From Ploughs To Drones: India's Agriculture Journey And Road Ahead
Though India is raring to go in terms of tech development, It is essential to keep in mind the complexities of small-hold farms and the need for easy scalability across the 16 agro-climatic zones, diverse regions, and demographics
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'Everything can wait but agriculture,' said Nehru. India suffered severe food shortages soon after its independence. The Green Revolution was a watershed moment allowing us to become self-sufficient in food grains. In 1950-51, the government recorded food production in India at 50.82 million tonnes. Foodgrain production had scaled up to 314.51 million tonnes in 2021-22. For 2022-23, we have set our eyes on a target of 328 million tonnes. Having said that, this has also caused indiscriminate use of fertilisers and pesticides, causing soil erosion, greenhouse emission effects, increased soil salinity, and water shortages.
Though India has been an agrarian country and its core competency lies in agriculture, we have not been able to utilize the agriculture potential fully l. While we have increased the food production of both grains and fruits and vegetables substantially over the last few decades from where we were, our productivity levels in most of the crops are nowhere near the best.
Fragmented land holdings and lack of integrated value chains have been acting as perils bringing in a lot of inefficiencies across the sector. In addition to that, with no production planning, the farmer is mostly left in distress either way, with less production or overproduction, causing price and income uncertainties. While MSP has played a predominant role in the protection of farmers' income, even this has been skewed to a large extent for certain geographies and crops.
At the centre of farm mechanisation is farm equipment, which is capital intensive, making it a significant investment and making it almost out of reach for small and marginal farmers. The villages being far flung from the point of sale, the quality of after-sale service is another concern because of the inadequacy of proper maintenance in remote regions of rural areas. Thus leaving the small and marginal farmers out of the purview of the benefits of farm mechanisation.
Then is the problem of food waste. Around 40 per cent of all food produced is either lost or wasted. Scientific storage solutions near farmgate are critical to ensure better returns for the producer. Rural credit plays a significant role here.
With the advancement in technology, and the rapid adoption of digital techs at the farm level, there is immense scope to address the issues and could become potential game changers in how the farming and farm output planning is done at the farm level and country as a whole.
Advancements in technology have already been increasing the general public's awareness about the quality of food produced and consumed. It also ensures transparency in what we consume, and traceability in what we offer.
Disruption in agriculture will require eliminating inefficiencies in the supply chain. The more technology becomes scalable and affordable, we have the power to improve efficiencies and bridge existing gaps by helping farmers access credit and crop insurance, engaging in predictive analytics to improve farm productivity, and creating an unhindered path toward precision farming.
The need to build sustainable and resilient agri-food systems globally
Though India is raring to go in terms of tech development, It is essential to keep in mind the complexities of small-hold farms and the need for easy scalability across the 16 agro-climatic zones, diverse regions, and demographics. We need to identify risks, build climate-proof agricultural infrastructure and develop contingency plans to cope with climate change, soil erosion, and biodiversity loss occurring at an alarming speed. We need to build resilient agricultural ecosystems which save our limited resources through enhanced land and resource management, more thoughtful use of agro-chemicals, data-driven decisions, and automation.
With the ability to track, analyze and understand food systems, improve crop quality and reduce food waste, we can bring in efficiency and improve productivity. We are already looking at reducing crop damage, chemical and water usage, and lowering GHG emissions through climate-smart agricultural tools. New-age technological tools and practices like IoT, biotechnology, and genetic engineering have helped us achieve pest resistance and higher agricultural yields. Data Analytics and AI have ensured better crop quality, making it cost-effective for the farmers and yielding better produce. Climate-smart agriculture is pertinent to the challenges of food security and climate change, and technology has enabled us to reimagine the agricultural ecosystem with smart and sustainable solutions.
Challenges in Agri Finance and Rural Credit
Financial inclusion and Financial literacy have historically been challenging for the small and marginal farmer. Constraints on institutional design and delivery mechanisms largely contribute to the absence of sustainable rural financial markets and institutions. This is fundamentally due to a gap between institutionalised banks, farmers and people engaged in the ecosystem, especially in rural India.
While banks and NBFCs require a formal credit history before lending, new-age Agritech businesses give farmers small-ticket farm loans against secured collateral, unleashing financing demands in near-farmgate marketplaces.
The adoption of FinTech at the grassroots enables it to tackle agri-finance complexities. The growth of the cashless economy and financial technology generates new ways to target and collateralise credit, appropriate pricing, and manage risks. The blockchain-backed mobile money, better user interface, and ease of accessing financial products inject much-needed financial inclusion into the country, even though it is a nascent stage.
The aim for Fintech startups should be and is to connect the disintegrated agri-ecosystem, especially the marginalised and small-holder farmers, with the whole ecosystem, from supply chains to credits, to storage and easier accessibility to financial products. They can bring much-needed transparency to the value chain. In this context, the association of fintech companies with Farmer Produce Organisations becomes critical, too, considering that more than 84% of the land holdings are with small and marginal farmers.
Innovating for Efficiency and Scale
Innovation is a critical component of contemporary agriculture, enabling the formalisation of the industry. The digitisation of its spaces, commodities, financing and processes across the value chain and precision farming hav enabled efficiency and productivity in an otherwise fragmented market. Technology has enabled traceability, transparency, quality, and payment assurances for seamless commodity commerce today.
A digital platform connects a broader audience of buyers and sellers, ensuring swifter and seamless trade and helping farmers find the best price for their crops. Along with this, Farm automation-induced smart farming, precision agriculture, blockchain, and artificial intelligence is assisting farmers to achieve better decision-making and, therefore, better harvests. AI/ML will analyse statistical data of farms and will keep getting better at predicting various outcomes.
The way ahead
Multi-dimensional focus on quality production, improving supply chain efficiencies, financial inclusion of the smallholder farmers, and enabling digital adoption at the grassroots is vital for the growth of the economy and making growth more inclusive and competitive across the globe.
Mobilising resources from a macro-level to improve farm productivity per hectare is the way ahead. Tech-driven equipment is in line with driving agriculture towards better productivity.
Precision farming uses modern technologies like field mapping and satellite imagery to improve crop quality as well as crop planning
Emerging agritech firms are attempting to solve the demand-supply problem. It intends to integrate demand and supply through financial forecasting and stakeholder aggregation via digital platforms, transforming the nation's production-driven supply chain into a demand-driven value chain.
Farm production is expected to rise because of disruptive technologies, such as smart sensors that collect soil and crop development data. Tech-driven equipment is in sync with better productivity. Precision farming improves crop quality by utilising cutting-edge technologies, such as field mapping, satellite photography and effective use of drones for monitoring and agriculture operations.
The advent of tech in agriculture gives a peek into a promising future of agriculture. However, more than 70 percent of India's population lives in rural areas, several of which still continue to practice absolute manual farming. Success would be enabling emerging technologies in the agri space to build a robust system that effectively integrates the smallest farmers into the formal value chains.
(The given article is attributed to Chattanathan Devarajan, Co-Founder, Arya.ag)
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