A K Gupta, Director - IT, IFFCO explains how cloud, AI, IoT and other technologies are changing the face of Indian agricultural industry and IFFCO’s cloud journey
The agricultural industry has always been a high-risk, labor-intensive one, often impacted by unexpected environmental changes, economic downturns, and many other factors. But in the last few years, the sector is also witnessing many technological transformations to stay ahead in the marketplace.
The Indian Farmers Fertilizers Co-operative Limited (IFFCO), one of India’s small-scale fertilizer cooperative federations realized the tech mantra for success early on. With around 40,000 co-operative societies as members and almost 5-crore as its farmer base, the company is successfully treading the digital path. In an exclusive interaction with Sohini Bagchi, A K Gupta, Director - IT, IFFCO explains how cloud, AI, IoT and other technologies are changing the face of Indian agricultural industry and IFFCO’s cloud journey.
How is cloud changing the Indian agricultural industry?
Being the primary source of livelihood for about 58% of India’s population, agriculture is one of the most critical sectors in India. In fact, a major focus of the Government has been to double the income of farmers by 2022. This can be achieved only through technological intervention in agriculture, especially with technologies such as cloud, IoT and AI.
Today, cloud computing has opened new avenues for the agriculture sector. To feed the growing population, farmers need a variety of data and services based on land, crop, climate conditions, finance availability, irrigation facilities etc. that can help in improving crop production. Cloud allows real-time computation and access to data and provides storage to end-users without the need of knowing the physical location and configuration of the system that delivers the services.
The other important area is storage of agricultural data by Government and private agencies. Agriculture information bank is a great opportunity in the areas of crop, weather, soil, growth progress, farmer data and expert consultation, among others that enables stakeholders to store all the agriculture related information in a centralized cloud, which will be available to all the users at anytime, anywhere.
Use of IoT, along with Cloud Computing can help Indian farmers in increasing the crop production and reducing costs, by providing accurate communication between objects, and charging according to the usage of service.
How is IFFCO reforming India’s conventional agricultural landscape through modern technology?
Being the pioneers of this sector, IFFCO is able to support and encourage farmers to adopt the most modern and best agricultural practices, which help them to overcome farming challenges and ensure that they are getting optimal yields from their farms. IFFCO has always been ahead in adopting modern technologies. Our mission is to extensively leverage technology and ensure we provide farmers with all the products and services to their doorstep. This is where cloud and mobile technologies become paramount.
How is IFFCO leveraging cloud technologies to expand reach and drive greater impact in India?
At IFFCO, we understand the benefits and potential of cloud technology. We wanted our IT organization to be agile and focused on delivering more value to the business. Earlier, we were often getting caught up with managing IT; with cloud, we now have the freedom to accelerate our innovation and deploy new technologies faster, unearthing new business growth avenues.
Let me give you one example. As per Direct Benefit Transfer, farmers cannot get subsidy for fertilizers without recording the information in a point-of-sale (PoS) machine. Cloud is the underlying technology here. We are working with banks to provide digital benefits to farmers and are fully prepared for rolling out DBT on fertilizers in all the states. We firmly believe in driving paperless transactions and have implemented ‘no-paper’ processes across our departments.
What kind of business benefits have IFFCO seen after deploying cloud?
We’ve realized significant business benefits after deploying Oracle Cloud - be it in the area of productivity improvements, increased operational efficiencies, or improving work-life balance for our employees and deeper engagement with farmers. Given the pace and scale of disruption, we decided to upgrade to Oracle’s modern, enterprise-grade cloud infrastructure to run our business. We’re also using the vendor’s PaaS and Oracle Mobile Enterprise Cloud Service. This has helped in making our IT organization more productive and future-proof the business.
What are the other tech initiatives of the company in the recent past?
Last year, we came up with a mobile application to bring the entire 5500-odd IFFCO employees into one group. Developed in house, the mobile app has been designed support IFFCO Bazar, a brand name of IFFCO eBazar Limited, whose aim is to provide all agricultural inputs under one roof. In each store the products and services of IFFCO and its subsidiaries are sold and made available to the farmers. The new app operates simultaneously across platforms - Android, Windows or iOS - enables us to connect to each other at IFFCO without having to remember one’s phone number or e-mail address on-the-go as you can still find out all the details through your smart phone with the help to this app.
The organization has also implemented Biometrics Attendance Recording System in Plants, Corporate office and regional Offices. While today the IFFCO Sadan, the company’s headquarter in New Delhi’s Saket Place is Wi-Fi enabled, it has introduced some of the state-of-the-art infrastructure, such as rolling out a Cooperative Information Portal for member Cooperative Societies, sending promotional and stock availability SMS in Hindi to farmers by field staff and launching IEBT web portal for IFFCO retired employees.
What are the technologies you are planning to implement in the next 12-18 months?
We’re now closely working with Oracle to assess how we can take advantage of emerging technologies like AI-ML, Blockchain and Chatbots to further improve farmers’ lives and boost their business prospects.