Mechanization is a crucial factor in agriculture that helps in optimum utilization of inputs and increases productivity. Mechanization also results in the reduction of manual labor in farming.
Since India’s independence in 1947, food grain production has gone up by more than five times, led by technology and improved farming practices. However, the population has grown exponentially, creating more challenges to making India “food secure.”
Most mechanization techniques introduced in India in the recent past had been suitable for medium and large-scale farmers. Expanding the scope of mechanization is needed in view of dwindling acreage under agriculture and the ever-increasing population, coupled with the stagnant nature of farmer income.
With a vision to improve the lot of farmers and increase their income, the Government of India has introduced several schemes and policy measures. The Sub-Mission on Agricultural Mechanization (SMAM) remains one of the most important measures in this regard, with the potential to double farmers’ income. Directed at small farmers, the scheme was introduced in 2014 with an aim to boost farm productivity through mechanization. Substantial budgetary allocations have been made over the years, and the vision is still unfolding.
Farm mechanization in India faces structural challenges, such as fragmented land holdings, a skewed ratio of small farmers, subsistence farming and, above all, expensive and irrelevant farm technology. However it remains an accepted fact that mechanization is the way forward in agriculture. Besides improved yields, mechanization increases farmer profitability, addresses labor shortage issues, and leads to self-sufficiency and food security. The economic benefits are there to see, but farm mechanization still faces a lot of challenges.
The country’s agricultural production has started to show signs of wear driven by a massive population and dropping yields. There is a major divide in the number of people employed in agriculture (half the population) to its share of GDP, which stands at an abysmal 14 percent. The solution lies in making the small farmer efficient and productive through mechanization. However, Indian agriculture is structurally unorganized and complex for these reasons:
- Fragmented landholdings result in lower yields. Family agriculture has led to fragmented landholdings and the average farm size is less than 5 acres and, of this, almost one-third own less than one acre. For these small farmers, mechanization would not be commercially feasible due to their small holdings.
- Mechanization is capital intensive. Machines such as combine harvesters, tractors, tillers, etc., are expensive, and small farmers find it difficult to invest large amounts in such machinery.
- Poor/little financing options are available. The irregular and low-income base of small farmers results in difficulty in accessing financial assistance. Finance from unorganized sectors is expensive, which is deterrent for small farmers.
- Farmers lack awareness. Small farmers lack awareness of modern technology and its benefits in farming. This leads to a lower percolation of agri-mechanization, barring tractors.
- Diverse ecosystems and agro climatic conditions prevail. With a country as vast as India, diversity in weather, cropping patterns, and natural elements make standardization in mechanization difficult. Supported by poor extension and unwillingness in manufacturer outreach, small farmers have little access or knowledge in this area.
Mechanization of farms does not mean only use of machines at the farm for tilling and threshing. Rather a much broader gamut of mechanization exists in other areas as well, such as irrigation, transportation to markets, and processing of produce, etc.
Small farm mechanization has a host of benefits and economic potential. