Hyperspectral Imaging Technology must reach every farmer

With green revolution, India has managed to self-sustain herself with growing crop output. But farming still is very dependant on nature. Continous changes in weather patterns and lack of technological support is decreasing the quality of the harvest. The Swaminathan Aayog Report published in 2006 recommends the use of technology in agriculture to reduce the burden of debt on farmers. The government has given an in-principle nod to the report. As suggested by National Commission of Farmers, 1049 soil health centre was established by the government. Productivity needs to be increased so that farmers can get more remuneration from the same piece of land with less labour. Precision agriculture may provide a way to do it.

Precision agriculture, as the name implies, refers to the application of precise and correct amounts of inputs like water, fertilisers, pesticides etc. at the correct time to the crop for increasing its productivity and maximising its yields. Precision farming uses geospatial information and reduces human decision making in agriculture. A farmer needs to take 40 odd decisions over a crop cycle, from pre-harvesting to post-harvesting. Farmers apply fertilisers based on their experience rather than any rational input. Therefore, if they chose not to apply, perhaps they may be taking a risk and suffer economic losses. On the other hand, excessive application spoils the soil and damages the environment. If only the farmers can know the health status of the plant, then they can make a more rational choice.

Engineers at IIT Roorkee have developed a mobile app that can help farmers practice precision agriculture, particularly in the application of a precise amount of fertilizers. By determining the health of the crops using hyperspectral imaging of crop leaves, the app could help in rational use of fertilisers. The app has won Ericsson Innovation Award at Future of Food global contest. This also helped them bag an initial funding of Euro 25,000. Hyperspectral Imaging Technology is expensive as it uses geospatial information published from satellites. India too uses such space technology to study agriculture crop patterns from ISRO satellites but on a very small scale.

Named SNAP, the app uses a precision agriculture technology to determine the optimum fertiliser inputs for the crop. It works on the principle of hyperspectral imaging of plant leaves. Spectral lines are like fingerprints that indicate presence or absence of a chemical by studying the light reflected by the leaf. When the sunlight falls on a leaf, the reflected light can be studied on hyperspectral imaging technology. The app effectively measures water content, a number of macronutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium. The most interesting thing about this revolutionary app is that it uses mobile phone camera as the imaging devices. Camera enabled phones are very common in rural India today. The idea of combining such a tech into farming will be path-breaking. Krishi Kalyan indeed!

Artificial Intelligence and smart farm sensing technology have the potential to change the fortunes of the farmers. To excel in ‘per drop more crop’, Indians need to think out of the box. Precision farming is target based and is a must to make farming self sustainable. In addition to increase the per capita income the downward trend of agricultural GDP needs to be reversed. With the help of technology Indian farmers can certainly reverse their frowns into smiles!

– Chaitanya Kulkarni.

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