'AI must invade agriculture to help India prosper'

'AI must invade agriculture to help India prosper'

With India facing the prospect of feeding 1.6 billion people by 2050, experts have said that the country must turn to Artificial Intelligence (AI) to weed out inefficiencies in national agriculture.

Speaking at the 107th Indian Science Congress at the University of Agricultural Sciences in Bengaluru on Saturday, the experts said that the massive responsibility of the government to provide for its citizens requires a fundamental shift in how the government and society view agriculture.

“In India, 50% of land is cultivated. As much as 45% of all adults directly work in agriculture, but the average monthly income of farmers is less than $100 (about Rs 7,100). The contribution of agriculture to the national $3 trillion economy is less than 20%. This has to change,” said Prof Heggere Ranganath, a Karnataka native, now on the faculty of the University of Alabama.

Dr Ranganath warned that although the UN, in 2016, had set 17 global goals, including combating hunger and poverty, none of them can be achieved without increasing agriculture production. 

In India, poor crop productivity poses massive challenges, explained Dr Ajit Sapre of Reliance Technology Group. “Gross cropped area under agriculture is only 33%, but consumes 89% of extracted groundwater,” he said, adding that agriculture was also hobbled by the fact that inappropriate crops were often planted in areas where they should not be. 

As an example of how AI could help address these challenges, Sapre pointed to recent findings from an Internet of Things (IoT) system in Punjab, which determined that although the staple crops of the state are rice, cotton, sugarcane, barley and maize, the ideal crop for the region is actually wheat – according to the data.

AI technologies can align agriculture to modern practices, Ranganath said. Among these are drones to shoot capsules with fertilisers and seeds into the soil using a compressed air system, driverless tractors and vehicles to carry out automatic harvesting and fertilisation, and wireless networks which would help farmers gather data from sensors in the field and transit them to the cloud.

‘For-profit business’

However, he added that, what was also needed was a fundamental shift in how India viewed agriculture. “It must be seen as a ‘for-profit business’. There is no point getting emotional about the issue or shouting slogans during election cycles,” he clarified.

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