While Indian agriculture continues to face challenges, technology continues to try and help the Indian farmer. With the advent of driverless tractors or Autonomous Electric Tractors (AETs), the agtech space goes up a notch in tech quotient, as Aeris, a California-based technology company and Hello Tractor, an agtech company, which has worked with farmers in Nigeria and Kenya, is coming up with a pay-as-you-use tractor service for Indian farmers.
There is no dearth of small farmers in India, who are lack the funds to purchase equipment like tractors. In addition, farmers who work on small pieces of land find it impractical to buy a whole tractor. However, they do still need equipment for most of their cultivation work. With these kind of services, the farmer can rent the equipment for only the time period they require it, fitting into a small budget.
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Recent data by the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) in the NABARD All-India Rural Financial Inclusion Survey (NAFIS) released in August reveals the poor state of use of farm machinery in the Indian agriculture space. Agricultural households in India owning a tractor is just 5.2%, while owners of power tiller come down to just 1.8%.
Bakur Kvezereli, the CEO of Ztractor, who are about to launch their electric, driverless tractor told The Tech Panda that driverless tractors can help farmers who are poor. “With the AETs, farmer will be able to scale the size of a farm and upgrade to new high margin crop. This will be possible through lower operation cost of AETs (driverless and oil-less). As the efficiency of non-autonomous diesel tractors is limited to the tractor driver’s capacity and availability.”
Renting farm equipment has become an upcoming trend in the Indian agriculture space in recent years. Companies such as EM3 have operations in Madhya Pradesh since 2014, now extending to Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan as well. Also, Trringo, Mahindra & Mahindra’s farm equipment rental business is into the same sector.
State governments have joined this space as well by setting up Custom Hiring Centres (CHCs) in the rural areas of India, with financial assistance from the central government. According to this model, local agriculture graduates set up CHCs with the assistance of government grants and low interest loans from banks. Farmers are able to hire a different types of machinery from these centres, needed for ploughing, harvesting, and many other activities. The state of Madhya Pradesh currently has 2,300 centres of this kind till now, after the programme was launched there in 2012-13.
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In comparison to autonomous cars, the AET sector is less confusing to venture into, considering many of the factors, such as congestion, pedestrians, other drivers, are absent in this case.
As Kvezereli says, “Let us agree that self-driving cars have very complex assignments. The speed, weather, road signs, pedestrians, road conditions, and regular car driver behaviour require error-free hardware and software solutions. Now imagine robot-tractors in the farm environment without any of the above mentioned constrains.”