We live in an age where it pays to be smart, be it in our approach towards cities, classrooms or even agriculture and farming. While in the US up to 80% farmers use smart farming technology, in India, the field of smart agriculture is still at a nascent stage, says Deependra Kumar Jha, vice chancellor, University of Petroleum and Energy Studies (UPES) that has recently launched its School of Smart Agriculture to cater to the growing demand for new-age agri professionals.
What is Smart Agriculture
The field, says Jha, is a far cry from the typical rural images associated with farming, and represents the application of IoT, artificial intelligence (AI), big data, unmanned aerial vehicles (drones), etc to optimise crop productivity in an environmentally sustainable manner.
“As per Fifth Deans Committee Report, Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), it is estimated that India will to meet only 59% of its total food demand by 2030. On a global scale, the world food demand is projected to double by 2050. Therefore, agriculture practices must undergo a comprehensive change to meet these food supply challenges,” says Jha.
“Agriculture education has a key role to play in bringing about this transformation, but in the traditional format, it will be unable to address the existing gaps. Hence, there is a need for formal programmes that teach the smart ways of doing agriculture and related businesses,” Jha adds.
At the UPES School, students enrolling for BSc (Hons) Agriculture, BTech Food Technology and MSc Agriculture (Agronomy) will learn to use the technology – from using AI to detect diseases in plants to studying the applications of IoT in farming and how it aids in water and soil optimisation. They will also study the use of drones in crop health imaging, yield prediction and crop spraying.
To apply, class XII students with PCM/PCB/PCMB/Agriculture from a recognised board/university will be eligible to take admission for BSc (Hons.) programme whereas those with PCMB/PCM background will be eligible to take admission with BTech Food Technology. To be eligible for MSc Agriculture (Agronomy), students must have a BSc or BSc (hons) Agriculture degree.
The Institute is planning to set up an industry advisory board consisting of technology firms and traditional agro companies to help leverage the expertise of both the sectors. It is also in talks with Israel, known for its technologically advanced agro industry, to formalise possible collaborations.
“Since smart agriculture is still at its infancy in India, the onus is on us to convince potential recruiters about the technology-enabled programmes and students’ job-readiness. However, food processing, which will be one of the focus areas of the BTech Food Technology programme, is emerging as a sunrise industry and is one of the 25 focus sectors of the government’s ‘Make in India’ initiative,” Jha says.
Agri-based government jobs and food officers looking into food safety, are some of the possible job profiles for this sector.
“With agritech having received 300% more funding in 2019 as compared to 2018 according to data released by NASSCOM survey, technology in agriculture is emerging as an area with abundance of opportunities for young entrepreneurs,” Jha adds.