I basically belong to a farming family and it has been our profession at the village over the years and generations. Since I used to get involved in agricultural activities back in the village during holidays, I developed fascination for the agriculture as a profession. During the past 40 years, I have been associated with Agricultural Research, Education and Extension besides promotion of Micro irrigation as a water conservation and precision farming technology in India and several countries. My experience of Post-Doctoral Research and working with Israeli scientists enabled me to gain greater insights into Micro irrigation Technologies in a big way. This experience helped me in conceiving, formulating and implementing projects for promotion of Micro irrigation in India, South Asia and African countries. I was also responsible for formulating and implementation of World`s largest Micro irrigation project in Andhra Pradesh during 2003-04, which today encompasses over one million hectares in both the States.
Being a dedicated academician, I have to my credit, over 264 research papers in peer reviewed national & international Journals, several field irrigation practical manuals, books, crop growing manuals, project documents, DVD films, invited international and national presentations etc., covering different aspects of Micro irrigation and fertigation management. Speaking of my achievements, there are many that I am proud of – I became the Special Officer & first Vice Chancellor of Professor Jayashankar Telangana State Agricultural University, the youngest State Agricultural University in India since June 2014, currently serving a second term. I played an important role in the growth of Micro irrigation in India by conceiving, formulating and implementing the world’s largest Micro irrigation project, Andhra Pradesh Micro irrigation project, for small hold farmers covering over 1.0 million ha under Agrihorticultural crops in the Southern States of Telangana & Andhra Pradesh. I developed a dedicated website on sustainable drip irrigated sugarcane production for the benefit of drip irrigated sugarcane growers in several countries. I also developed digital knowledge material on 142 drip irrigated Agri horticultural crops that helped in creating new capabilities, decision criteria for diffusion and adoption, and enhanced stakeholder value. My professional commitment has won me several accolades– 7th MS Swamianthan Award of the RICAREA (2020), Leader with strategic vision bestowed by Agribusiness Summit 2019, Best Vice Chancellor 2018 by AIASA and IAUA, Life time Achievement Award 2018 by Rythu Nestam Group (2018), Education Leadership Award (2018) from Business School Affaire, Fellow of CHAI – 2018, Life time Achievement Award (2015), Net Award from Netafim, Israel (2006) & Leadership Award (2005)and Life Time Achievement Award (2018) from Soil Conservation Society ofIndia, to name a few for promotion of Micro irrigation in India, Africa and South East Asia. I am an active member of several international professional bodies viz., ASA, SSSA, CSSA, ASABE,ISHS etc as well as Life Member of several professional bodies in India. I was formerly Member Governing Board and AGM of the ICAR and currently acting Chairman/Member of several technical and policy making think tanks and committees related to agriculture and rural development in ICAR and Telangana State Several Educational, Research and Extension reforms and Interinstitutional collaborations both in India and abroad initiated by me as Vice Chancellor enabled the PJTSAU achieve top rank during the past few years among SAUs in India within a short span of 4 years.
Today, India hosts one of the most expansive networks of agricultural research and academic institutions through its National Agricultural Research System (NARS), comprising 113 ICAR Centres, 5 Central and 77 State Agricultural Universities(CAUs/SAUs). The mandate of the Agricultural Universities is three-pronged viz., teaching, research and extension.
India’s agricultural educational and research ecosystem has served the agricultural sector well. It is well acknowledged that it was the success of Green revolution saga that led the country becoming more of a food-secure country today. The contributions from agricultural research, education and extension systems to this achievement are indeed unparalleled and these institutions need to take their stewardship efforts with newer approaches to bring in the next wave of transformation of the agricultural and food sector.
