AI And Data Mining Are Being Employed By Indian Agritech Startups To Make Farming Profitable


The plight of the Indian farmers is not unknown to anyone. Yet, not much is done to ameliorate their conditions. Protests keep on happening in the country for days where farmers leave no means unturned to catch the attention of the government, but in vain – the implementation of the Swaminathan Commission Report does not happen, the promise of the Minimum Support Price is not met.

Tamil Nadu farmers staging their protest

Twitter becomes abuzz with hashtags like #Indebtedtofarmers but the larger picture remains the same.

Last year, in the month of August, an 18-year-old Sarika Suresh Jutey from Jawlajuta village of Pathri tehsil, Maharashtra had allegedly committed suicide to ‘save’ her father from ending his life because of excessive debts. Can anything be worse than this?

Farmers’ suicides in India rose by 42% in the last few years. Since 1995, over 3 lakh farmers have committed suicide. At the same time, the number of farmers in India fell by 9 million, which makes the spike in deaths all the more alarming.

Maharashtra is the hotbed for farmers’ suicides, closely followed by Telangana and Karnataka. 8 in 10 farmer suicides are due to debts or loans from banks.

Is there a way out? A FirstPost exclusive talks of how there is still hope for the farmers of India.

About the startup

The problem lies in the fact that accurate crop forecasting is not available to the Indian farmers. Since the farmers are unaware of their production, they are ill-prepared for a bad harvest with no or negligible insurances. 

29-year-old Prateep Basu, an ex-engineer with Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has found out a way.

Basu along with two of his colleagues, Ishan Tomar and Vivek Kumar, and another ISRO engineer, Abhishek Raju founded SatSure. It is a data-analytics startup with “a mission to evolve crop insurance products and provide an accurate risk assessment of crop yield by integrating climatic variables with geospatial and economic datasets.”

How is SatSure going to help?

SatSure is working towards changing the lives of farmers not just by predicting crop patterns and yield, but also by improving crop insurance, innovating agri-lending services, and creating a better link among banking agencies, insurance providers, and farmers, Basu explained. All of this is done by analysing the satellite imagery.


SatSure’s website says the company helps

“make sense of disparate operational and agronomic data to simplify complex decisions related to crop risk management and for making agriculture predictable and profitable.”

SatSure has tied up with the government of Andhra Pradesh to provide the data to build a reliable credit-rating system for farmers.

“For any bank, giving a loan to a farmer is a risk, as they can’t be sure if the loan will be repaid,”

explains Raju.

SatSure’s data would help the banks and other financial institutions to have a fairish idea about the size of farmland owned by the farmer, his yield over a period of three years, the productivity potential of the soil and the seeds used. Thus, the risk factor would be reduced for the banks now as they bailout loans to the farmers.

This system will also give farmers an idea of how much their crop will be worth and thus calculate the loan amount they can avail. Though SatSure doesn’t supply this information to farmers directly, it plans to do so in the future.

They plan to share the insights from the satellite imageries with farmers via web dashboards.

Funding and Investors

A report released by Inc42 has pointed out that 15 agritech startups received around $36 million in investment in 2017. These include Pune-based Agrostar and Noida-based EM3 Agri services.

Raju is optimistic about the funding for agritech startups but also states that since this is a new sector, investors are still wary to throw in their funds.

The net sown area, which measures the amount of land cultivated in a given year, whether once or multiple times, is declining.

Several schemes launched by the government have sought to increase agricultural productivity through schemes to improve soil health, organic farming and better water management practices. The agriculture ministry has also tied up with ISRO to launch FASAL, a remote-sensing and data-analysis platform to analyse and predict yields of most major crops including rice, jowar, bajra, wheat, sugarcane, and oilseeds.

Other players in the market

Several other agritech startups are disrupting the economy in ways unheard of.Intello Labs, uses image-recognition software to monitor crops and predict the health of farm yields.

Aibono uses agri-data science and artificial intelligence (AI) to provide solutions to stabilise farm yields. Trithi Robotics uses drone technology to allow farmers to monitor crops in real time and provide precise analyses of their soil and seeds.

Farmers would be using these data-driven insights to improve the quality of their crops and manage their fields in a better fashion.

Agritech startups employ deep learning and artificial intelligence (AI) to analyse the quality of the produce and the chances of it getting infested by pests.

Constraints in the path

There are but a number of problems that prove hindrances to the use of AI in Indian agriculture.  A steady decrease in land under cultivation in relation to the growing needs of the country, the lack of mechanisation and continued dependence on middlemen post-harvest are major hurdles.

But Basu is hopeful. He feels the government has realised the importance of technology to better the Indian agriculture scene and help the farmers.

“There are immense amounts of data and data sources already available, and self-learning AI algorithms are capable of constantly analysing these huge amounts of data and predicting accurate results,”

he concluded.

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