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Using Artificial Intelligence (AI) and advanced satellite imagery to produce unique data sets which help tackle problems like predicting harvests, natural disasters and tracking the presence and spread of pests, detecting illegal mining etc, there are startups which are helping farmers. Omnivore, which is considered to be India’s leading agritech venture capital firm, is helping the farmers to get actionable insights with the power of technology. There is innovation in agritech, and this is being brought by space data startups like Pixxel; a disruption that was far from being imagined almost a decade ago. India’s spacetech industry is seeing a lot of action now, especially as the government is providing impetus to the sector. Omnivore funds entrepreneurs building the future of agriculture and food systems. Mark Kahn, Managing Partner at Omnivore, talks about India’s food security, use of AI and other related issues in the Agri sector shares details with Huma Siddiqui.
Following are excerpts:
Why is there a need for real-time satellite imagery and space data in developing a futuristic agricultural economy?
Technology-led interventions are necessary to enhance agricultural productivity and improve farmer incomes without further degrading the environment. Satellite imagery and remote sensing data are invaluable tools for forecasting agricultural output, regulating crop inputs, and even calculating how much carbon farmers are sequestering. Multispectral, synthetic aperture radar (SAR), and hyperspectral satellites can create rich datasets, yield deep insights to make farming more profitable, resilient, and sustainable.
Why do we need more spacetech startups like Pixxel to solve issues in India’s agricultural scenario?
India is among the top ten countries on the Climate Vulnerability Index and is already grappling with rising temperatures, erratic precipitation, and extreme weather events. Current farming practices in India are exacerbating the situation by consuming 85% of our freshwater resources while accounting for 20% of our greenhouse gas emissions. Spacetech startups like Pixxel can identify key interventions to transform Indian agriculture while also monitoring potential risks for farmers.
Where is agritech headed? What more are we looking at in 2021?
In 2020, Indian agriculture was forced to go digital. This shift from informal and analogue systems to formal and digital ones will accelerate even further in 2021. However, with rising awareness of the risks created by climate change, we expect to see more climate-centric and sustainability-focused startups, including in the field of spacetech.
Also, South American nations have been using AI tech for Agriculture for a while — how will it compare to what the startups will offer to India?
Latin American agriculture, especially in Argentina and Brazil, is dominated by broad acre farmers who manage farm sizes even larger than one finds in the USA and EU. AI technologies created for broad acre farmers are not well suited to smallholder farmers, which number some 500 million globally, including 130 million in India. We believe the technologies developed for smallholder farmers in India will be radically different from what is created for large farmers, not just in terms of size/scale but also cost and ease of use. Omnivore is smallholder focused and thinks that is the larger opportunity globally.
How will it help in India’s food security?
Insights created by spacetech will help ensure that we improve the productivity and profitability of Indian agriculture. Likewise, spacetech will play a critical role in timely prediction of natural calamities, droughts, and monitoring adverse environmental processes such as deforestation and desertification.