Digital Agriculture Initiatives

High-Throughput Phenotyping facility (LeasyScan)

LeasyScan is a high-throughput phenotyping platform designed to rapidly measure leaf area to access the dynamics of leaf development and leaf conductance, traits important for plant drought adaptation. It allows scientists to analyze the phenotypes of plants in greater detail, and conduct large-scale screening of plants to speed up the development of improved, drought-adapted crops.
The high-throughput scanning equipment can scan about 3200–4800 plots in 2 hours. Several algorithms then operate to extract leaf area, leaf angle, plant height, and average leaf area. Eight scanners are mounted on top of an irrigation boom. Their movements at a constant speed and space above the pots have been two of the key considerations during the design of the platform.

The ICRISAT Genebank

It is a repository for the collection of germplasm of the institute’s six mandate crops – sorghum, pearl millet, chickpea, pigeonpea, groundnut, finger millet; and five small millets – foxtail millet, little millet, kodo millet, proso millet and barnyard millet. With over 121,500 germplasm accessions assembled from 144 countries, it is one of the largest international genebanks. In addition, ICRISAT Genebank has deposited over 111,000 accessions at Svalbard Global Seed Vault (SGSV), Norway as safety backup. During the years 1975–2018, the genebank has distributed over 792,000 samples of its mandate crops and small millets to users in 148 countries in addition to over 697,000 samples to scientists within the institute. It has restored over 55,000 accessions to nine national programs in Asia and Africa. ICRISAT genebank has promoted testing and release of 104 accessions directly as 137 superior varieties in 51 countries and 1019 varieties were released in 81 countries utilizing germplasm and breeding lines from ICRISAT contributing to food security.

Extensive village-level and district-level datasets across decades

Path-breaking data, gathered from village-level studies over 40 years – Village-Level Studies (VLS) and Village Dynamic Studies in South Asia (VDSA) – have provided various socio-economic insights on policy and institutional constraints in agricultural development.

Now, a District-level Database (DLD) tool – a one-stop shop for rich meso-level data for 19 states across India – is available, bridging the gap between macro (country-level) and micro (household-level) data. It is a database of key core variables (from 1966 to 2016) related to crop and livestock sectors, such as irrigation, inputs, weather, infrastructure, demography, operational holdings, etc. Also included are data on soft infrastructure related to health, education, credit, GDP, environment (AET, PET, temperature, soil moisture etc.) and nutrition for available years. It identifies relevant districts/regions that would help target technology dissemination, pro-poor programs and development initiatives.

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The Intelligent Agricultural Systems Advisory Tool (ISAT)

The Intelligent Agricultural Systems Advisory Tool (ISAT), developed by a collaboration of Microsoft, Indian Meteorological Department (IMD), Acharya NG Ranga Agricultural University (ANGRAU), and ICRISAT, provides concise farm advisories to farmers on their phones. These messages are generated after analysis of local and global historical climate data, current and forecasted weather conditions, crop systems and soil-related information. The tool employs a decision-tree approach to generate SMSes, which are then relayed to farmers registered for the service. By influencing planting decisions, the tool helped farmers increase yield across locations, on an average by 16%.

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Murali Gamma’s work (GIS)

Remote Sensing and Geographical Information Systems

In the remote sensing domain, acquisition, storage, management and analysis of large, global datasets (optical and radar) are often complex. However, with Google Earth Engine, it is possible to develop highly-interactive algorithms at global scales. Its API (app programming interface) allows users to access the data resources, update algorithms or develop new ones. A mobile app called icrops has been developed to collect ground data about crops including geotags.

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The Sowing App

A new ‘Sowing Application’ on mobile phones, combined with a Personalized Village Advisory Dashboard, has been pioneered for farmers of Andhra Pradesh.

The Sowing App utilizes powerful artificial intelligence to interface with weather-forecasting models (provided by USA-based aWhere Inc.) and extensive data (including rainfall over the last 45 years and 10 years of groundnut sowing progress data for Kurnool district). This data is then downscaled to build predictability and guide farmers to pick the ideal sowing week. The goal is to create rich datasets that can be processed to build predictive models for farmers.

Data about crops and fields is manually collected and uploaded to a Cloud-based repository, from which using powerful Business Intelligence (BI) tools, this dashboard provides important insights around soil health, fertilizer recommendations, and seven-day weather forecasts derived from the world’s best available weather observations systems and global forecast models. This data is then downscaled for the highest possible accuracy at the village level, to transform how smallholder farmers tackle climate change to drive effective decision-making.

The Sowing App has been made possible through a partnership between ICRISAT, Microsoft and the Andhra Pradesh government.

Impact: It helps farmers achieve optimal harvests by advising (via SMS in local languages) on the best time to sow crops depending on weather conditions, soil and other indicators.

NADiRA – linking Earth Observation with IoT

Started in November 2017, NADiRA – Nurturing Africa’s Digital Revolution for Agriculture – is an innovation action to develop agriculture in Africa using sustainable digital farming solutions. It includes the industrialization of Earth Observation (EO) products, sensors IoT data and mobile devices giving stakeholders the key information to invest in smallholder farming. Specifically, it involves the incorporation of Copernicus, other Earth Observation products and in-situ sensors via agCelerant™ – an agricultural value chain orchestration digital platform that connects producers with banks, insurers, input providers and agro-industries in smallholder contract farming. NADiRA is expected to help increase availability of credit, reduce exposure to climate risks, and improve smallholders’ productivity.

The Measure M&E Platform

Monitoring and Evaluation of Agri-Science Uptake in Research and Extension (MEASURE) is a mobile web-based platform designed to collect real-time, geotagged data about farmers, farmland, livestock, other on-field interventions, and other key indicators of agriculture research and extension. Originally developed as a field data-collection tool, MEASURE has now transformed into a full-fledged M&E platform to track activities, manage beneficiaries and provide real-time insights through visually enabled dashboards to the project teams. The MEASURE platform (i) collects geo-tagged data of farmers, farmland, crops, demo plots, capacity building activities in real-time (ii) provides a web-based multi-layered dashboard to visualize the collected data both spatially and temporally (iii) keeps track of the KPI and progress of the project implementation (iv) provides spatial distribution of the project intervention sites and the adoption (v) schedules and manage field level activities carried out by the partners/staff on the ground. In less than two years of the actual launch, MEASURE has about 560,000 records from 20 different projects within and outside ICRISAT.

The ihub

The ICRISAT ihub is a creative space at ICRISAT that enables inter-sector innovations in agriculture to fast-track achievement of long-term Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Leveraging the untapped potential of ICT-assisted technologies, ihub facilitates innovation among agricultural tech entrepreneurs, scientists and technology experts to introduce cutting-edge ideas across the whole agriculture value chain for smallholder farmers to improve their productivity and real incomes. It is a focal point for passionate entrepreneurs who aim to integrate agriculture, IT, IoT, Big Data and finance in their start-ups to solve problems on the ground for farmers.

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