Geospatial for Agriculture and Fisheries

State-of-the-art Geospatial Solutions to Transform Agriculture and Fisheries in India: By Sakshi Singh

India has the second-largest arable area in the world and boasts of a long and indented coastline. For a country with more than half of its population engaged in agriculture and allied activities (Census 2011), the significance of Agriculture and Fisheries is best described as pivotal to the national economy.

Numbers speak louder than words – the Gross Value Added (GVA) by agriculture, forestry and fishing stood at INR 19.48 lakh crore (276.37 billion USD) in FY20. Besides being the primary source of livelihood for a large chunk of the Indian population, Indian Agriculture and Fisheries are counted among global leaders when it comes to exports. The Department of Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT) has highlighted a cumulative FDI equity inflow of about $10.24 billion between April 2000 and December 2020.

Despite these mammoth shares in global production, consumption and export, the truth is that these segments can do much more, and much better. Boosting yields, exploring marine reserves, and developing environmentally and economically sustainable practices through long-term solutions leveraging Geospatial and allied technologies are the clarion calls for these segments.

A Liberalised Geospatial Sector Offers Solutions

Technological interventions have already found their way into Indian Agriculture and Fisheries in the past decade. For instance, the Indian Farmers Fertiliser Cooperative Limited (IFFCO) partnered with Amazon Web Services (AWS) to roll out a countrywide digital transformation for the farming community in 2017 through the launch of a dedicated digital platform where farmers could purchase Agri-products and get them delivered at their doorstep, just like other eCommerce services.

On similar lines, the state government of Telangana launched the Artificial Intelligence for Agricultural Innovation (AI4AI) programme in August last year, in collaboration with the Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution (C4IR), World Economic Forum, India.

Speaking at Esri India’s Annual User Meet, Sri J Satyanarayana, IAS & Chief Advisor, C4IR-WEF, noted, “Today there is no sector, field or theme that geospatial technologies have not touched… The capability to describe, measure and process data related to entities specific to their space and time adds significantly to our power to manage them more efficiently.”

Multidimensional Efforts for Food Security through Geospatial Solutions

Speaking on the relevance of Geospatial infrastructure across the agricultural value chain, AGI President and Esri India MD Agendra Kumar notes, “GeoHubs are integrating data about land, soil, geology, weather, crops, water, irrigation, fertilisers, pesticides, supply chain, markets and market conditions, enabling better intelligence and productivity.”

Along these lines, a few use cases of Geospatial solutions steered towards the reinforcement of Indian Agriculture & Fisheries segments have been highlighted below.

Management of Land Records

We have come a long way from the use of chain and cross-staff to electronic tools and finally to DGPS (Differential Global Positioning System) survey. The Survey of India’s decision to establish a nationwide CORS (Continuously Operating Reference System) network is a step in this direction. Through data accuracy and real-time data acquisition, this geo-positioning infrastructure offers a uniform and productive framework for surveying and land records.

Monitoring of Crop Lifecycle and Health

Imaging sensors on satellites and UAVs can be deployed to assess various environmental conditions across crop fields, including temperature, humidity, surface conditions, and more. For instance, daily farm-level soil moisture data products provide both macro-and micro-level analysis to assess optimum stages in crop lifecycles, efficient control of farm inputs and accurate crop classification.

Smart Farming

With all relevant data on fields and crops derived using Geospatial technologies and used to develop precise task maps or application maps, smart machines are deploying the data directly on the field. “Hyperlocal information together with GIS, remote sensing and location intelligence is driving the decision-making process for smarter agriculture by ensuring productivity, high yield and reducing operational costs”, shares Prasanth K, Group Manager Presales, Esri India, at the Esri India User Conference 2021.

Precision Agriculture

The practice leverages the enormous spatial diversities on even the same field in terms of soil types, moisture content, nutrient availability, and so on, and offers farmers the opportunity to precisely determine which inputs go where on their field and in what quantity. For instance, Trimble’s Agriculture Farmer Core software augments existing solutions to help farmers manage Precision Agriculture data more easily and help capture maximum value from every piece of land.

