Agriculture Sector Leveraging Crop Science, IoT, Data Analytics, AI

Farmers are outsourcing farm decisions ranging from precise estimation to nutrients, to what crop to produce


Vivek Rajkumar, CEO and founder, Aibono

Internet-enabled shared services in farming allow small farmers to enjoy advanced technology and resources by sharing technology using the Internet. Aibono recreates the economies of scale by bringing small farmers together into what we call as smart farming collectives.

Vivek Rajkumar, CEO and founder, Aibono, tells us more. Excerpts:

BW CIO: How is Aibono, an agritech start-up using Data Science, internet and cyber-physical to help the farmers?

Vivek Rajkumar: We now see a global movement towards precision agriculture and data sciences in farming. However, India being a nation of small farmers (85 percent of farmers have small landholding less than 2 acres), our farmers lack the economies of scale to afford or access technology that Western farmers enjoy. Add to that, our yields compared to the West, have also been significantly poor, and has been so since the last three decades and our average farm size reduced to half between 1980 and today to aggravate the problem.

However, Internet-enabled shared services in farming can now allow small farmers to enjoy advanced technology and resources that is otherwise unaffordable, by sharing technology using the Internet. Aibono recreates economies of scale by bringing small farmers together into what we call as smart farming collectives (like an Internet collective) that deploys an on-the-cloud and on-the-ground solution that enables farmers to outsource all his farm decisions ranging from precise estimation to nutrients to what crop to produce, to this farming collective.

Measurement devices like soil sensors, IoT devices, imaging drones & tablets are deployed on a sharing basis, whereby the data gets accurately mapped by a ground workforce onto a cloud application. These help in decision making based on precision agriculture and data sciences, and upgrades dated farm management practices to being driven by intelligence, data and processes.

With the small farmers aggregated and sharing decisions via the platform, along with shared equipment and the ground resources that bridge his farm-to-cloud, they collectively emulate one large smart farm of the West, producing 30-50 percent higher yields. We’ve delivered over 1,100 successful harvests, turning an average Indian small farm into a smart farm, without taking out fences nor merging farms physically to create economies of scale.

However, we don’t stop there! We will go the whole nine yards, by getting the collective of farmers not only the benefit of better yields but also better prices and market access via a smart collection of market channels reeling in income and returns that justifies his efforts.

BW CIO: What is the fourth revolution? How is Aibono moving along it?

Vivek Rajkumar: Being a nation of small farmers, Industry Revolution 1.0 (steam engines), 2.0 (Ford's assembly line) and 3.0 (era of Microsoft digital suites), could not be implemented in agriculture because all three of these revolutions depends on economies of scale – that only a large scale setups like a factory or a 500-acre farm could avail them. However, the Fourth Revolution is different from the rest because Industry 4.0 does not depend on scale.

Industry 4.0 is about aggregating, sharing and producing distributed and small, with key enablers being connected devices (IoT), AI and cloud, that it allows a small unit to perform large-scale functions, as smart and efficiently as a large factory. As an example, for availing the intelligence of Uber, or a ride-sharing company, who run complex AI algorithms for managing logistics and providing efficient transportation at palm of the user, the taxi driver does not require to run these complex processes in a computer in his taxi.

The taxi, the user and Uber’s AI exchange information between the physical-space and the cyberspace (GPS co-ordinates, routes) and share responsibilities using the Internet to create efficiencies, staying small and distributed in the physical space, but large and aggregated in the digital space.

Which is why we believe that gone are the days when a farmer had to own stuff to be successful. Nor does he have to hire expensive resources in this payroll. The future of farming or what we call as cyber physical shared farming, is about the decentralised efficiency, shared physical assets, farm AI and re-creation of economies of scale at a cyber level for leveraging farm intelligence and market access.

Aibono believes that a standalone farmer cannot own tractors or technology, nor stand up against middlemen or market forces, but a shared model of smart collectives can. Over 200 farmers are spread out in eight of Aibono’s collectives are enjoying the same.

BW CIO: How is the agriculture sector now leveraging crop science, IoT, data analytics, AI and precision agriculture?

Vivek Rajkumar: Adoption of data science in agriculture happens differently in India than in the West. An average in the US is a 434-acre farmer, who has suite of applications to choose from. The last five years have been very exciting in terms of farm data science, with recent developments in climate AI to farm ERP, IoT farm sensors, soil nutrient estimations, etc.

When you look at India, the agriculture value chain is under-served while being highly fragmented. India's digital infrastructure on the other had has seen a surprising transformation in the last two years with the fastest period of smartphone adoption coupled with rural internet penetration. The Indian farmer is few years away from being able to fully comprehend the internet.

You cannot handout an app and expect the farmer to figure out the rest. You need to handhold and teach him to rely on the Internet and technology, through on-the-cloud and on-the-ground services - something that Aibono is doing right now, and show him the results to earn his trust.

We believe that soon enough, the farmer of the future will learn to self-serve, while being a part of the collective.

BW CIO: How does, providing ‘Farm Management as a service’, works for Aibono’s smart collectives of farmers?

Vivek Rajkumar: When a farmer joins a smart farming collective, he is saved from investing in capital, or equipment or resources - which otherwise wouldn’t be in the reach of for a small farmer. His entire crop lifecycle from the point of view of day-to-day intelligence and decision making, all the way from sowing to harvest, becomes the platform's prerogative.  

A group of farmers in the smart collective start to resemble a large farmer (in terms of landholding) and the same is designated a shared farm manager, shared sensors and measurement teams as well as equipment. The AI and data analytics-driven insights enable a group of Data Scientists and Agronomists to give precise day-to-day interventions onto the farmer – via the shared farm manager.

The full-stack ‘Farm-Management-as-a-Service’ extending to crop selection, risk management, supply and demand planning as well as a smart supply chain to maximise returns. In our experience, farmers are capital averse and they like our Services that are billed on a per kilogram basis of the harvest. Though they are new to the Service Economy Era, they enjoy terming the same as paying for a meal after you’re fed as one rightly should, rather than capital intensive farming where they are to pay for a meal wait for it to arrive.

BW CIO: How is Aibono, a cutting-edge Agri-gator aiming to turn the farming business from ‘small’ to ‘smart’? What technologies are used to fulfil their objective?

Vivek Rajkumar: The Cyber Physical Shared Farming ecosystem that we’ve put together is based on the principles of sharing, aggregation and distributed responsibilities. The entire focus is on the small holding farmer that represents the majority of the farming population.

The cyber ecosystem is driven by an Internet-enabled sharing platform that combines farm ERP, data science, precision agriculture and farm AI. The hardware ecosystem constitutes devices that comprehensively map data from physical-space to cyberspace. This ecosystem includes IoT farm sensors, soil testing based in labs, multi-spectral aerial imaging using drones as well as data and images gathered by a smartphone.

Economies of scale is the prime driver for productivity as well as leverage on markets and recreating the same via Aibono’s Collectives, enable further access to cutting-edge technology such shared farm equipment, post-harvest technology and smart supply chain.

Agri 4.0 opens doors to a host new jobs, like in agriculture data scientists, machine learning architects, farm analysts, and field careers such as tech-support, equipment operators, sensors and measurement crews, transforming small to smart.

Tags assigned to this article:
agriculture Crop Science iot data analytics ai


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