Blockchain is a type of database. It is a ledger of accounts, records, and transactions created and stored simultaneously by all participating entities, to ensure that data that has been collected is practically impossible to be altered and thus, it helps in creating records that are reliable and trustworthy. This feature enables it to be deployed in almost any sector ranging from finance and marketing to economics and even agriculture.
In the agriculture sector, which is largely run using traditional methods and practices, blockchain technology has far-reaching applications inter-alia in tracking the origin of food, building a reliable and robust food supply chain, and building trust between producers and consumers by displaying the contracts and records in a fair and just manner for all to see. Blockchain which is a data-driven technology makes it easier to make agriculture smarter by proving to be a reliable way of storing large amounts of data, which can be accessed by all to draw out inferences and consequently use the data for making informed decisions. In addition, along with keeping a record of contracts, it enables timely payments between stakeholders that can be triggered by data changes on the blockchain using AI or other smart technologies. This article will delve into the application of blockchain technology, artificial intelligence, and Big Data in the various agriculture-related activities mentioned above.
Blockchain and Land Records
In the Indian context, the agriculture sector is plagued by two major issues – small land-holdings and plots stuck in litigation. The small farmers are unwilling to pool their lands despite knowing the benefits of pooled farming, due to the fear of losing their lands owing to shoddy paperwork and lax laws in place to unencumber their own lands. Blockchain technology can go a long way in restoring the lost faith of these farmers, who form the majority of the Indian agriculture sector.
An efficient and fair system of land records is the prerogative of the government of the land. Although digitization of the records is underway in a lot of the states, however, a lot is left desired.
Blockchain and Contract Farming
Contract farming as a concept is not new to our country (ITC farming contracts are very well documented). However, it has come to the limelight only after its mention in the farm laws. The major pain point of the farmer groups is that Corporates will use legal verbiage to bind the common farmer to produce crops well suited for the business while completely undermining the autonomy of the farmer. Again, solutions can be found in blockchain technology wherein all the contracts are readily available for everyone, including the competent authorities to see and deliberate upon. This can prove to be a game-changer if it is deployed in all earnestness.
Artificial Intelligence and Irrigation
AI-based technologies are already available in the market that aid and assist farmers, who opt for farming using unconventional means such as hydroponics and aeroponics. AI is being used in maintaining the optimum environment in which the crops can grow naturally. This enables the farmers to not just farm a higher number of crops per season, but it also uses less water and is not affected at all by the weather conditions outside of the farm area. The only drawback is the high set-up costs. However, farmers in various areas of Kutch and Punjab are pooling their resources and successfully using these techniques to produce greater quantities of output and have become profitable.
Artificial Intelligence and Conventional Farming
As per a Forbes report on Agriculture, a typical farmer carries out close to 40 major and minor processes every day. It includes the obvious activities of watering the crops and removing the weeds and pests to the not so obvious activities of keeping track of migratory birds and changes in the climatic and weather conditions. AI has a wide range of applicability in this area, especially in the case of large landholdings. AI can be deployed to automate a majority of these processes. In fact, new-age technology has become so advanced, that it has now become possible to manage all farming activities end to end without human intervention.
Big Data and Sowing Patterns
Big Data refers to large volumes of data that are generated every day and which can be used to synthesize meaningful insights and inferences. In the agricultural sector, big data has gained prominence in the past decade in much of the western world as the developed countries are using facts backed by data to make informed decisions in every aspect of farming – right from sowing the most appropriate kind of seeds according to the geography, to making decisions based on rainfall patterns, etc. These decisions often help them in reducing the resources and in optimizing returns.
Big Data and Smart Farming
With smart machines and smart sensors cropping up on the agricultural fields, lots of hitherto uncollected data is now being captured viz. the effects of pesticides on crops, the temperature that best supports the crops, climate and weather conditions, and the ilk. All this data can be used to automate a host of activities, essentially turning the traditional farms into data-driven and data-managed automated farms.
Another well-documented aspect of big data is in agricultural and crop insurance. Policies are made around the inferences drawn from big data sets of continuous information across multiple geographies.
A report from the Wall Street Journal states that in the next hundred years, every company shall be a technology company. AI and Big Data will be at the helm of the paradigm shift that the world economy has already started to witness. Blockchain will work as the perfect abetment towards enabling this shift in a manner that is most transparent and one that people will trust. In the agricultural sector too, major inroads are being made by these new technologies. The case of AI and Big Data in the Supply Chain cannot even be fathomed at this point in time. The next couple of decades will set a framework of how we use these technologies for the greater good and eventually, how we relegate ourselves to just the decision-making roles, while machines alongside these adaptive technologies do everything else.