AI’s transformational effect for Indian dairy farmers

Cows are sacrosanct in India, and a hallowed creature, but its importance goes far beyond that; as the world’s largest dairy producer, you would think that India’s dairy farming techniques are top of its class. However, the typical herd size is small – an average of two cows or buffalo per farm – and a significant chunk of the milk produced is consumed by family members or sold within the community.

India doesn’t just produce about 25% of the world’s milk, it is also the world’s largest consumer of milk in the world, and digital technology holds great growth potential for the industry, boosting milk yields and creating saleable surplus’. Artificial Intelligence (AI) could not just transform the industry, but also improve the lives of smallholder farmers. Here’s how AI is enabling this wave of change.

Improved insights

Health consciousness is not a new thing, but its impact has been felt in strange areas. As organic milk becomes de rigueur, some startups have worn tech on their sleeve in order to maximise results. Happy Milk, a Bengaluru-based organic milk startup, keeps a close on its approximately 400 cows spread across its 30-acre Tumakuru farm through wearable technology devices strapped on to the cows’ legs.

The wearable gadget offers insights into the animal’s health, well-being, and fertility. This can be monitored round-the-clock on mobile or PC, and will doubtlessly improve efficiency and yields. Tim Cook would be proud.

Digital identity

If Indians everywhere can have Aadhar, a form of digital identity, why can’t our cattle?

In the EU, UK and US, “cattle passports” allow authorities to track infectious disease outbreaks, ensure the effective rollout of government schemes, and make insurance claims. But this isn’t perfect; the tags punched into ears are painful for sure, and open to fraud as well. In India, it isn’t uncommon to see farmers brutally cut the cattle’s ears to commit identity fraud and make fraudulent insurance claims.

Enter Aadhar. Kind of. Cattle facial recognition offers a technically validated solution, and AgriTech start-ups are working to produce the technology at scale and work closely with the government to build a robust cattle identity mechanism. One can imagine this impacting cattle insurance, and easing the disbursement of government subsidies as well, making this a solution ripe for milking.

Improved yields

Milk yields have always been a cause of concern. Existing breeds, of which there are a few mainstays, typically deliver no more than four litres of milk per day over a 200-day annual producing cycle, which is inefficient to say the least.

In an effort to change this historic trend, organizations are now identifying the most suitable breeds and practices that could deliver higher milk yields. This is done by understanding the genetics of the farmer’s existing breed of cattle and matching it to a suitable crossbreed, which could then result in a higher milk output of as much as 16 litres a day over 3-4 generations. What’s more, each calf is issued a digital birth certificate attesting its high yield, increasing its value at the time of sale.

Cattle trading

Cattle trading is a highly unorganized sector, with the negotiating power and ability of buyer and seller dictating prices.

By delineating cattle’s history, including information about yields, age, health, sire and dam, something akin to a more scientific exchange value could be arrived at. Machine Learning can help create a live price exchange for cattle, allowing buyers and sellers to interact freely while also forming the basis for a fair price for all.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ET Edge Insights, its management, or its members

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