Guwahati: AgSpert, an agri-tech startup co-founded by the students of IIT Guwahati and alumni of NIT Silchar and Dibrugarh University in Assam, has developed AgSpeak, a multi-lingual smartphone application for farmers to smartly manage their farms and remotely monitor distress activities.

Developed with a goal of optimising the in-farm productivity through Artificial Intelligence (AI), this application will help the farmers make decisions and manage farm activities by the click of a single button on their smartphone or computer. AgSpeak was launched by Prof. T. G. Sitharam, the director of IIT Guwahati, on 13 December.

The application is multi-lingual and has an option of Assamese, as well. This feature is a first among agri-tech applications available in the market.

Driven by hyper-local crop data coming from satellite and smart IoT devices, AgSpeak considers up to 20 local crop parameters which are key indicators of their health like temperature, rainfall, sunlight hours, soil health status, among others, to alert farmers about probable crop threats in advance and suggest best practices to tackle the incoming threat, hence optimising the resources used and maximising productivity.

The team has been testing the app for the past three months with the help of 500 farmers and two tea estates. Some of the major breakthroughs by the algorithm were a precise prediction of blight in potato and tea mosquito bug along with water stress in winter crops. These are major reasons of woes to farmers and small tea growers of Assam and cause lakhs in crop damages if not controlled in time.

Major commercial users of the product include commercial plantation farms (tea, lemon orchards, grape vineyards). The creators of the app believe that the new farm Bills 2020 is likely to boost formation of farmer producer organisations and farmer producer companies among general crop growers which is likely to increase adaptation of paid services that comes with the mobile app.

According to the press release, nearly 250 farmers have already been provided hands-on training in utilising the full potential of the app. It also said that the user-friendliness and multilingual features of the app, however, makes it extremely easy for farmers to use it and seldom requires training.

The mobile app is free for general small farmers but includes in-app purchases like soil testing and agri-doctor consultation. Besides this, the IOT devices can be rented on a monthly or yearly basis by commercial farms to further enhance precision farm management.

Congratulating the young entrepreneurs, Prof. Sitharam, the director of IIT Guwahati, said, "It is a matter of immense pride that our students are working to bring out state-of-the-art technology for India's farmers. India is a leading agricultural country with immense potential, yet two billion people globally did not have regular access to safe, nutritious, and sufficient food in 2019 alone. To end this global starvation, we need to double agricultural productivity in the next 15 years. Unless we use technology appropriately in the agricultural sector, this would be impossible. Additionally, to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), we have 10 more years to fulfil this SDG and to end hunger, achieve food security, improve nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture. In all these directions, unless new technology is used, we will not be able to succeed."

Highlighting the need for technological advancement in the agriculture sector, Mr. Manik Mittal, the chief operating officer of AgSpert, said, "Technological development in the agricultural sector has been very slow, with farmers relying on traditional methods, which are getting out-dated day by day due to several factors, including population growth and climate change. We at AgSpert believe that technological intervention using Artificial Intelligence and drones will ensure food security, by increasing the productivity more than two-fold."

Apart from this, the start-up is also focusing on a high-tech product for large commercial plantation farms. Large plantation farms like tea, which are in abundance in north-east India, are facing a tremendous farm-labour crunch, especially post-COVID. To address this challenge, AgSpert is developing a unique platform for plantation farm managers to automate scouting processes and realise areas of distress like disease, pest incidence and water stress, using drones. AgSpert is testing the product in collaboration with Assam Agricultural University and Tocklai Tea Research Institute, Assam.

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