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Smarter farming

Using AI and data technology to help smallholder farmers increase crop yield

Smallholder farmers are key to global food security. In India, a team of Capgemini colleagues has developed an app to help them.

Across the world, 600 million smallholder farmers produce a third of the world’s food. In India, 86% of farmers are smallholder farmers. Many live in poverty, but they are key to global food security at a time when climate change is impacting global food production.

It is with this context in mind that a multi-disciplinary team of Capgemini colleagues have been developing a smartphone app to help small-scale farmers in India improve the yield of their land.

It is the latest ambition of Financial and Agricultural Recommendation Models (FARM), an umbrella project that harnesses the power of big data and AI for local food producers. Luc Baardman from Capgemini Invent in the Netherlands has been involved with FARM since joining the company in 2018, and now oversees the project’s various activations around the world. 

“The essence of FARM is putting digital technology and data into the hands of farmers to help improve their crop yields,” he explains. “For FARM 3.0, we have brought the solution to India, partly because there are thousands of small-scale farmers working all across the country, and also because we already have a significant Capgemini team there too.”

Joining this latest execution of FARM was an integrated team across geographies supported by our corporate responsibility team in India and management teams, working in partnership with a local non-profit.

Introducing FARM 3.0

In India, 78% of the country’s smallholder farmers work on only 33% of the cultivatable land and produce 41% of the country’s food grains. At the same time, India is home to a quarter of the world’s undernourished people, and while the population is growing, the land available for farming is shrinking.

There is a great need to get more from the land already being farmed, while also protecting the growers who provide the country’s food. With the assistance of the Agricultural Development Trust-iiCARE (an NGO that provides climate-change solutions for farmers), Capgemini conducted detailed field studies, interviewing 80 smallholder farmers to understand how technology can help to address the challenges they face.

“To our surprise, we found there was no single, consistent method of farming among this group,” says Shaji Menon from Capgemini’s ADM team based in Mumbai. “Many were using practices handed down over generations, without the benefit of modern scientific understanding.”

This is important, because traditional practices don’t take into account the impact of climate change on the land. FARM 3.0 intends to help farmers adapt and update their methods.

Virtuous cycles

The team’s response was to collate data from a range of sources, including partner organizations Agricultural Development Trust-iiCARE and the Indian Agricultural Ministry – and scientists with an intimate understanding of farming in India.

The team narrowed the scope to just sugarcane and rice paddies because these crops alone are very complex. Sugarcane, for example, has a 14-to-15-month harvest cycle, requiring many different tasks, such as preparing the soil, testing it for deficiencies, and then fertilizing accordingly.

When the app goes live, farmers will be able to access best practice advice tailored to their specific crop type, synchronized with the harvest cycle. A sugarcane farmer can find out what tasks – for example fertilization or irrigation – they should be doing at that specific moment.

Tailor-made for farmers

Shaji explains that the research phase was invaluable in shaping the design parameters of the app. “We’re unlikely to be developing an iOS version, because we know through our interviews that most farmers use Android phones. Also, the weak internet connectivity common to rural areas meant our solution needed to be lightweight, requiring as little data as possible.”

This approach feeds all the way into the activation schedule, says Shaji. “When we launch our Beta release, the 2,000 farmers in our initial group will be preparing their soil for sugarcane fertilization. Therefore, the first batch of information we will load onto the app will concern soil testing. More data will then be added as the year progresses, in synchronization with the harvest cycle.”

The team has also deployed AI technology judiciously within the app, striking a balance between innovation and usability. Using artificial intelligence, we have created a tool that will allow farmers to identify pests that attack their crops simply by taking a photo. Not only will the app then recommend a pesticide or treatment, it will also alert nearby farmers to be on the lookout.

Ripples of change

Helping farmers adopt more efficient practices will help them prepare for the impact of climate change as well as improve farming outcomes and their lives and livelihoods. “In some respects, we’re in a race against the clock,” says Luc. “We only have about 20 harvest cycles left if we continue to produce food in this way. Current practices are unsustainable, putting too much stress on the soil. However, FARM 3.0 can tell farmers what specific nutrients to add to their lands, which is far more efficient than blanket applications over large areas.”

Beyond the benefits to local farmers and the environment, the FARM project has become a showcase for Capgemini’s broad range of talents and skillsets. “Some of our large agricultural clients have taken note of our work on FARM,” says Luc. “They’re interested in our approach to data, and how it can maintain value throughout the entire supply chain. In some respects, the ripple effect could be greater than the project’s immediate outcomes.”’

Boldness and team spirit

The FARM projects have been developed through the Applied Innovation Exchange framework, and involve a global, multidisciplinary team, including Capgemini Invent and the Indian CSR and development teams.

“We’re a diverse team of different nationalities, ages, genders, and grades,” says Luc. “And in many respects, FARM highlights Capgemini’s values, particularly boldness and team spirit.”

The team’s mantra is “doing good with data.” “It means unlocking the value of data to create meaningful work for our colleagues,” concludes Luc. “It means producing better outcomes for NGOs, our agricultural clients and, of course, the farmers themselves.”


Through Tech4Positive Futures, Capgemini applies innovation and technology to solve some of the most pressing planetary and societal challenges in the areas of skilling, health, and well-being, and climate-related sustainability. We do this by bringing financial support and leadership commitment together with the pro-bono technology and consulting services of our volunteering colleagues. This is delivered in collaboration with our ecosystem of partners, creating impact at scale.

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