Drones better than satellites to gauge crop loss, says panel

Sharing cadastral, Aadhaar and bank account details mandatory for crop insurance policies

August 16, 2016 02:29 am | Updated 02:29 am IST - NEW DELHI:

A committee tasked by the government’s apex planning body with studying how unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) can be used in crop insurance schemes has said drones trump satellite technology for the purpose. The committee also maintained that sharing cadastral (land’s location, ownership, tenure) details, Aadhaar card and bank account details is “mandatory” for effective crop insurance policies.

“The ideal alternative is to gather data from low heights [i.e., below the cloud] and at very high resolution where aerial photography or UAVs score over all available alternatives,” says a draft report of the subcommittee’s recommendation, which was viewed by The Hindu . “The current satellites which are even better than 10m spatial resolution would not be sufficient due to their non-availability during cloud cover, limited revisit possibility during the crop season and high price,” it said.

The sub-committee is expected to submit its report to the National Institution for Transforming India (NITI Aayog) on August 20. It is constituted of experts from the Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology, Indian Agriculture Research Institute, weather technology firm Skymet and international reinsurance company Swiss Re. There are several sub-groups too constituted by the NITI Ayog to look at ways to use technology in agriculture insurance schemes.

“Farmer field coordinates be made mandatory for issuance of insurance policy. This will help in tracking the crop field throughout the crop season without much ground monitoring, and, any kind of loss can readily be verified from satellite data,” the report added.

This year, the government launched the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY), replacing the existing National Agricultural Insurance Scheme, which will allow farmers relatively lower premiums. It also allows them to be insured against post-harvest losses. The States will bear the bulk of the premiums and farmers pay depending on the type of crop.

Key objective

The government’s apparent objective is to increase the number of insured farmers from the current 20 per cent to 50 per cent within three years. “So far, 22 States have come forward to implement the scheme and Rs. 5,500 crore has been earmarked for the scheme for the 2016-17 period,” Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh told reporters on August 5.

Though several crop insurance schemes are available, availing funds and determining the right price is a challenge.

The committee has recommended pilot surveys that can estimate varying risk profiles for different regions of the country, and that for schemes such as PMFBY, drones are a better bet than satellite imagery.

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