This transformation is warranted as not only challenges for more food continue, but demand for better and nutritional, safe food with a sustainable approach to use natural resources grows. The current challenges include low productivity compared to our Asian peers and world averages in various crops, mounting threat to sustainability arising from soil degradation, competition and declining quality of natural resources (soil, water & labour), climate change impacts, poor linkage of farms with markets and low value realization by the farmers for agricultural produce, rising quality competitiveness under pressure of globalization, wide gap between lab and land experiments and agronomic insight vacuum of farmers, low level of value chain mechanization and value addition, supply chain management and product life-cycle management, biotic and a biotic stresses and inefficient use of agro-inputs, decreasing land-holding size and poorly coordinated natural disaster management system etc. Added to these, agriculture needs to be pushed as profit oriented industry for all its stakeholders in agri-food value chain especially the farmers. Enhancing livelihood capabilities in farm sector and non-farm sector is the fundamental premise of the national agenda of doubling farmer incomes in the next decade. The present-day paradigm shift in agriculture is led by the vision of doubling of farmers’ income by 2022. Like green revolution, blue revolution etc we may need to push the concept of income revolution in the country. The Inter-Ministerial Committee on Doubling Farmers’ Income(DFI) headed by Dr Ashok Dalwaihas amongst others emphasized on a new approach to science, technology, innovation, extension and education in the agricultural domain. It recommends that National Agricultural Research System should adopt Science for Delivery in place of Science for Discovery.
It also recommends new extension system that co-opts both public and private sector facilitators, besides manpower, digital technology-based platform from a business perspective, farmers are seeking ways to increase efficiency by lowering production costs, better location specific management, deal with volatility in weather conditions, obtaining better prices for their product and improve profitability. From a public perspective, global food and nutritional security is often mentioned as a main driver for further technological advancements. Besides, consumers are becoming more concerned about food safety and nutritional aspects of food related to health and well-being. Therefore, they need to take better, more optimal decisions and improve management control. While in the past advisory services were based on general knowledge that once was derived from research experiments, there is an increasing need for information and knowledge that is generated on-farming in its local-specific context. It is expected that Big Data technologies help to achieve these goals in a better way. The urgency is for an agricultural value system. These include productivity breakthroughs, enhancing resource use, efficiency, sustainability, minimization of food loss and wastage, and optimization of profits using emerging data driven technologies such as AI, Machine learning, GNSS, satellite imaging, IoT, advanced RS & GIS, robotics, UAVs, sensors, precision farming and rise in agri-tech companies. This means transforming agriculture into agri-business wherein farmer entrepreneurs generate jobs and wealth, even as food security is ensured.
Since the advent of the Start-up India initiative in 2015, the country has witnessed a wide number of Agri-entrepreneurs entering this space, which led to innovative start-ups sprawling up (~3200 start-ups registered under start-up India initiative as Agri start-ups and ~735 start-ups matured in Agri tech). Agri tech or agriculture technology can be products, services or applications derived from agriculture to advance a range of input or output processes associated with agriculture. Agri tech involves a broad array of technologies, including drones, satellite photography and sensors, IoT-based sensor networks, phase tracking, weather forecasts, automated irrigation, light control, and heat control, intelligent software analysis for pest and disease prediction, soil management and other involved analytical tasks, and biotech. Multiple agri tech start-ups are foraying into the sector offering innovative and personalised solutions at affordable costs to tackle various challenges in the agricultural value chain. However, Agri tech in India is still in infancy stages with just 1% penetration of the addressable market potential of US$24bn. Current data indicates that majority of these start-up founders are from non-Agriculture background and there is dearth of Agri graduates venturing into entrepreneurship. Concurrently, it is important to understand the growing demand for more centralised databases of agridata or an agri tech stack, for the technology developers to have access to. Increased investment activity in the last few years has helped accelerate growth in the sector. However, for the Indian agri tech market to reach its potential, stakeholders across the agri tech ecosystem need to intervene. Agri Tech start-ups need to demonstrate scalability and higher unit economics to receive support from investors. Success in agri tech landscape depends on the start-ups’ ability to innovate the agri-food value chain without disrupting traditional channels, and their ability in establishing partnerships and collaborations with stakeholders such as FPOs, distributors, and food processing organizations. From government side interventions, recently announced reforms are expected to revolutionize the state of agriculture in India. However, the government could propel the growth of under-funded segments such as financial services and precision agriculture and farm management through localized data collection on soil health, and providing access to government research facilities. From farmer`s point of view, FPOs could help increase digital literacy within small and marginal farmers so that the adoption of agri tech accelerates in the country. Further, FPOs could establish partnerships with food processing companies and institutional retailers to incentivize farmers for better quality of produce and in turn drive the adoption of agri tech in this process. Agri tech start-ups often grapple to reach out to bureaucracy and policymakers, specifically at the state level. In this connection establishing a dedicated cell under the aegis of central / state governments can play a proactive role to help agri tech start-ups.
