Photo Credit: Reuters
Swiss agrochemical major Syngenta on Friday started a 'drone yatra' of 10,000 km in India to educate farmers on pesticide spraying using drones across 13 states in the next three months. The company also announced the world's first biodiversity sensor technology, developed in partnership with IIT Ropar in Punjab and Fraunhofer Institute of Germany to measure biodiversity in Agri landscapes and suggest farmers on cultivating appropriate crops.
This sensor will be tested in farmers' fields in Europe and India this year.
Digital technologies are going to be the next big driver of agriculture.
By the end of this month, the company said it is also planning to launch the Grower app in India to empower small holding farmers by giving them digital agronomy advice on nine crops — including cotton, wheat, vegetables, rice and maize — in multiple languages.
Syngenta India Country Head and Managing Director Susheel Kumar and Syngenta Group Chief Information and Digital Officer Feroz Sheikh — announced the new initiatives here.
"The drone yatra aims to create awareness about the use of drones in agriculture. A van will be deployed that will travel across the country covering 10,000 km reaching out to 10,000 farmers," Kumar said after flagging off the Drone Yatra. The van will kick start from Maharashtra and travel to Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, Odisha, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, and Karnataka, he said.
The commercial launch of the drones for pesticide spraying will be done later this month in three crops — rice, cotton and soybean, he added.
Syngenta is the first private firm that has received approval from Central Insecticide Board (CIB) to use drones for spraying its crop protection product 'Amistar' on paddy to protect the crops against fungal infections — Blast and Sheath Blight.
Till last year, the government was allowing drones in agriculture one by one after the submission of data. However, early this year, it started giving ad hoc permission for two years for spraying any molecules except herbicides.
Syngenta has already tested the efficacy of drones, Kumar said, adding that the awareness drive through Drone Yatra will not only educate farmers about the new technology but also help the company to take feedback and inputs from farmers and based on that improvise drone spray services in future.
Further advanced features in drones like precision application will be brought in future, Sheikh said, adding that "we are working on taking measurements of soil inch by inch and predict where weeds are placed and spray herbicides accordingly".
Besides drones, Sheikh said, the company has developed biodiversity sensor technology in partnership with the IIT Ropar, Fraunhofer Institute in Germany, and some start-ups. There is no objective data available at present in the world on biodiversity status in agricultural landscapes.
"There is no data available objectively on how much is biodiversity i.e. different species like butterflies and insects in farmland and how can we help to improve biodiversity in a particular region. From a sustainability perspective, we decided to fill the gap of data," he said.
The sensors, which will measure the biodiversity in agri-landscapes using AI, have already been tested and validated the accuracy of algorithms. Now, it will be tested in farmers' fields in all of Europe and India before making it an open resource, Sheikh told PTI. "We are now starting the process of putting the sensors out in the field to see if it is working well enough and then take a decision to make is open," he said, adding this technology has been developed to solve the problem for the greater good and the company has decided to open the data and code of this application.
Syngenta will manufacture and deploy 50 sensors this year. Out of which, about a dozen or so will be deployed by the end of this year, Sheikh said.
"The reason to make the data open is that Syngenta needs to manufacture sensors for everybody and other companies manufacturing hardware can take the blueprint and manufacture sensors," he added.
Outlining other India-centric innovations, Syngenta India Country Head and Managing Director Susheel Kumar announced it will launch a 'Grower App' for free to farmers by July end.
Grower App aims to give digital agronomy advice for nine crops, including cotton, wheat, vegetables, rice and maize in multiple languages. It is a unique app, which digitally empowers smallholders, he said.
The app is built using the 'Cropwise technology platform, and tailored to India, Sheikh said, adding "with that, we are bringing our global innovation in Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning to create benefits for the Indian farmers. Our target is to reach 2,50,000 farmers this year and next year one million farmers".
According to Syngenta, the app is working on including satellite imagery for the identification of crop stress, a stress indicator model as every crop needs a particular weather requirement at its different crop growth stages.
Apart from biodiversity sensors, IIT Ropar Associate Dean (R&D) Pushpendra Ropa said the institute has also developed a device to record ambient temperature called 'Ambitech' that can help keep the log of temperature in cold chain logistics, especially perishable commodities like dairy and meat.
It has received certification for Ambitech and will be priced at Rs 230 for the Indian market. It is a passive device that helps record ambient temperature of minus 40 to 80 degrees Celsius, he said.
IIT Ropar is also working on a 'Livestock Monitoring Device' in partnership with Syngenta.
Syngenta, which is currently owned by Chinese state-owned enterprise ChemChina, has been investing $1.4 billion (roughly Rs. 11,200 crore) a year in R&D, and about 6,500 employees working in R&D globally.