Exclusive interview with Praveen Pankajakshan, VP for Data Science & AI at Cropin

SEP 01, 2021

Agribusiness is the most excelling area in the agricultural sector, and data-based solutions can add great value to agribusinesses. They can instigate drastic changes in the sector by boosting the economy.

Here is an exclusive interview with Praveen Pankajakshan, VP for Data Science & AI at CropIn, to shed some light on the company’s services and how it is achieving a level of transformation in the agricultural sector.

Please brief us about the company, its specialization, and the services that your company offers.

CropIn is a data and AI-led AgTech organization that was established in 2010 to provide data-based solutions to agribusinesses and to bring a change in the agriculture sector. CropIn uses a combination of Agriscience, Machine Learning, and Satellite Imaging to deliver tailored reports and actionable insights on a continuous basis to farmers. CropIn’s product portfolio includes SmartFarm, SmartWare, SmartRisk, PlotRisk, RootTrace, and AcreSquare, designed to enable end-to-end farm digitization and decision making. It also leverages offerings for yield risk mitigation and forecasting, farm-to-fork traceability, and input channel management.

We have created an interconnected network of all these stakeholders, enabling customers like Banks, Insurance Companies, Government, Development Agencies, Agri-input companies, Farm Equipment Companies, Food Processors, and Retailers. CropIn has digitized over 13 million acres of farmland and enriched the lives of nearly 7 million farmers while gathering data on 389+ crops and 9,400 crop varieties in over 56 countries.

Tell us how your company is contributing to the IoT/AI/Big Data Analytics/Robotics/Self-Driving Vehicles/Cloud Computing industry of the nation and how the company is benefiting the clients.

Under the current circumstances, there has been an increase in the demand to reduce the time and personnel needed in the scouting fields or involved in field operations. The recent interest in IoT sensors-enabled farming systems is more in this direction to get high resolution, field-level, and real-time information on weather conditions, soil moisture, soil temperature, water usage or irrigation system, and any other factors that can lead to increased efficiency, reduce wastage and produce sustainable outputs.

CropIn works in tandem with the stakeholders to aggregate the data from the multiple sensors in the field and make them available on Cloud for analysis and provides the output in an easy-to-use format through a mobile or web application. We make a conscious effort in ensuring that the data resides in the local servers, and have built a framework that makes the data private and secure. CropIn’s smart applications can be connected with these sensors through APIs to directly access the data and the machine learning algorithms combine it with Satellite Images, Prior SmartFarm data, and Agricultural knowledge to provide actionable insights.

The impact of this is that it can help both farmers and agribusinesses to stay competitive in the market by maintaining high standards and quality of crops.

Kindly share your point of view on the current scenario of Big Data Analytics and its future.

In recent years, there has been a cross-pollination of ideas and development within the field of agriculture and outside. However, on the digitization front, not much has happened in agriculture, and this is where we believe our platform can bring a difference. The farm is digitized, and custom machine learning algorithms and analytics can be run on top of these digitized geographical layers. One of the reasons behind designing a satellite and AI-driven farm management system in India is to support farmers, improve per-acre yield, provide sustainable income and help the various stakeholders in the agricultural value chain. We have observed that digitized farms, with timely interventions, can have reduced losses in the field by nearly 20 percent, while productivity can go up by at least 10 percent and many times much more. What we are now witnessing is the new wave in agriculture and there is still a lot to do for the future as there are millions of farms worldwide.

Kindly mention some of the major challenges the company has faced till now.

Slow adoption of technological solutions by the major stakeholders is a major problem. This is because the ecosystem is developed for a traditional working model and like in any other industry, it takes time before any new model becomes the norm. One of the reasons for this is the reach and awareness of these new ideas has a trickling effect. Adoption of solutions could be increased through word-of-mouth and partner networks to other farmers.

Another challenge revolves around mobile connectivity and literacy. Several rural areas remain underserved despite the widespread penetration of mobile communication and broadband connectivity. This problem is intertwined with rural literacy. Once the connectivity issue is solved, we believe that the literacy issue will also fall through for this selected population. CropIn has been addressing these challenges proactively and succeeded in impacting the lives of 14 lakh Indian farmers to date.

What is your biggest USP that di?erentiates the company from competitors?

In the past 10 years, we have worked very hard to build and implement projects at scale resulting in a data moat of over 9 trillion data sets on our platform from across India and the world. We combine these datasets with optical and radar satellite data from multiple sources, and with agriscience knowledge to become the primary ground truth for building crop identification models, from sowing to harvesting. We can also provide additional insights like health, biotic and abiotic stresses, crop potential, field management advisories on top of this from a plot of the size of say 1 hectare to even at the country level.

Through continuous product improvements, we have made the platform very intuitive with clear workflows for data capturing and extensive Reporting and Analytics. Below are a few key features to highlight:

Offline capabilities – 100% functional offline as well

Local languages – All local languages supported including few international ones

A full suite of products– Solving the larger agriculture problem from one platform

Flexible Architecture– A highly flexible architecture ensures that the system is scalable and configurable to fit exact business needs.

Smallholder focus – Over 80% of the farmers in our system are smallholder

In-person training, implementation, and rollout Implementation support with all of our previous experience add a lot of value to derive results faster and better.

What are your growth plans for the next 12 months?

CropIn is at the forefront of advancing the AI-culture for Agriculture. We are always looking to address the more complex challenges and in finding innovative solutions. The aim is to expand into new geographies, understand region-specific challenges and tweak our offerings to meet them. We are building one of the largest Ag Knowledge Graphs as a key engine to handle these complexities and concerns like climate change, attaining carbon-neutral, or positive agriculture. The company is strengthening its global presence in the SEA region, Africa, Europe, and the Americas. It is diversifying into new segments like Plantations, Telecom and Machinery to name a few. CropIn is also focusing on building relationships with local companies through a channel partnership model.

What would you advise aspiring big data and analytics candidates?

These are definitely here to stay and will play a critical role also in ushering in the next era revolutionizing the application of AI for social good. My suggestion to those who are interested and aspiring data scientists would be to really understand their foundational strengths and uniqueness. Everyone comes from a diverse background, and this diversity is important. There is not a one-size-fits-all framework in Data Science. This is indeed the beauty of this particular specialization that it can accommodate everyone. There is space for all and hope everyone understands their calling within this space. We cannot solve some of the key challenges that humanity is currently facing individually, so let us come together to serve the people at the grassroots levels and reach these vulnerable segments of the world population. That would make all the effort truly fulfilling!

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