for agri-inputs, real-time crop monitoring, online price
discovery, etc. This highlights how dispersed the reach of digital agriculture in India has
been. However, the community was aware of the several big players in the agribusiness
domain like Tiwana, TAFE, Dudhsagar, etc. One way to resolve the outreach issue could be
the acquisition of start-ups in the domain by large players, who would then leverage on their
coverage to increase accessibility of the digital solutions to farmers. Another roadblock is the
lower adoption level among the farmer community. For Indian farmers, small landholding
and low farm productivity reduce farmers’ risk appetite for the trial of any new technology.
Aibono has tried to circumvent the obstacle by establishing a model farm and inviting farmers
to witness the impact real-time, in any new region it enters into. While the model requires
high monetary and effort investment, it helps build the trust and sets an example for farmers
to try. More examples exist to reinforce that digital agriculture can indeed feed the world,
through concerted efforts from individuals dedicated and committed towards agriculture.

Written by Srishti Singh

Srishti is a FABM student at IIM Ahmedabad.

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