Extending Digital India to Horticulture

 

Digital India, launched by the Government of India, is a new initiative that ensures that the government services are made available to citizens electronically by improving online infrastructure and increasing internet connectivity. Launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, it is indeed a commendable initiative that plans to include rural areas with high-speed internet networks. The initiative also has some provisions that help Indian Agriculture through technology. As a part of this initiative the disbursement of weather data, m-Agriculture and the creation of an online National Agriculture Market have been proposed. Such initiatives can pave a way for data-driven and connected agriculture but there is indeed scope for application of specialized yet affordable technology for greater productivity, especially in the Indian Horticulture.

 

Problems in Indian Horticulture at a glance

India happens to be the second largest producer of fruits and vegetables all over the world after China. During 2014-15, India exported fruits and vegetables worth Rs. 7474.14 croresThe Indian horticultural production has consistently increased over the years due to increased adoption of horticultural crops by the Indian farmers.

According to the ministry of Agriculture, for the first time, total horticultural production, at 268.9 million tonne, surpassed foodgrain production, at 257.1 million tonne, in 2012-13.

 

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Ministry of Agriculture, FY 2014 figures are provisional (Image created by indiaspend.com)

 

Horticulture production is on a steady rise, but despite this pivotal change in Indian agriculture production, India accounts for only 1% of the global horticulture trade.

 

Reasons for lagging Horticultural export

 

Fragmented Land Holdings

Unlike the average sizes of their counterparts in European countries and the United states, the average size of farm landholdings in India is very small. This means that the technology and farming solution templates that lead to greater productivity and better quality of produce make sense in the Western world, cannot be applied as-is in the Indian sub-context.

 

Wastage

Take bananas for example. India is the largest producer of bananas, but only 0.05% of the domestic production is exported. Due to mishandling of produce about 25-40% is being wasted which leads to spatial and temporal price imbalances.

The same is true for most other fruits and vegetables. While the magnitude of loss in food grains is about 10%, the losses for fruits and vegetables losses are estimated at 35-40% due to improper Post Harvest Management and cold chain infrastructure.  Lack of traceability in cold storage facilities aggravates this problem even further. The dismal state of market linkages add lag time to the export of produce, thus deteriorating its quality and export competitiveness.

 

Suboptimal quality of produce

EU has consistently raised concerns over the poor quality of its fresh fruits and vegetables from India. Europe had banned Indian mangoes for 2 years citing evidence of fruit flies, which it recently lifted. Even the Indian grapes had been banned by EU on account of the chemical content detected in the produce. Some years back Saudi Arabia had also threatened to ban Indian fresh fruits and vegetables, following which Indian exporters had adopted quality norms prevailing in the global market.

All these are legitimate concerns, and the Indian farmers and agricultural exporters are in dire need of solutions that would enable them to produce high quality produce.

 

Pest Incidence

Losses such as bacterial wilt in pomegranate, scab in apple and downey mildew in grapes, can be prevented if the temperature, humidity, rainfall and soil moisture data is obtained.

 

Lack of Technology adoption

The farm holdings in India are highly fragmented which means that technology adoption for growers doesn’t make as much economic sense as it does in countries like Holland where the usual holing sizes are over 40 hectares. This is a strong indication that the kind of technology that works for the farmers in the developed countries doesn’t work well in the Indian context.

 

High chemical content

Recently, in a similar incident, Saudi Arabia had banned import of green chilli from India after interception of higher than permissible levels of pesticide residues in consignments there. The European Union had banned Indian grapes on the issue of high pesticide residues and has only recently lifted the ban after 4 years in 2014.

 

Low Yield

Per hectare yield of major crops in some of the best performing states in India is far lower than ever the African countries, the Economic Survey showed on Friday.

As farmers lack a proper knowledge on maintaining the health of the soil, the cultivable lands are degrading quickly. If the health of the soil is protected, yield can be increased by 15 per cent, stated Krishna Byregowda, the Agriculture Minister of Karnataka.

 

Improving Indian Horticulture: A Solution through better data

 

better_data_better_agriculture

 

A large part of productivity loss happens due to lack of weather and field data. Every crop can flourish if it is maintained in the optimum conditions of temperature, humidity, soil moisture, and correctly spaced out irrigation intervals. This data coupled with the weather data can also be used for effective fertilizer and pesticide scheduling.

 

Data improves crop management

Crops when tended to in a data driven fashion not only lead to better output per hectare, but also a better quality crop that has immense export potential.

Banana, when maintained at specific soil moisture and irrigated at the right intervals, can lead to a 25% increase in the size of banana bunch.

When grow-LEDs in Gerbera greenhouses are controlled based on data incoming from lux sensors, can lead to increased petal size which fetches greater market price for the flowers.

The challenge is to get the data from the field in a form that can be used to make decision in real time as the climatic conditions change or as the standing crop faces the threat of pests and weather diseases. The existing solutions for data capture, monitoring and control exist in the form of weather stations, data loggers, irrigation controllers and farm automation systems, that solve only part of the capture-> monitor-> control cycle.

Furthermore, they are prohibitively expensive. Most of them are imported and the import duties involved in paying thorugh foreign exchange makes them unreasonably expensive for even the large Indian growers to adopt them.

 

How Yuktix can help

Yield and quality are functions of the environment. Most of the pests and plant diseases are also weather dependent.  Using Yuktix’ sensing solution for agriculture can enable grower achieve greater productivity through data driven decisions for agriculture.

The Yuktix solution comprises of sensors, a solar powered wireless data logger box, a controller box and a cloud dashboard. The solution enables farmers to have good control over environment variables.

 

How it works

Based on the type of crop that is being grown or stored, a set of sensors are selected and plugged into the dataloggers which in turn transmit field and warehouse data to the cloud for better decisions, alerts, analysis and control. Following is a schematic of the solution:

yuktix_data_capture

A big difference between other products and our products is that we allow viewing and interacting with devices over the Internet. That means for wide area deployments you do not have to gather data from individual machines and decisions can be taken in a timely manner. You can open up a mobile app, check the status of things, get alerts and send instructions back to the device. Since Yuktix devices device are indigenously developed, the installations are very cost competitive vis-a-vis imported units.

Through better data, Indian horticulture growers and exporters have a greater chance at creating a larger footprint in the global trade. Notwithstanding the popular yet mistaken belief that a sensor-based monitoring technology for agriculture would be unaffordable in the Indian sub-context, we have proven that when developed indigenously, the same systems can be affordable by a large section of the horticulture producers.

 

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