For the 3.5 lakh coffee growers in India, 98% of whom are small-scale, challenges affecting production include labour shortage, climate change and pest attacks.
One way to manage these is by adopting technology, which the Coffee Board is trying to bring about for the growers.
Last year, Eka Software Solutions took up a pilot project for the Coffee Board of India on machine-learning based applications. According to Shuchi Nijhawan, vice president – agri business for Eka Software, the Board and the company took up three areas to try machine learning based apps. One was addressing the white stem borer problem, another was weather forecasting, and the third, predicting leaf rust.
“Based on the data, photos provided, we created a machine learning algorithm to forecast each of these issues (for a grower). We worked with 20 liaison officers of the Board and they coordinated with the growers.
“The success of the app depends on the data fed in. In the case of white stem borer, the growers and the Board have validated 90% accuracy,” she says. Eka’s digital platform for agriculture aggregates data from different sources and applies the algorithm to provide insight to the coffee growers.
Srivatsa Krishna, chairman of the Coffee Board, adds that though there is no exact data, it is learnt that in the last 10 to 15 years white stem borer would have brought down Arabica production by 25-30%. “The growers do need solutions for such issues.”
“Despite the Coffee Act having been around for more than seven decades, farmers have zero technology. The only way to increase productivity is by bringing in technology,” he says. Even before smartphones became popular, coffee growers had checked prices on the London and New York exchanges almost on a daily basis.
Hence, adopting technology should not be difficult for them. The Board has plans to scale up the analytics technology for adoption by more farmers.
Currently, 90% of the estates depend on labourers for most of the work and there is not much technology adoption among coffee growers in cultivation or to increase production.
“If someone is ready to do it [technology] for us, we will adopt it. It will help increase yield,” says Sundar Subramanium, executive director of Mother Mirra Coffee Plantations. Ms. Nijhawan says the company is exploring partnerships for other crops too. “Indian farmers want such technology services. There are several agriculture institutes and cooperatives in the country that have a lot of data. I see a huge potential for these technologies.”