By Jochelle Mendonca
IBM is also using its cognitive technology to help farmers identify pest infestation earlier and in working out supply chains and grain storage
IBM’s India research lab is looking at ways of using its Watson cognitive technology to help farmers determine potential crop yields and protect against pests, an effort that could increase the use of such data in farmer loans and insurance.
The India research lab counts agri-business as one of the three industries it focuses on in India. The technology — part of a solution called Precision Agriculture — involves the use of a few strategically placed sensors and remote sensing data from satellites to answer questions about the state of the soil, moisture content, weather data and susceptibility to pests.
“Blanketing a farm with sensors is extremely expensive and hard to manage. But data from a small amount of local sensors and data from satellites can be married using cognitive technologies — a process called cognitive fusion. We can answer those questions in a cost-effective way,” Sriram Raghavan, director of India Research Labs, told ET.
Cost is of great importance in a country like India, where farms are small and organised farming of large plots of land is still rare. IBM is looking at large agri-businesses and financial institutions as its potential market.
“Agri-businesses have the ability to invest in technology and have an interest in increasing productivity even if the farms are run by individual farmers. The other model is to look at financial institutions,” Raghavan said. “We have seen a lot of issues with agri insurance and credit. And while there are definitely non-technology issues to be solved, but there is an opportunity for technology to help provide better visibility to financial institutions.”
He added that the company has already had some preliminary discussions with financial institutions. “With the technology, the financial products they issue in the agri space do not have to be driven just by the credit history of a farmer, which may not be a viable model, but can be driven by knowledge of the farm and focus on health on the farm. This will increase risk awareness.”
The company is also using its cognitive technology to help farmers identify pest infestation earlier and in working out supply chains and grain storage.
The research lab also focuses on the financial sector and education space in India and is one of the company’s most prolific labs in Asia-Pacific when it comes to patent filings, Raghavan said. IBM was granted 8,088 patents in 2016, out of which 658 were filed by IBMers in India.
“I am not surprised by the fact that India does so well because we have all the different labs in the country. Think we are also seeing a lot of interaction between the labs here and the innovations happening around us and in the market itself,” Raghavan said.
The India labs focuses its innovation on three main pillars — blockchain, artificial intelligence and cognitive.