By 2050, India's population would reach 1.7 billion. In 2011, 95 million inhabitants also lived in tier-2 cities (population between 0.5 m to 3m) and these cities grew at an average of 37%. Most food production in India occurs in rural villages, but urban agglomeration and human migration trends indicate that between 2011 and 2050, 29% of India's population will have migrated to these cities. By then, our cities will account for 60% of the total population.
India have 198 million Indians undernourished today. If current trends on human migration, population growth and land degradation continue, by 2050, half a billion undernourished human beings on this planet will reside in India alone.
On the flip side, the countries that straddle the equatorial belt - like China, India & Brazil - also account for a majority of the agricultural land that covers 38.4% of the world's land area, and account for a majority of its food production. However, these bread baskets to our planet are also the most under stress - to the threats of disease, pests, water scarcity & unpredictable weather; all accentuated by a changing climate on our world.
The Water Crisis
In 2014, the National Disaster Response Fund (NDRF) provided 3,347cr (of a total of 9,018cr) of drought relief to states; 107 districts were declared as drought affected. In 2015, drought relief provided for the summer Kharif crops was 12,773cr, a 281.6% increase; drought affected 263 districts, in Karnataka(30), CT(25), Madhya Pradesh(51), Maharashtra(36), Uttar Pradesh(75) and Rajasthan(33).
Given the growing acute shortage of water resources across the country, the future of food production is at risk without the the capacity to deliver effective water management techniques & strategies on a national scale.
Agriculture employs over 250m individuals in India and 58% of rural household income depends on agriculture, accounting for 15% of GDP. India's 160m hectares of arable land comprises of 30% of irrigated area on our planet, yet only 35% of agricultural land is reliably irrigated today. Water thus presents a clear and present danger to food security. If left unaddressed, this scarcity may have significant implications for national security and geo-political stability.
The Last Mile Challenge
India presents a unique technological challenge to the adoption of contemporary precision farming techniques. Vast tracts of arable land, most of the 40 million hectares available for farming, are in rural India. The communities in these regions invariably lack reliable access to consumer internet and electric power supply. In a country stressed by overpopulation, fluctuations in voltage and frequent power outages are common. That said, even in localities where these facilities exist, access to power and communication technology, within the farms surrounding the community is, very often, non existent. Thus the technological challenges that need to be addressed are many:
- How does technology reach the farm and its farming community?
- How do we service them?
- How do we deliver the most modern farming techniques and practices there?
Government has, in recent decades, made considerable progress towards tackling the problem of water scarcity. It has recognized that applied technology on India's audacious scale is the only way to solve this problem. Hence, programs like the Water4Crop and APWAM in partnership with the Wageningen university, with broad support from academia and government agencies will make significant progress toward finding an optimal solution. However, India has a 'last mile'problem. Promising technology never reaches farmers for three reasons:
- Not economically viable for implementation without further refinement
- Illiteracy amongst farmers hinders adoption and adaption of technology
- Sustainable business ecosystems to support such technology is nascent or non-existent
Two innovations make the 'last mile' solvable today: near ubiquitous mobile coverage (3G/4G) in rural homes & extremely low-cost cloud-enabled IoT hardware technology. However, practical applications in precision farming using these technologies are hard. India has vast open farms unreachable through a wireless network. If farms could be bridged to homes, it may now be possible to localize the solutions developed by the APWAM project and deliver it to open farms in an economically viable manner. In doing so, we would have found a mechanism to deliver the 'last mile'.
Thus, three crucial questions on water conservation are left unanswered today:
- Can we avert the water crisis in agriculture using existing technology?
- What platform of innovation (infrastructure, incubators, and research facility) needs to exist for such technology to be scaled sustainably?
- What nascent community and governance bodies are needed to bring researchers, entrepreneurs, investors and policy makers together to ensure sustainability of practice?
Our long-term goal is to answer these questions and to make tangible progress towards water conservation in farming by using advanced autonomous farming technology. The Bloom our autonomous farming platform & the Ceres farm operating system, the technology powering Bloom, are designed to address these and many other such hard technical challenges that limit the sustainability of food production and agriculture in our near future.
In India, our immediate goal is to bridge the last mile to solve the more immediate water scarcity problem in agriculture. By far, water scarcity is the single biggest looming crisis that threatens the future of food production today.
Our current research focuses on creating the foundation for a industry-wide autonomous farming & argo-information infrastructure that connects all farm (both controlled or open environment agriculture) to a central operations center. We believe such an infrastructure will enable the capability to address the breakthroughs in advanced agricultural techniques, that need information technology at its core, such as: remote monitoring, decision support, data gathering, and precision farming.
A general solution to a national water management problem must enable:
- Farm automation for optimized water usage to reduce incidents of 'peak irrigation'
- Dissemination of crop-specific best practice on efficient water utilization
- Data analytic tools used for research on the effectiveness of the current farm practices
To solve such a problem on a national scale, we need to find ways to deliver agricultural best-practices using IT as an enabler to reduce cost and increase scale.