Satellite imagery helps decide crop insurance for farmers in India

Satellite imagery helps decide crop insurance for farmers in India

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Chandigarh, India, 14 January 2007 – Khushpal Singh, a farmer in Batran village of Ambala district, could see that his wheat crop did not look good. The stalks were thinner and some had actually dried up. But even before he could sell his below-average wheat crop in the mandi, the Agriculture Insurance Company had made out a cheque for Rs 8,000 in his name.

The reason was that a satellite was able to capture Singh’s failing crop. He was one of the 84 farmers who accepted the new wheat crop insurance scheme introduced in Haryana and Punjab that calculates damages with the help of satellite pictures.

The Central government had established the Agriculture Insurance Company of India for focused development of a crop insurance programme, under the National Agriculture Insurance Scheme (NAIS).

The insurance scheme is a pilot project for weather-based wheat insurance in the two states. In addition to the temperature and rainfall index, it has an innovative element of being able to calculate the crop vigour, or the health of the crop, while it is in the field, thanks to remote sensing.

The insurance company buys satellite pictures of areas from the National Remote Sensing Agency, Hyderabad, and a consultant uses a specially designed index called Normalised Difference Vegetative Index (NDVI) to assess crop vigour.

The index could range from one to 254, and if it is less than 180, compensation is paid out. The index has been designed with the help of satellite pictures of the same area of crop, studied over the last 10 years. Farmers are free to choose from three elements — temperature, rainfall, or biomass — or choose all three for assessment of crop vigour using the index. And if the index falls below 180 by any assessment, compensation is paid out, irrespective of the yield or the price the farmer may get in the mandi. “This is based on the logic that if the crop looks bad, it will give a low yield,’’ said an official.

Some fine-tuning is being done on the temperature and rainfall parameters, the chief hurdle being that the met department does not have historical weather data for the districts. The idea is now being applied to eight districts, four each in Punjab and Haryana and many progressive farmers have gone for this innovative package.