The agri-tech sector in India has undergone a revolution in the last 10 years. An indicator of the dynamic growth within this sector is the tech giant Google's USD 3 million bet on an agri-startup that provides real-time advice on crop resilience and pest management.
Agriculture and AgriTech Startups- Emergence and Gap
India, which is an agricultural powerhouse, is witnessing a remarkable shift in overall startup landscape. However, there is more need for the entrepreneurs to focus their attention on the innovation and technological needs in the agriculture sector. According to a recent report, only 5.18% of the country's recognized startups fall under the agriculture domain out of a total of 98,119. The emergence of AgriTech startups holds the potential to be a game-changer for the nation.
The Parliamentary Standing Committee Report on Ecosystem of Startups to Benefit India also recommended that additional efforts should be made to expand the presence of agri-based startups in the country by providing them with increased funding opportunities and support through guidance and mentorship.
Google's Big Bet on Agri Startup
Google.org, the philanthropic arm of Google, has granted USD 3.3 million to Wadhwani AI's CottonAce app. This funding will be instrumental in developing and deploying cutting-edge AI technology to assist farmers across the nation. The collaboration intends to integrate image-classifying AI technology, which underlies CottonAce, into the digital systems of the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmer Welfare, Government of India, focusing on India's staple food crops.
Empowering Indian Farmers with AI
The CottonAce app, created by Wadhwani AI, is available in nine Indian languages and serves as a vital tool for farmers. It offers real-time advice on crop resilience and pest management, including precise recommendations for fertilizer and pesticide use. Furthermore, the platform harnesses Natural Language Processing techniques to provide pest and disease management advisories nationwide. This innovative approach will enable stakeholders within India's agriculture ecosystem to make data-driven decisions, ultimately reducing crop losses.
Shekar Sivasubramanian, CEO of Wadhwani AI, outlined the initiative's core objectives, saying, "We aim to boost efficiency and production in the Indian agricultural sector using AI." He highlighted the success of the CottonAce app, revealing that it has already increased farmers' profits by 20% and lowered pesticide expenses by 25%. With Google's substantial grant, Wadhwani AI plans to extend the technology's reach to safeguard other critical crops such as rice, wheat, and corn.
Challenges in Indian Cotton Production
This philanthropic endeavor comes at a crucial juncture for India's cotton industry. The Cotton Association of India has projected that cotton production for the 2023-2024 crop year is expected to reach 29.5 million bales. However, this estimate marks a significant decline and is considered the lowest since the 2008-2009 season. Several factors contribute to this decrease, including the influence of El Nino, a 5% reduction in cotton sowing area, and lower cotton yields. Weather conditions are also a major concern, with the association predicting a yield decline of 5-20%, with the state of Rajasthan expected to experience a substantial reduction of over 40% in cotton yields.
Google for CyberPeace
In addition to the support for agricultural innovation, Google.org has granted USD 4 million to the CyberPeace Foundation, a cybersecurity advocacy organization. This funding is intended to facilitate a nationwide awareness and capacity-building initiative. The project aims to equip individuals with fact-checking techniques and guidelines for responsible online behavior. The initiative will be executed through a comprehensive online learning center offering resources in over 15 Indian languages.
This two-fold philanthropic approach by Google.org reflects the organization's commitment to supporting technology-driven advancements in both agriculture and online safety in India. The grants to Wadhwani AI and the CyberPeace Foundation are set to make a substantial impact, driving progress and innovation in these crucial areas for the betterment of Indian society.
As the CottonAce app continues to empower farmers and the CyberPeace Foundation raises awareness about online safety, these initiatives align with Google.org's mission to leverage technology for positive global impact. The organization's commitment to fostering innovation and societal well-being remains unwavering, as they work towards addressing some of India's most pressing challenges.