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AI4AI: Potential of Saagu Baagu Agritech Marvel

By: Heet Dhawale (UG’26)

What does an Indian farmer worry about?

He worries about his crops, their vulnerability to unpredictable weather and the constant battle against pests.

He worries about water scarcity, the ever-present threat of drought and the lack of proper irrigation systems to nourish his crops.

He worries about debt, the numerous loans taken to cover agricultural expenses, and the uncertainty of a good harvest to repay them.

And we have barely scratched the surface [1].

But there's a beacon of hope emerging from the heart of Telangana, aptly titled Saagu Baagu. (which translates to "cultivation garden" in Telugu.) This project, supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and implemented by Digital Green [2], is weaving innovation into traditional farming practices, promising to impact the entire agricultural landscape of India.

So, how exactly does Saagu Baagu work? By giving traditional farming tech support.

Currently, it has helped chili farmers in Telangana to “create more resilient, informed and prosperous farmers’ communities. [3]”

Led by the Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution (C4IR) India, Saagu Baagu’s first phase saw a 21% increase in chili yields per acre, a 9% reduction in pesticide use, a 5% decrease in fertilizer usage, and an 8% improvement in unit prices due to quality enhancements. Effectively the farmers’ incomes have soared by more than INR 66,000 per acre per crop cycle [4].

Saagu Baagu exemplifies the potential of AI for Agriculture Innovation (AI4AI) and equips farmers with real-time data and AI-powered insights to make informed decisions. Through Saagu Baagu, farmers become data detectives. They can receive information about the exact amount of water their crops need, the best time to apply fertilizer, or even the possibility of an upcoming pest attack, all based on real-time data analysis. This empowers farmers to make informed decisions about resource allocation, irrigation schedules, and pest control strategies. They can now move away from guesswork and intuition, and embrace data-driven precision farming.

With impactful results from Phase 1 on 17,000 chili farmers, Saagu Baagu is moving towards its second phase. And this makes us hopeful of the impact it can have on the entire country.

Yet, one cannot be too hopeful as the current environment doesn't fully meet the conditions necessary for successful agritech adoption. Many preconditions such as data enablement (making relevant agricultural data readily available), domain knowledge (expertise in agriculture) and support for on-ground operations are required for the implementation of this project.

The first hurdle is getting access to government data, which is essential for improving the agritech services. However, accessing this data is currently difficult due to complex procedures and concerns about privacy. This makes it hard for the developers to personalize and improve their offerings.

Another challenge is the lack of resources for startups. Right now, the government doesn't have a system in place that allows private companies to use things like warehouses at a lower cost. This makes it expensive for startups to build the infrastructure they need to operate effectively, hindering their growth.

Furthermore, there might not be enough collaboration between agritech startups and universities specializing in agriculture. This collaboration is important because it allows startups to gain the necessary knowledge and expertise in the field. One potential solution being implemented in the second phase is the "sandbox approach." This approach allows startups to work with universities to test and refine their solutions before launching them on a larger scale.

Finally, there's a need to better connect existing government programs. This would allow both approaches to work together more effectively and achieve a greater impact.

The challenges caused by the above hurdles make it tougher to improve, but not impossible. Many impactful innovations have happened and many are going to happen. But one would need to prioritize the aspects of digital infrastructure and literacy among farmers which will be driving the initiative ahead. Each implementation’s assessment is also necessary for the refinement of the other.

India can truly transform its agricultural industry to help feed an estimated 1.5 billion people by 2030, innovating one district at a time through interventions like Saagu Baagu.

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