Pest Monitoring and Management

Swarms of locusts plaguing entire crop fields have been a persistent concern for Agri-societies for a long and can even determine food security and famine in some parts of the world. Maxar Technologies Geospatial Big Data Platform (GBDX), with the support of CGIAR, has successfully predicted the spread of crop pests and disease, thus helping early interventions.

Disaster Management and Control 

Remote sensing data recorded in a wide spectrum of optical, radar, thermal and LiDAR have been contributing to our understanding and assessment of disasters. GIS and Remote Sensing are used to map flood hazard areas for land-use planning in susceptible regions, besides forest fire risk zone analysis. Geospatial data in the form of maps and indexes can help process preparedness, mitigation, response, and prevention, minimizing the impact of disasters on agriculture and fisheries.

Defining Habitats, Migratory Patterns and Fishing Zone Availability 

“For the success of fisheries management and resource sustainability, it is important to have an indication of habitat types and their spatial disposition”, says Rajesh Alla, Chairman and Managing Director of IIC Technologies. “This would include acquiring data on various ecosystems such as coral reefs, seagrass beds, estuarine areas, upwellings, mangroves, sandbanks, and so on.” Bathymetric surveys and sonar devices have tremendously helped process habitat maps of marine ecosystems using 2D and 3D maps and models, on these lines, even for freshwater sources.

Water Resource Conservation 

Satellite imagery and remote sensing help identify and demarcate existing water resources, their depths, seasonal/progressive changes and ecological sensitivity, thus shaping our understanding and planning of their conservation. Databases on quantitative and qualitative estimates of marine biomass distributions and densities can also shape our understanding of natural freshwater and marine resources for a well-informed conservation process.

Fisheries Management 

Geospatial infrastructure plays an integral role in the monitoring of fishers’ activities and supply chain management, along with stock management and enhancement. Various apps today provide fishermen with weather updates, fishing zone information and relevant guidelines. Marine and port authorities have access to fishing activity information on the Indian coasts, besides information on key climatic factors of sea level, surface temperature, salinity, wind patterns, rainfall, natural disasters, tidal action, and more.

Geospatial for Agriculture and Fisheries

Small-scale Fisheries abound in India; Image Source: Unsplash

Nimit Pradhan, Manager – Business Development at Hexagon, highlights, “India’s fisheries sector is poised for an expansion, with promising potential to increase fish production. Robust workflows and smart solutions help preserve data integrity and overall system performance among hundreds of simultaneous users in fishery offices and cooperatives.”

Government Push for Geospatial Espousal  

Besides deregulating geospatial data owned by government agencies for all Indian entities, talks around the cluster approach for the development of aquaculture, spatial planning and zonation, early warning systems and AI-led knowledge management in the National Fisheries Policy 2020 highlight the Government of India’s push towards wide-scale adoption of geospatial technologies for the segment.

Additionally, the Government plans on integrating the PM-KISAN scheme’s database with those from the crop insurance scheme PM-Fasal Bima Yojana, Soil Health Cards, and more to curate the world’s biggest and most diverse database of farmers across the world. This initiative is set to utilise geospatial infrastructure as its strongest pillar.

Even state governments are displaying an eagerness to implement existing and new technologies to enhance their farm outcomes. Be it Arunachal Pradesh’s revamping of its supply chain management or Meghalaya’s crop pest surveillance interventions, Odisha’s farmers’ database, Punjab’s crop growth and soil health monitoring or Madhya Pradesh’s pilot on precision farming, the seamless adoption of technologies such as Remote Sensing and GIS cannot be ignored.

The changing focus toward scalable Geospatial solutions is a welcome move. Participation with and encouragement of the individuals, startups, academic institutions, research bodies, think tanks and private organizations has led to the culmination of innovative solutions and on-ground deployments of Geospatial technologies that are set to go a long way in transforming the sectors of Agriculture and Fisheries in India.