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Smart Agriculture Conclave: Organised by Department of Biotechnology and RCUK India

Copyright free (Creative Commons CC0)

30-31 August 2017, New Delhi, India.

With an increasing global population - now at 7.5 billion and projected to reach 11 billion by 2100 - combined with climate change, food security and agriculture has never been more challenging.

“Our society faces several grand challenges in food production”, explained Professor Bruce Whitelaw, Interim Director of The Roslin Institute in Edinburgh, and expert in livestock genetics for biomedicine and agriculture.

“It’s especially difficult in providing sufficient food for the estimated 10 billion people who will cohabit the earth within 30 years”.

“It’s been called a ‘perfect storm’, especially in providing food security for all. It’s an immense task.”

In response to this global challenge, BBSRC has been invited by India’s Department of Biotechnology (DBT) to a Smart Agriculture Conclave in New Delhi. Professor Whitelaw, amongst other researchers and policy-makers, will explore the ways that technology can assist in agriculture in the face of this ‘perfect storm’.

With a population of 1.27 billion, India is the world’s second most populous country, with approximately 70% of its rural households still depending on agriculture (ref 1). This is without considering India’s huge export market. In 2016-17, India exported over 151,720 metric tonnes of basmati rice to the UK alone - that’s more than 151 million kilogram packets of rice (ref 2).

India, with its growing population largely dependent upon its home-grown produce, faces a daunting challenge for agriculture, and the need to create sustainable agriculture value chains has perhaps never been more pressing.

“With the extremes in temperature, inadequate water supplies, and proximity to diverse wildlife populations, Indian agriculture is constantly competing against external challenges,” said Professor Whitelaw.

According to the FAO, India has 20 distinct agro-ecological zones. These zones are identified by their physiography, soil characteristics and taxonomy, climate, growing period, land utilization, and forest types. In other words, that’s 20 large and diverse areas of land, ranging from desert such as the Thar Desert; mountain regions like the Himalayas; tropical forests and hamlets like Nayapura, and rapidly urbanized areas like Chennai and Mumbai.

Although this diversity ensures the availability of fresh fruit and vegetables all year round - and helps rank India as the world’s second largest producer of fruit and vegetable in the world - it also means a variety of challenges (ref 3).

“These challenges vary across the huge and diverse environments that India is home to”, explained Professor Whitelaw.

“It’s crucial to remember that each farmer faces their own individual challenges depending on the environment they’re farming in. Where drought might be the risk for one farmer, flooding may be that for another.”

“For livestock agriculture, India also faces the ever presence of disease,” continued Professor Whitelaw. “Where animal husbandry can provide a stable and reliable income, diseases like Foot and Mouth, Classical Swine Fever, and even Anthrax are serious threats (ref 4).”

India’s Department for Animal Husbandry, Dairying, and Fisheries has stated that disease is the greatest hindrance for this sector’s growth, and that this not only impacts India’s own food productivity but also deters international investment in livestock (ref 4).

The BBSRC-DBT Conclave will be exploring a range of topics, from understanding the needs of the Indian small-holder, to the mechanics of big data collection and dissemination, to how public-private partnerships in the agricultural sector can benefit global food chains.

“We’ll be exploring how data-driven innovation can help the Indian farmer through bringing high-tech solutions to benefit Indian agriculture on a local scale,” explained Professor Whitelaw.

Applying ICT (Information and Communication Technologies) and IoT (Internet of Things) alongside big data in the agricultural sector can have an utterly transformative effect. Information sourced ‘upstream’ by researchers, policymakers, and industries can be more easily transmitted ‘downstream’ to farmers. This can help with water management, early warning systems for hazards, pest control, market links, and many more challenges that Indian farmers face. For example, if there is an outbreak of disease or a flood warning is issued, farmers will have a better chance to prepare, and ultimately mitigate potentially catastrophic outcomes.

“Big data allows the collection of masses of data points from across a region, accelerating the identification and implementation of solutions. Basically, more data means more solutions to local problems.”



  1. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations: India at a glance
  2. Agri-Exchange: India Export Statistics
  3. Apeda: Fresh fruits and vegetables
  4. Department of Animal Husbandry Dairying & Fisheries: Livestock Health Division


UK Research and Innovation Media Office

Tags: food security agriculture farming India smart agriculture technology news