Likewise Agricultural Universities and Research Institutions can support Agri start-ups through their domain knowledge in course correction, piloting and validation of technology as well as in approaching the potential customers. Another area which this cell can focus on is building high-quality research papers related to innovations happening in India by Agri-start-ups in the field of agriculture and in-depth research on – how innovations are impacting the farmer’s income, what are the challenges in farmer`s adoption of new-age technologies, what innovations in financing are needed to improve lending to small-holder farmers and what are the challenges in creating a pan-India market for agri-commodities.
The word “drone” first appeared in the early 16th century to indicate a male honeybee. The honeybee drone has a single purpose, to fertilize a queen bee during a mating flight, followed by the death of the drone. A drone is defined as a remotely piloted aircraft controlled directly by a human operator via a radio link, or with various levels of autonomy achieved by using autopilot technology. The use of drones has become widespread in agriculture, and it is associated with unique opportunities and challenges. The most common role of drones in agriculture is as a remote sensing platform to assess and monitor crops, but emerging agricultural applications include precision distribution of agricultural chemicals and biological control agents, livestock health monitoring, and remote sampling. Several different drone designs and sensor types are used, each with its associated advantages and limitations.
Seedling emergence measurement and mapping is a common agricultural application of imagery collected using drones. Drones also offer advantages in weed mapping and management due to the high degree of flexibility in spatial resolution. Multispectral imagery is typically most appropriate for mapping weeds within the crop field. Reconnaissance after natural disasters, in cases of flood, hailstorms, hurricane, droughts, disease and pest infestation etc is another area where Drones can be utilized. Aerial sensing systems can provide robust spatial and temporal assessment of crop water stress under diverse environmental conditions, and with unmatched levels of data generation efficiency.
Drones are also frequently used for monitoring the growth of the vegetation and providing estimation regarding the yield. Next, drones could assist in the small and largescale application of agrochemical products such as pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers etc., particularly in intensively managed small farm holder fields, at an unprecedented level of precision, resulting in optimal production while minimizing environmental pollution. We at PJTSAU also found some innovative options in research such as direct seeding of rice and pollination activity in hybrid rice seed production. There are countless future agricultural usesof drones, and expectations are that it will have broad impacts. It is associated with many novel and emerging opportunities, along with unique challenges. Autonomous monitoring and sampling are expected to become increasingly reliable and sophisticated and could play important roles in the future development of precision agriculture, addressing issues offood and nutritional security and meeting the SDGs. Lack of universal public acceptance, unsuitable regulatory frameworks, data-intensive procedures for the exploitation of the images acquired by Drones, need for skilled and expertpersonnel, short flight time ranging from 20 – 30 min covering a very restricted area at every flight and Drones that can offer longer flight time being relatively expensive are some of the challenges that limit the pace of application development and expansion of Drone usage. Various available tools and technologies often do not follow the same technology standards/platforms. This results in the lack of uniformity/ interoperability in the final data/ analysis that is generated by the end users. Indian farmers, while becoming more tech-savvy, are still not fully appreciative of IoT and data-based farming. The high investment cost to purchase the Drones is another prohibitive factor. If these challenges can be surmounted, future Drones could be hosted at strategic locations, and will execute a variety of local crop monitoring tasks that are controlled= through autonomous features under the direction of centralized operations centres where large amounts of data can be utilized to extract reliable, near-real time information for use in management decision-making.
Application of crop production and protection materials is a crucial component of pest management in intensive production agriculture. Agricultural application of fertilizers and chemicals is frequently needed at specific times and locations to increase yields or for accurate, site-specific management of crop pests. These applications are typically made through the use of ground sprayers, chemigation, or aerial application equipment. While these methods are well suited to large acreage crops and cropping systems, they may become inefficient or cumbersome for small plot production systems that characterize the Indian landscape.
