The Government of India has been emphasising on the use of technology for the benefit of the agriculture sector and farmers. The government has taken several initiatives towards promoting digital agriculture. Agriculture Ministry set up a specialised organisation Mahalanobis National Crop Forecast Centre (MNCFC) in 2012 as an attached office of the Department of Agriculture & Farmers’ Welfare (DA&FW), focusing on enhancing satellite remote sensing and GIS technologies in crop estimation. Considering the recent advancements in geospatial technology, DA&FW has recognised the need to scale up the technology solutions in agriculture decision support.
In this direction, the first meeting of the Technical Advisory Committee for strengthening and transforming MNCFC into a centre of excellence in the field of geospatial technology applications was held in New Delhi under the chairmanship of Manoj Ahuja, Secretary, DA&FW recently. Experts from ISRO centres, International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), National Institute of Advanced Studies and senior officials from DA&FW participated in the meeting.
Ahuja highlighted the need to scale up the utilisation of satellites, drones, smartphones, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) techniques to develop scientific information products and services for informed decision-making by multiple stakeholders in the agriculture sector.
Dr. Shailesh Naik, Director, National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bengaluru and former secretary, Ministry of Earth Sciences, praised the current initiative of upgrading the MNCFC as a major technology hub and advised to take part in the global initiatives on crop surveillance.
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After deliberations, major recommendations of the committee included adoption of new technologies and data products, utilisation of recently launched Indian microwave satellite RISAT- 1Adata, use of bio-physical products, better use of AI and ML techniques for automated crop mapping, crop health monitoring, crop yield estimation, collaborations with national, international, private and start-up organisations. The committee also discussed developing a national framework at MNCFC for all scalable technology solutions to standardise the methodologies and to enable mainstreaming of these solutions into the decision-making processes. The major themes for developing such national initiatives include crop surveillance and estimations, disaster risk reduction in agriculture, farmer-centric services – weather, pest and disease surveillance advisory, nutrient management advisory, agroforestry decision support, and environment and energy.
It was emphasised by Additional Secretary, Abhilaksh Likhi, that satellite-based assessments be extended to the horticulture sector by pooling the data and expertise currently available in the existing projects and schemes in the ministry and the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR).
Pramod Kumar Meherda, Joint Secretary (Digital Agriculture), DA&FW expressed the hope that with the support of technology agencies like the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) and MNCFC would be fully geared up to reap all possible benefits of digital technologies in a holistic manner in the agriculture sector.