The Water Crisis
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 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
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 goal is to answer these questions, to make tangible progress towards water conservation in farming, by using advanced precision farming technology.
Our immediate goal is to bridge the last mile to solve the water scarcity problem in agriculture. The primary objective of our current initiatives, is to quantify the impact of design choices on economic sustainability when precision farming models are used to conserve water. The secondary objectives are:
- To setup a regional cloud computing infrastructure to deliver low-cost precision farming over a wide area network
- To conduct research to assess impact analysis through mixed methods including quantitative and qualitative approaches, and
- To form an organization responsible for collective orchestration and creation of a business ecosystem focused on precision farming innovation across India's leading research facilities
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 for the summer Kharif crops provided was 12,773cr, a 281.6% increase; drought affected 263 districts, in KA(30), CT(25), MP(51), MH(36), UP(75) and RJ(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.
The primary goal of this project is to create the foundation for a national argo-information infrastructure that connects any farm (both controlled or open environment agriculture); to 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.