The benefits of Drones over many of the existing technologies in terms of their manoeuvrability, low operation costs, safety and accuracy have spur great interest in using and developing Drones for aerial application of materials. Additionally, Drones can help farmers to optimize the use of inputs (seed, fertilizers, water) to react more quickly to threats (weeds, pests, fungi) to save time crop scouting (validate treatment/ actions taken), to improve variablerate prescriptions in real time and estimate yield from a field. All these have potential implications for reducing production costs, enhancing yields, environmental security, sustainability, health benefits, and enhancing farmer’s incomes.
The dynamic of Indian agriculture is going through a transformation. Agri sector continues to employ the highest percentage of people and rural India still constitutes over 41.49% of the total population. As mobile penetration is increasingly making the data and voice cheaper and younger rural population growing up as a tech-savvy generation, the agri-sector is poised to see a significant evolution. India today boasts of over 600 post POC (Proofof- Concept) agri tech start-ups in the agricultural sector, most of them with a vintage of less than five years. Investors have pumped in close to $1 billion in upstream agri tech deals over last decade andthe momentum has started to pick up with over $600 million invested in the last 24 months. India’s agriculture technology sector (Agri tech sector) has the potential to grow manifold to US$ 24.1bn in the next five years. With a turnover of US$ 204mn (under 1% of its market potential), India’s agri tech sector is just getting out of the starting block. Further, the Union Budget 2021 has proposed to increase agri credit target to INR 16.5 trillion from the previous year’s INR 15 trillion. This is expected to open opportunities for agri-fin tech startups to build innovative agri credit products and services
The impact of agri tech can be seen in every aspect and stage of the agri-food value chain business: right from procuring agri-inputs, to improving efficiency of crop production system and harvesting operations, to warehousing, storage, distribution and transportation of agri-produce to post-production processing (primary, secondary & tertiary), handling, Quality assaying of agricultural commodities, digitisation of transactional data, price discovery and traceability and finally to retailing and financing – every touch-point of the agri-business has a potential for innovation. According to venture capitals, agri tech start-ups, seed companies, food tech companies and scientific institutions, seven key themes in agri tech have been identified such as sensing, monitoring and precision agriculture, farmers platforms, credit and financing, biotechnology, food processing and value addition, quality and traceability, and agri infrastructure such as storage and logistics. In agri-food value chain through instant data gathering and processing, Drones have the potential to help agriculture in several ways
Drones have the capability to produce precise maps for soil analysis in pre-planting, and further analysis for irrigation application, fertiliser and chemical requirements. With automated distance-measuring equipment, drones can scan the ground and spray the correct amount of chemicals with increased efficiency and decreased environmental impacts. This targeted spraying of chemicals is a key beneficial feature of drones, as it reduces input costs and provides positive environmental outcomes such as a decrease in chemical and artificial fertiliser use, a national priority today in agriculture. Improved cameras, including those with hyper spectral capacity, are rapidly increasing the amount ofinformation that can be obtained using drones. Hence, farmers can therefore monitor crops for disease and in the case of damaging weather events, document losses more efficiently for insurance claims.
Drones can be used to monitor livestock remotely and potentially improve profits via timely monitoring, negating the need for physical inspections. Drone operators can check in on livestock to monitor injuries, birthing, or to ensure none are missing. Drones with hyper spectral, multispectral and thermal sensors can be used to inspect fields for moisture deficiencies and to calculate vegetation index/ heat signatures. This information can then be used by farmers to make more efficient adjustmentsto irrigation operations that focus on specific areas that are moisture deficient. As the technology around Drones evolve, farmers will increasingly use their own Drones and collect their own data, thereby enabling beneficial outcomes around timeliness of decision making as it is possible to launch a Drone quickly compared with satellite technology that may take a day to process imagery. This will also assist farmers in managing their properties in a sustainable fashion with a focus on conservation practices around soil and water resources which consumers are increasingly demanding.