George C. Marshall won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1953, and in his Nobel Lecture made a thematically related statement, “Democratic principles do not flourish on empty stomachs.”
Equitable access to adequate and nutritious food is the precursor for health and ensuring a resilient population. Thus ensuring food security is key to a peaceful and harmonious society.
India is one of the largest and most robust agriculture-based economies. The Green Revolution played a major role in the road to achieving this status thus far. However, a deeper insight throws fissures in this achievement. Agricultural development employs almost 50% of the workforce in the country, but contributes a dismal 20% of the GDP. Another startling statistic is worth noting: “In the 2020 Global Hunger Index, India ranks 94th out of the 107 countries. With a score of 27.2, India has a level of hunger that is serious.” So where are we going wrong in providing food security to our teeming masses? What is the way forward to address these issues?
“What is food security?”
According to Dr. Maria Andrade, 2016 World Food Prize Laureate, achieving food security means that all vulnerable groups have access to safe and nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life. Improving or achieving food security should result in improved food intake and reduced hunger. Technology is one of the major factors that can contribute to the achievement of food security. Technology in this context refers to a mix of techniques, skills, methods, and processes used in agricultural development.
Farming in India, despite its major strides in food production, is still highly dependent on monsoon. Hence just one bad monsoon can lead to disastrous consequences. The growing population in India is putting tremendous pressure on the agricultural ecosystem. Dwindling output per acre, reduction in farm area, and climate change are the challenges as India looks ahead in its effort to feed the ever-growing population. De-risking agriculture and sustainable development is the only way forward to achieve and maintain food security.
Infusing technology in farming has the potential to transform agriculture and development wherein the farmer achieves the goal of doubling his income through a proportionate increase in output with minimum resources, ultimately achieving the millennium development goal of eradicating hunger.
Technology Adoption In Agricultural Development in India: Issues & Challenges
While there has been significant effort from policymakers and private agencies to ramp up adoption of technology, there is still some way to go. Some of the reasons hindering adoption are:
- Tradition. Indian agricultural development has been traditional in approach and built on knowledge passed over generations. Thus farmers rely on outdated techniques and depend on natural irrigation. Resistance to change due to customs leads to low productivity and yield.
- Literacy. Poor literacy among Indian farmers keeps them from adopting technology in agriculture and sustainable development. Despite initiatives taken by the public and private sector, adoption of technology has not generated desired results, and awareness remains poor.
- Technology adoption is capital intensive and finance is an issue. Modern technology in farming, especially mechanization, is expensive. The farming community finds it difficult to invest large amounts in the absence of easy access to cheap finance options. Unorganized finance options are expensive and act as a major deterrent.
- Irrigation Sources. Irrigation for farming is dependent on groundwater, freshwater sources like rivers, and rainfall. Erratic rainfall leads to overexploitation of groundwater and has a spiraling effect due to salinity. Conversely, in areas with abundant rainfall, soil disintegration and floods affect Indian farmers. Lack of knowledge, finance, and reluctance to adopt simple but modern methods lead to an ecosystem that is not resilient and finds it difficult to adapt to changing circumstances.
- Land Holding. Size of land holding is an important indicator in the adoption of modern technology in farming. Farmers with large holdings are more inclined to adopt agriculture and sustainable development. On the other hand, small farmers are constrained for a host of reasons and fail to make optimum use of modern farming techniques including mechanization, fertilization, and tilling. With most farmer landholdings in India being 1 to 5 acres, commercial feasibility is an issue.
Some areas where technology can help agribusiness
- Farm Mechanization. Agriculture mechanization leads to a reduction of labor wage, reduces the farmer’s drudgery in manual operations, and leads to an increase in manpower productivity. Lack of access is a major reason for the slow adoption of farm mechanization, particularly among small and marginal farmers. It is unviable for a small or marginal farmer to purchase farm equipment, and without its usage the farmer is stuck in a vicious cycle of low or even negative returns. Making farm machines available for rent through custom hiring service centers is a step in this direction, and the scope needs to be widened further. Cheaper financing is another step that will go a long way in achieving better adoption.
- Climate/ weather prediction. Changing climate has an increasing effect on mankind and especially for Indian agriculture, thus keeping a check on the weather patterns is important for agriculture and sustainable development. AI forecasting and analytical tools are being increasingly used to better predict weather patterns, thereby reducing crop loss. Better forecasting and information access can help farmers in adapting to weather-resilient cropping practices, thereby reducing dependability on Mother Nature.
- Drone Technology. Drone technology is being considered the future for the agrarian community. Drones enhance overall performance and benefit farmers through precision agriculture. Agricultural drones help the farmer adapt to environments and make informed decisions. Data obtained through drones help regulate crop health, crop treatment, irrigation, and carry out field soil analysis and crop damage assessments. Recently, the scope has increased, and drones have also been employed to carry out seeding in Tamilnadu, thereby helping to accomplish the task faster and with greater precision.
