Microsoft’s artificial intelligence technology to boost profits for Karnataka farmers

The government of Karnataka signed a MoU with Microsoft to develop multi-variant agricultural commodity price forecasting model. The project is a component of a great vision to bridge digital divides in agricultural process. The state government seeks tech-enabled solutions including cloud-based tools, artificial intelligence and data analytics to secure and promote agrarian operations.

The Karnataka Agricultural Price Commission (KAPC) and the Department of Agriculture will work in tandem with the American software giant to develop AI that automatically screens multiple datasets including sowing area, weather conditions, production and yield to predict crop prices. India is one of the world’s largest producers of food. Agriculture employs 65% of India’s labour force or 780 million people and contributes to 14% of GDP, which is just over USD 67 billion. Yet much of this extensive industry remains analogue, labour intensive and highly inefficient.

In addition to building a core AI solution to forecast food commodity prices, Microsoft will pilot the use of different digital tools in farming. To help farmers increase crop yields, Microsoft in collaboration with International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) launched a Sowing Advisory Service.

According to Dr David Bergvinson, Director General, ICRISAT, “Farmers who adopted the Sowing Advisory Service have already seen yield increases by timing their crop sowing based on advanced analytics that is delivered by SMS in a timely and targeted manner to help manage risks due to rainfall variability.”

Artificial intelligence has already begun to pioneer solutions to various agrarian problems. Not long ago, researchers employed TensorFlow – Google’s open source library – to feed a neural network nearly 3,000 images of cassava leaves from plants in Tanzania. The AI then employed this data set to successfully identify diseased plants with 98% accuracy.

Earlier this year, start-up Abundant Robotic developed an apple picking bot. Blue River Technology, purchased by US manufacturer John Deere, employed AI and machine learning to better care for crops while eliminating weeds. Similarly, Harper Adams University employed autonomous drones and vehicles to plant, monitor and harvest test fields.

According to a report by CNN, an Israeli digital farming firm named Prospera began using AI solutions to increase harvest yields and reduce labour costs at NatureSweet farm. Rather than employing 8,000 personnel to supervise their crop, the farm installed cameras that monitor greenhouses 24/7 and deliver instant feedback. The farm reports increased yield between 2-4% that compounds lower operating expenses to boost profits.

Agricultural revenues in Karnataka account for 13% of the state’s GDP, which is INR 1.28 million crores or USD 200 billion. Therefore, a 2-4% increase in yield would be a momentous boon for one of India’s fastest-growing states. Furthermore, reducing labour intensive work would also improve the quality of life for farmers while increasing their disposable income levels. When multiplied across 65% of the nation’s population, better wages and lifestyles for farmers would elevate to the entire nation’s social and economic balance. Applying AI and other digital tools to enhance India’s most widespread and, perhaps, the most analogue sector would also build trust in tech-enabled solutions and catalyse its adoption across other industries.

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