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Agricultural drones in increasing use. Inset: Mobile app of Agriplex
 
 
TOMORROW'S TECHNO FARMERS!

National Farmers  Day Feature:  December 23, the birth anniversary of India's farmer- Prime Minister  Chaudhary Charan Singh  is celebrated as  Kisan Diwas or National Farmers Day in India
From  agri-gator web portals  and cloud-connected cows to driverless tractors and  crop-spraying drones... India's  farmers are  tapping technology to drive their operations.
By Anand Parthasarathy
Bangalore, December 23, 2019: In farming as in all economic activity, Schumacher' famous  mantra is true:  Small is Beautiful. But is it sustainable?
According to the last agricultural census,  85 percent of India's farmers  run marginal or small fields of 2 hectares or less. Their output is limited, and they can't compete with the big players because of high production costs, low access to credit, and poor market   connections.  But a leveler is waiting in the wings: Information technology and its most recent avatars: Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Internet of Things  are already helping to even the odds; to give the small players the ability to overcome shortages -- in manpower and information -- and make their  businesses viable.  December 23 is National Farmers Day in India -- and  it is  the right time to  run an agri-tech reality check
Drones are turning out to be the biggest disruptors, ever since their  civilian use in India was regularised by the Civil Aviation Ministry  which has classified them  based on their maximum take-off  weight: Nano (less than or equal to 250 gm); Micro (  250 grams to 2 kg); Mini ( 2 kg to 25 kg); small ( 25 kg to 150 kg) and Large ( greater than 1250 kg).  Farmers  are slowly using drones, mostly micros or minis,  for watering fields, for pesticide or seed spraying -- and they are served by an entire  ecosystem of drone  developers. The  University of Agricultural Sciences in Dharwad, Karnataka  and the KLE Technological University, Hubballi, joined to support the development of drones for crop spraying. They partnered  a startup--  SkyKrafts Aerospace --  which developed a drone to carry a  maximum payload of 20 litres.   The drone can spray one acre per hour or  10 acres per day, saving the  manual labour of two persons, explains  SkyKrafts  founder - CEO Srinivasulu Reddy.   The entry level version of their Kissan Drone, weighs 1 kg, can fly for 13-18 minutes and costs Rs 1 lakh. Dozens of Indian startups are now in the business of  crafting drones for agriculture  and the only impediment to wider usage is the cumbersome procedures to license their usage.
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More agri-tech:
Driverless tractors and connected cows: read here
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Another  leading agritech  player is  CropIn, which   has shrewdly  morphed  data analytics,  AI and satellite-based remote sensing to offer  a suite of services  for larger operations:  on-farm trials for  seed suppliers,  farm management solutions and interventions  at every stage of the  crop cycle. Its flagship tool is the SmartFarm  which was successfully used  at the bottom of the pyramid,  by the Tata Trust's  Collective for Integrated Livelihood Initiative ( Cini) to help over 40,000 tribal households in central India by providing best farming and livestock practices.
An Amazon for farmers
One  traditional  hurdle for small farmers  has been the lack of an affordable supply chain to procure,  farming tools, seeds, manure, pest controllers -- and timely cropping advice. This lacuna is now overcome-- thanks to  a number of  B2B or business to business digital platforms which are the agricultural equivalent of an Amazon or a FlipKart.
The Patna headquartered  DeHaat platform at agrevolution.in  uses a combination of bricks and clicks -- an online  portal and physical stores  to touch over 1.7 million farmers with a  ' seed to market'   solution.
Bangalore-headquartered Agriplex decided that an app on a mobile phone  was the easiest way for farmers to access   all their supplies  says CEO Tejas Narayanaswamy.   On the Google Playstore  they have an app offering  a wide range of  seeds and fertilizers,  recommended  for a  specific field or  season.   Agriplex  largely serves Karnataka , but this is a growing field and many such apps now serve  regional  clientele across India.
Farmkart  is led by a  team of seven in Toronto, Canada,aims  to make farming a profitable profession. Every farmer, whether educated  or not,  gets access to the most affordable agricultural products and services, within 36 hours, in just one click. It  has proved popular in Madhya Pradesh where it was launched.
Soon to join is a Bhopal-based  startup whose name describes its role:  AgriGator  is building a platform that will connect grain traders, food processors, wholesalers and logistic providers.