- Use of biotechnology. Agricultural biotechnology refers to a range of interventions that include traditional breeding techniques to improve plants or animals and develop microorganisms for agriculture and development. Biotechnology arms the farmer with tools that can make agri-production cost-effective and manageable, e.g., modified crops can be engineered to tolerate specific herbicides and result in better weed control. Biotechnology has helped to safeguard crops from insects, pests, and weeds, thereby reducing the risk of failure. Plant biotechnology has been instrumental in improving crop productivity and food security, thereby reducing the environmental footprint of agricultural development.
S M Sehgal Foundation Promotes Technology in Agriculture and Sustainable Development In India
The Agriculture Development program at S M Sehgal Foundation promotes sustainable livelihoods by building the capacities of farmers through improved agricultural interventions and new technologies. Their effort is to work with small-holder farmers to facilitate adoption of improved and advanced agricultural practices including soil health management, crop production management, input-use efficiency, small farm mechanization, water-efficient irrigation techniques, horticultural development, livestock management, and the use of information and communication technology (ICT) in agricultural development.
FARM MECHANIZATION. The best rural development NGO in India, S M Sehgal Foundation, in partnership with GE, has implemented the Gram Utkarsh project in Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh, in an effort to help farmers make agriculture and development more rewarding. Some of the areas this scheme has been able to help with include:
- Paddy thresher. Brijesh Pal, a farmer of village Chakanur, acquired an electric paddy thresher machine that helps separate grain from the crop. This has saved time and labor costs needed for crop threshing and has also enabled Brijesh to earn extra income from renting out the machine to fellow farmers.
- Drill. Farmer Inderjeet Singh, from village Chakpura Miyan Khurd, has been using a seed drill he received under the project. He shares multiple benefits, such as penetration of the seed at the right depth in the soil, along with manure, even distribution of seeds, water-saving, use of less seed, good sprouting, and of course the financial savings.
- Solar sprayer. Kamlesh Pandey, from village Rahikala, put a solar sprayer to use in his field with the help of this project. He shares that he can now do the spraying himself, and one bigha can be covered in thirty minutes, which earlier was more time-consuming and required manual labor.
Yet another example of the pioneering work done in the area of mechanization has been the Gram Utthan of PTC Foundation, which is also implemented by S M Sehgal Foundation.
Chalitar Bhagat is a progressive farmer of Nariar village of Motipur block, Muzaffarpur, Bihar. He has been associated with this project since 2017. Chalitar says, “Getting timely agricultural labor is a major problem in agriculture. It increases the cost of production and so the profits decrease. Hence mechanization in agricultural development in India is beneficial for farmers.” In 2018, the project team provided a subsidized zero tillage machine to Chalitar and trained him on its operation. Now he uses the machine in his field and also rents his service to neighboring villages such as Pakhnaha Shivram, Akuraha, Prasad, Puraina, Bhilaipur, Birpur, and others. After using the machine for more than three years, Chalitar says that it has revolutionized his farming and life.
Laser Land Leveling
The use of modern technology in land leveling has helped Ayyaz in reducing time and cost of irrigation. Project Gram Uday of Publicis Sapient India (a division of TLG India Private Limited) and S M Sehgal Foundation, educated him about the multiple benefits of laser land leveling, and he decided to try this practice on one acre of his two-acre land. Out of the total cost of renting, which is INR 2,250 for laser leveling one acre of his farm, he received support of INR 800 from the project, as he was a first-time implementer, and it would be a demonstration for other farmers
After implementing laser land leveling, Ayyaz shares that this practice reduced the cost and time of irrigation by about half. Earlier it used to take him 10–11 hours to irrigate his one-acre wheat field once, which cost him INR 90 per hour, and he had to undertake five such irrigations, which cost him a total of INR 4,500. After laser leveling, it took him only six hours to irrigate the field, which resulted in saving INR 1,800. This technique also improved the crop productivity due to the even distribution of water and fertilizers in the field.
Technology And Agricultural Development: The Inseparable Connection
World Food Day, observed on October 16th, reminds us of the importance of the agri-food system and how our lives depend on them. A sustainable agri-food system looks to have sufficient, nutritious, and safe foods available at an affordable price. Mitigation of hunger and malnutrition is the ultimate goal.
The effort of making agriculture free from shocks such as extreme weather, price spikes or pandemics, and promoting sustainability is essential. Sustainable agri-food systems have the potential to deliver food security. Modern technology and mechanization have the potential to address hunger and malnutrition as well as challenges such as poverty, water and energy use, climate change, and others. These have a major role to play in developing an agri-food system for our future generations and to help achieve food security.