How Technology Is Taking Over Agriculture In India

What do you think of the use of technology in agriculture, and how is the government involved? originally appeared on Quora: the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

Answer by Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, Minister of State, Agriculture and Farmer’s Welfare, GOI, on Quora:

Everybody knows about the various technologies and their role in various schemes like Soil health card and Neem Coated Urea etc. As an agricultural minister, I would like to cite some technological information that we are deploying that is known within the core nucleus of the Agri Ministry and not in the public.

 Imagine this: if I change the GUI of an operating system and add some upgrades and programs it is the same but with alteration, it is customized according to the latest needs and market trends. But if I change the operating system itself, it is a whole new class, like Ubuntu over Microsoft Windows. When we do that, we open up a whole new possibility; we are essentially changing the DNA of the system. So while citing the use of technology in agriculture, I wouldn’t cite an example of tech updates and new versions of old technologies but adoption of a technology aided – a policy algorithm that has altered the DNA of the agricultural scenarios.

When India got its independence, we had land records and their production potential that existed from British times. A cumbersome process that had to have officials on the ground, in fields taking data. At the same time, statistics was becoming a very big mathematical and analytical tool to ease the process of census and streamline processes and increase their efficiency. It was at this time that India’s brightest statistician, P.C. Mahalanobis, who many might remember from the much-derided and debated Mahalaonbis Plan, came out with a magic formula to closely guess the production capacity of an area and expected yield by sampling a data set with limited number of entries. This was known as the “Mahalanobis Distance”. A way by which the production estimates of crop production from an area could be rightly guessed, the procurement strategy, the pricing of the production, the import policy, and the warehousing strategy could all be formulated. The Mahalanobis Distance was essentially the large-scale mathematical derivation of a small sample of crop cutting done for 4 meters of land and its production capacity checked. This land was selected from a random sample and thus the production yield of the land would be extrapolated for the whole area to guess the production potential and production estimates from that year. This method worked wonders; ease of governance increased, and time and number of feet on the ground could be lessened. This algorithm drove our policy forward for many decades.

 Now, what has changed in the world in recent times? With respect to data gathering and analytics, we used to rely on data from a sample set, and the finding was then extrapolated for the general population. This extrapolation would be used to formulate the big picture from which everything else would follow naturally. This is the at the core of the study of statistics, the very nucleus of the mathematical inquiry of statistics. This is good until the data set is limited, but in this information age, we have to ask ourselves, is data limited? Google uses its queries from search results to accurately pinpoint the first stage of a health epidemic. If many queries regarding the symptoms for a particular disease come from an area, that can be used to alert health officials to act instantly to start damage control. Thus, using the plethora of information collected from a large and random data set is at the core of “Big Data”. The world has seen a jump from statistics to Big Data. And in this changed scenario, it is of utmost importance that we adopt the same line of thinking in the agricultural field.

The way we think is changing, and while the old custom of crop cutting by using crop cutting experiments and the use of the Mahalanobis distance is still taking place, we are also using satellite imagery and other such large-scale data gathering systems to arrive at the actual crop yield and production capacity from an area. This approach has been intensified in our government and action plans have been prepared by the country’s space agencies to actualize the full potential of technology and align the agricultural policies in India with respect to the same.

This question originally appeared on Quora – the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world. You can follow Quora on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.


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