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Himanshu Gupta • April 6th, 2023.
Today, the impacts of climate change are inescapable. One of the places in which these impacts are already being felt — with some of the most potentially devastating consequences on life as we know it — is in our agriculture systems. A recent episode of the BBC World Service’s weekly podcast, The Climate Question, explores these challenges and solutions — featuring ClimateAi’s technology as a major solution. The episode, called “Could artificial intelligence help farmers adapt to the effects of climate change?” dives into just that.
As co-host Luke Jones said, “For the world’s food security, climate change is making a bad situation even worse … Farming is under severe pressure from climate change, with the world’s poorest countries worst affected.”
The journalists interviewed farmers and artificial intelligence experts to find out the answer, including ClimateAi’s CEO Himanshu Gupta and Ranveer Chandra, Managing Director for Research for Industry and the CTO of Agri-Food at Microsoft.
As BBC reported, ClimateAi’s platform is helping farmers in Madhya Pradesh, in central India, through a partnership with a large food company that buys crops from these farmers, such as wheat and soybeans. However, climate change-fueled crop yield declines were causing new concerns, so the agribusiness began using ClimateAi for more accurate seasonal and long-term yield forecasting. It also offered ClimateAi’s seasonal forecasting weather platform with alerts to its farmers so they could optimize in-field decision-making.
As one farmer in Madhya Pradesh, India, told BBC, “Climate change is a very big issue here. Everything has been affected by it, including our crops. The changes in weather patterns are a serious concern for us. We faced drought in recent years, as well as untimely and unseasonable rains, causing substantial damage to the crops. Problems with insects and moths increased, and crop production was declining. Farming for us is like the soul is for the body. We can’t imagine doing anything else. We started getting information and learned that all this harm to the crops was due to climate change. So we made some arrangements. We received necessary information and training at different places.”
BBC reported that in the Madhya Pradesh region, ClimateAi’s platform was being used in 300 villages, and “in most of the cases, the yield has doubled, so it has really changed their lives.”
As Himanshu said of the platform, “Climate change is introducing a lot of volatility in our daily weather, and farmers still act out their memory, which is the institutional memory that they have of farming for the last 30, 40, or 50 years, across their generations and their families.
“Now, if you are a wheat farmer or a vegetable farmer, in the north of India and you’re preparing to sow your seeds at the onset of spring, you’re suddenly realizing that your window of planting seeds is getting shorter and shorter. It used to be two or three weeks or four weeks after the onset of spring. Now, it has reduced to a week or two — and then it’s also very uncertain.
“But what our platform does is it gives actionable insights to farmers on when to plant, what to plant, and where to plant. In the back end, there’s so many big data algorithms that are crunching terabytes of satellite sensor data, radar stations, data, and soil moisture data. It then uses that to predict a risk of a heat wave, predict soil moisture conditions from two weeks out to a month out or three months out, and then converts all of that into a very simple index that farmers can understand and use to optimize their planting decisions or their harvesting decisions on the field.”
The challenges of accelerating AI in agriculture, especially smallholder farming, are many, Microsoft’s Ranveer Chandra said on the show. He named challenges including affordability, connectivity, and lack of data. But the urgency and benefits of overcoming these challenges are also great. Chandra said: “We need to act fast. We want every farmer in the world to start using data and AI, whether they’re a big farmer or a small farmer. A lot of this next generation of farmers are not farmers anymore. They don’t stay in agriculture.”
Another Madhya Pradesh farmer told BBC that the technology provided by ClimateAi helped him and his family find new profits and choose to maintain their livelihoods. “We were farming according to old customs,” he said, “but then we had to try this new method. Now we get all the information about the weather, when to sow, and when to harvest, which seeds to plant, which medicines to spray. It’s benefiting us a lot.
“As the alert has just been issued, there’s a likelihood of rainfall soon. So we’ve started harvesting and can take precautions. I’m now earning better through farming and it provides a good livelihood for my family.
“We tried the things that we were told at first. We thought, we’ve been farming for so long, they can’t be more informed than us. But when we tried these things, they were beneficial. It increased our yield. There was a time when we felt that there was nothing left in farming. It wasn’t profitable, but today the production has increased, and we feel that farming is a good business.”
Listen to the episode, “Can artificial intelligence help farmers adapt to the effects of climate change?” here. The episode also features interviews with Ranveer Chandra, Managing Director for Research for Industry and the CTO of Agri-Food at Microsoft, and Dr. Claudia Ringler, Deputy Director of Environment and Production Technology Division at the International Food Policy Research Institute.