Putting drones at the centre of a technology-led transformation of Indian agriculture can help boost the country's GDP by 1-1.5% and create at least five lakh jobs in the coming years, the World Economic Forum (WEF) said in a new report on Tuesday.
The report, prepared by WEF's Centre for Fourth Industrial Revolution in India in collaboration with Adani Group and launched here, outlined the potential for drone-based transformation of Indian agriculture.
It also outlines use cases for drones, fusing military and civilian technologies enabled by digital adoption, analytics, digital financing and a well-coordinated local stakeholder effort and provides a framework for development of scalable pilots that can be implemented by various governments, the WEF said.
"Arguably, aviation is one of the most regulated sectors globally. India's bold and measured approach to spur unmanned aviation has been celebrated across a wide spectrum of stakeholders.
"To make the most of this regulatory landscape, drones must be part of the core agri-equipment repertoire alongside tractors, cultivators, ploughs, diggers and combine harvesters to fortify our farms," said Vignesh Santhanam, Project Lead, Aerospace and Drones (India) at WEF.
Citing different studies, the WEF highlighted the immense potential in improving agricultural outcomes for farms through precision agriculture expertise and advisory that can enable a 15% increase in productivity in India's $600 billion agriculture sector.
"Drones can play a critical role in unlocking this value as they provide an effective medium to collect data and apply inputs, directly impacting yields and farmers’ income. Scaling drones in agriculture sector will also boost farm mechanization and nudge India closer to global peers," the WEF said.
The report of the Geneva-based WEF, which describes itself as an international organisation for public-private cooperation, also outlined how civil-military convergence can accelerate research to benefit civil society applications.
Given the nascent state of the drone sector and significant import dependence on various key components, there is a need to build a robust local support system including a 'Made in India' supply chain, targeted skill development programmes, next-generation digital financing mechanisms and strong awareness-building programmes among farmer groups and policymakers, it added.
The mainstreaming of drones in the agricultural sector needs to be aided with the creation of a "green microcosm" where an integrated 'drone-centric rural hub' is set up and stabilised across crop cycles.
"The microcosm would be a controlled environment that would test varied use cases pertinent to agriculture as well as other rural applications," the WEF said.
India has approximately six lakh inhabited villages, all of which are said to have a reasonable level of agricultural activity.
However, productivity in agriculture is determined largely by the inputs used by farmers at the time of cultivation, while several studies have indicated that the per-hectare output of a mechanised farm tends to be higher than that of a non-mechanised and irrigated farm.
The report cited a Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) report to highlight that digital tech-based agriculture can unlock further value of $65 billion by 2025 and said the gross domestic product (GDP) impact of digital agriculture will be even larger.
Besides, precision agriculture know-how and farm advisory services shared through multiple channels based on multiple existing and new data sources (soil health cards, weather data, farm/tractor-based sensors) can enable an economic opportunity of $25 billion through a 15 per cent increase in productivity.
Similarly, there is an opportunity for about $15 billion in agricultural credit and insurance to be generated through digital interventions.
Further, there is an estimated potential for 40-60% of the agricultural surplus to be transacted through digital marketplaces by 2025 and a 10% improvement in farmers' price realisation by selling produce through electronic channels, creating an opportunity of $25 billion, the WEF said.
It is expected that the drone and drone components industry will attract $50 billion of investment in the next few years.
"If executed well, drones can help transform Indian agriculture, boost agriculture GDP by 1-1.5%, create at least 5,00,000 new jobs and support the country in ushering in a new digital era of prosperity," the WEF said.
The agriculture sector is vital for the Indian economy, providing livelihood for about 58% of families and ensuring food security for 130 crore people.
In comparison with the industry and services sector, which adds a gross value of 80% while employing 54.4% of the country's workforce, agriculture accounts for 45.6% of the workforce at 18.29% of the gross value added (GVA) as of 2019-2020.