Providing satellite-powered data analytics to empower lives of farmers

Over 12,000 suicides were reported in the agricultural sector of India every year since 2013. One of the fundamental reasons for such manifestation of unfortunate incidents of suicides in the farm sector in India is a large number of farmers living below the poverty line. The question remains how do you address this problem in short term while you try to double-quadruple the income of farmers over a period of time.

The crop insurance claims in India are likely to touch Rs 13,000 crore (~$2b) in the 2016-17 crop year ending next month, in spite of good monsoon, indicating other risks weighing heavy on the farm sector. This is at a time when as per the agriculture ministry data, about Rs 15,891 (~$2.4b) crore premium is estimated to have been collected by the 11 empanelled insurance companies who sold crop insurance policy to the farmers in both kharif (summer) and rabi (winter) season during the 2016-17 crop year. Despite good monsoon year, crop insurance claims are seen to be huge leading to show how risky the farming is in the country due to the risks varying from place to place and region to region.

Some of the other immediate challenges faced by the farmers in India are depleting groundwater resources, climate change – increase in the frequency of extreme events like droughts, floods etc., lack of fair and timely compensation for losses incurred, lack of transparency in fixing the fair price for the produce, difficulty in access to markets. Other than weather related issues, lack of proper insurance market and unlocalized insurance index developed by insurance companies are the major issues due to which fair insurance premiums are not triggered at the time of need. These are compounded by the existing problems like debt burden, lack of access to scientific agricultural practices, dwindling farm holding sizes and institutional apathy access to markets.


Can satellites data be of help?

The question here is how can we use technology to solve this problem and create a possible e-governance framework to solving problems scalable from a farm level perspective to the entire nation. I believe satellite data analytics can lay the foundation to solving this huge societal problem and empowering the farm communities in India in de-risking their lives.

SatSure as a NewSpace India data analytics enterprise is integrating satellite, weather, and IoT analytics to provide accurate estimates of remotely sensed agriculture related data to insurers so that farmers receive a fair and immediate compensation on loss of crop due to adverse climatic conditions and insurers can settle claims speedily due to the availability of data in near-real time without any manual intervention.

This is one of the examples on how NewSpace companies can go beyond using single sources data and instead combine multiple sources of data in creating a precision analytics product that can be an enabler of change, and can be used for doing good in the society. An example, the way crop cutting experiments (CCEs) are conducted throughout the country for getting an estimate of total agricultural production. CCEs are a very manual and time intensive process. Smart sampling, using satellite-based crop clustering techniques can be used to reduce the time for identification of these plots and to optimise their locations. Depending upon the diverse crop health and types, the number of the samples for CCEs experiment can be optimised to reduce cost and time. Similarly, digitisation of cadastral records is another example that will help in identifying the land ownership records and updating existing records, overlaid with corresponding information on the crops grown in individual parcels of land. The benefits/claim compensation can then be directly transferred to the respective farmer.

While satellite data has been used to monitor the agricultural sector for the last 3 decades, the complex relationships between parameters governing crop growth and soil health had limited its scope within the research community. This is also a case for going beyond the traditional GIS techniques and to use machine learning and parallel computing techniques, to resolve these complex relationships and get insights into the crop phenology. There is an extremely strong case for creating a disruptive technology solution for financial and government institutions, who are among the key stakeholders for ensuring that the country’s agricultural growth corresponds to our food security, along with the financial security of farmers.


Policy Perspectives on Satellite Data Analytics

The Government of India policies in agriculture and ICT technology have been encouraging, especially with a lot of push towards digital initiatives. There is a need to objectively relook at the national geospatial policy and the Remote Sensing Data Policy (2011) from both national security and national development perspectives, as technology companies like SatSure and will be directly affected by them, as they need to extensively consume satellite data. These policies today do not make it easy for companies in India to procure high-resolution imagery (<1m) and developing automated solutions using satellite imagery stacks using high-resolution remote sensing data from Indian satellites are today extremely challenging. Therefore, there is a case for policymakers in the country to consider enabling frameworks for engagement of such NewSpace possibilities in solving the deeply rooted societal problems.