Our Research Accurate optical sensing for efficient fertilizer use and increased yield in small farms

Photo of a farm in India

Understanding data allows small-holder farmers to make informed decisions about sustainable fertilizer application. Image Credit: Kinshuk Sunil, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons


How can spectroscopic sensors facilitate efficient crop management for small-holder farmers by reducing nitrogen fertilizer application while preserving crop yields?

Research Strategy

  • Develop a cost/benefit analysis for nitrogen-uptake sensors for crops and crop-management practices in Punjab
  • Exchange measurement protocols and obtain initial data for relevant crops in Punjab

Project description

Small holdings farmers make decisions on how to manage their crops every day from fertilizer application, to irrigation, to timing the harvest, and controlling pests. These decisions directly influence their costs, profits, and the sustainability of their enterprise through fertilizer run-off and use of water resources.

Rajeev Ram, a professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT, and Rajesh Kumar, an assistant professor of Biomedical Engineering at IIT-Ropar, seek to establish the potential for portable optical sensors to provide rapid, actionable data that can allow small holdings farmers to better manage their crops. In particular, their research explores the potential for spectroscopic ‘fingerprinting’ of the nitrogen uptake to better guide management of fertilizer use in field crops that are economically important and highly relevant to the region of Punjab, India. The team of electrical and biological engineers will work together to demonstrate rapid, specific crop diagnostics as decision support tools that are accessible to marginal farmers.

This research is supported by an MIT-IIT Ropar Seed Fund grant funded by J-WAFS and administered in partnership with MISTI Global Seed Funds. 


  • Facilitated interactions between MIT and IIT Ropar researchers through a visit by Prof Rajesh Kumar to MIT in Janurary 2024
  • Demonstrated portable Raman measurements of leaves and discussed instrument design and data analysis for in-field Raman measurements
  • Prof. Kumar gave a seminar while at MIT on detection of HLB infection in citrus grown in Punjab and salt stress induced growth inhibition of plants in the semiarid region of India
  • Discussed experiment design, techniques, approaches, and spectral analysis

Additional Details

Impact Areas

  • Food

Research Themes

  • Sensors & Monitoring
  • Soil Fertility & Crop Productivity

Year Funded

  • 2021

Grant Type

  • MIT - IIT Ropar Grant


  • Completed