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A PepsiCo farm recently received an alert from its agricultural cloud platform that a tuber-related disease was kicking in. Nothing was visible on its crops, but when the tubers were dug out, there was indeed a disease to be taken care of.
Similarly, a contract farm in India got a water-stress nudge from the same platform that something was amiss with irrigation. Again, everything looked well on the outside, but it turned out that there was a problem with some water nozzles in a specific area.
Those are two examples of how agricultural players are tapping Cropin Cloud, an industry cloud platform that was launched as early as 2010 when digitisation in agriculture was unheard of.
At the time, connectivity and infrastructure issues made sure that last-mile reach was a challenge. Technology for agriculture was nothing short of a moon-shot then, as its founders were told.
Planting the seeds of data and AI
Not too long after Cropin was founded, the company did a ‘pivot” as there was no point in targeting farmers as the primary user segment, the team realised. Farmers were marginalised, poorly incentivised and scattered in silos for any digitisation to take effect. So, the company chose to adopt a business-to-business (B2B) posture, catering to development agencies, food processors and agriculture players.
As its solution and market acumen became more mature, it started to aggregate data in real time before converting the data into intelligence and putting it all together in one technology stack. Rajesh Jalan, Cropin’s chief technology officer and head of engineering, said it was crucial to integrate fragmented technologies and processes into one backbone.
“The last few years have seen a huge explosion of agritech players, but most of them offer point solutions,” Jalan said. “They address specific problems like soil health, sustainable buying or analytics for a specific crop or region. We wanted it all on one place.”
The company is also embracing the future by putting its weight behind artificial intelligence (AI) and cloud. At its AI labs, it has been strengthening its predictive analytics and intelligence capabilities and is pulling all the necessary building blocks together to build an industry cloud platform that works for agriculture, irrespective of crop, region or problem.
The upshots are obvious. Other players and solutions can build on Cropin’s platform while data ingestion and complexity are taken care of. The founders also dismissed possibilities of lock-ins or challenges with forward or backward compatibility due to the application programming interface (API)-first approach of the platform. “We stress a lot on configurability. We give a lot of flexibility and choice to the customer,” Jalan said.
To help customers derive insights from the data they bring to the platform, Cropin has developed a global data model that it is constantly finetuning, enabling customers to gain insights in as quickly as five to six weeks.
Rajesh Jalan, Cropin
For instance, the Indian government partnered with Cropin to conduct crop-cutting experiments (CCEs), a technique to estimate crop yields based on small sub-plots samples in cultivated fields. The experiments were conducted in five states in about half the time that it usually took, thanks to the use of satellite imagery and AI to quickly identify sample plots while reducing the number of samples collected. Some two million farmers had also benefited from faster resolution of insurance claims with better estimates of insurance unit-level crop yields.
A lot has been done to the point where the company now boasts of a crop knowledge graph comprising 10,000 crop varieties in 92 countries. It has also digitised millions of acres of farmland across the globe, enabling it to provide predictive intelligence for companies such as PepsiCo.
PepsiCo is testing the use of Cropin’s crop and plot-level predictive intelligence model to help farmers maximise potato yields. This can have huge implications as potato yield losses caused by the blight crop disease can be as high as 80% if not forecasted early.
With pilots in Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat underway, forecasts of up to 10 days in advance should be possible, helping farmers to identify different crop stages and monitor crop health, including a disease warning system that relies on weather forecasts and historical data.
As Cropin develops its platform further, it is also embracing API schemas and plug-ins for internet of things (IoT) devices and sensors. But challenges continue to dog the IoT space, such as the lack of global standards and a streamlined supply chain.
While AI can help to address the unpredictability and risk of agriculture, be it water conditions, price volatility, insurance or yield management, can it provide answers to questions that farmer movements and protests have raised? Can defragmentation and tech-led homogenisation of agriculture finally empower the farmer?
Sujit Janardanan, Cropin’s chief marketing officer, gave an honest take: “Not directly, but maybe indirectly. A lot of unrest stems from the fact that farmers suffer from food value-chain inefficiencies the most.
“That is what leads to marginalisation and that’s where they feel the need to demand a fair share of value. Digitisation can address a big chunk of that issue, not just in India but globally too. If the entire global food value chain is well-streamlined, then value can flow easily to the last mile.”
According to Spherical Insights, a market research firm, the global agritech market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 17.3% to reach $4.6bn in 2030, up from $1.9bn in 2021.
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