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DIGITIZING AGRICULTURE THE WAY OF THE FUTURE

April 08
12:45 2020

By Nitin Jugran Bahuguna

VADODARA, GUJARAT: Parth Patel, 21, of Dhavat village in Vadodara district, like many cotton farmers, has struggled with the vexing issue of pest attacks on his crops – an evil that has caused widespread destruction of cotton plants and huge financial losses for farmers.

When he noticed that the leaves of his younger crops were getting yellow and that their quality had also declined, he immediately uploaded a photo of one of the plants on his phone to a special app. and got a response from a scientist after two days. “I was advised to use a particular chemical containing calcium to improve plant immunity as they were not growing due to calcium deficiency,” he recalls.

Parth, who has been using the app. for over a year now, belongs to a new generation of farmers   taking recourse to digital aid to help them understand the environmental elements around them in order to boost production. The Android and web-based Decision Support System (DSS), dubbed the ‘Cotton Doctor, is an agri-tech tool that alerts farmers about weather vulnerabilities and assists them in making informed and effective decisions on cotton growing so that they can derive the maximum benefits and returns from cotton cultivation.

The young farmer is all praise for the app which, he says, provides truthful and useful technical knowledge. “Before this app. was made available to us, dealers of fertilizers and pesticides were misguiding farmers into buying expensive and local brands which may not be good for the cotton plants,” he points out. “The technical knowledge in the app. is very good for farmers in preventing pest infestation and diseases. I got the proper and precise knowledge on the different stages of cotton production”.

In partnership with the Gujarat Green Revolution Company (GGRC), a public sector enterprise, World Wide Fund for Nature – India (WWF – India) and IKEA launched the DSS with registered cotton farmers in the state last year. The farmers can save their farm details in the Geographical Information System (GIS) of the DSS. The GIS enables accurate mapping and data analysis while in the field. Once received, the requisite information is generated through satellite images which are processed and subsequently broadcast in the form of agro advisories.

According to Mr Sumit Roy, Associate Director of WWF – India’s Sustainable Agriculture Programme (SAP), the salient features of the DSS include forecast advisories on weather and pest infestation and early warnings on disease so that cotton farmers can take proper measures to minimize losses. Other features include irrigation advisories consisting of periodic weather updates, soil moisture of farm plots and crop biomass monitoring to enable farmers to optimize water use,  nutrient application advisories to monitor the soil nutrient throughout the growing stages of cotton crop using satellite images and alert advisories relating to adverse climatic conditions in which it would not be feasible to sow cotton.

For the season 2019-20, GGRC has provided agro and weather forecasting services to 95,000 cotton farmers. The DSS is currently covering 18,000 villages in Gujarat and a total of 2790 farmers have installed the app. so far. With regard to pest disease control, farmers can contact our experts through SMS, voice calling or video calling, says Mr P P Donga, GGRC Chief. “It is an encouraging factor that more and more farmers are uploading photos on the app. on pest damage to their plants and leaves,” he notes. Farmers like Sanjay Bariya, 33, of Bortalav village regularly consult the DSS for market rates of cotton at different mandis so that they can get the best prices for their cotton.

While the project has taken off to a good start, poor internet connectivity in some villages has hampered the effectiveness of the app while lack of skills to understand the navigation and icons restrict its free use.

According to Mr Sujoy Ojha, Advisor, Agribusiness at Weather Risk Management Services (WRMS), which has customized the ‘Cotton Doctor’ web and mobile app., the optimal use of DSS will depend mainly on downloading the app. and using it.

He describes technology as the key enabler in addressing challenges related to sustainable agriculture and climate changes. “Water being a key resource will benefit using technology – based interventions. Similarly, identifying potential risks and hazards either due to weather patterns or pest/disease conducive conditions or predicting yields will be possible,” he observes adding: “Precision farming will be the norm.”

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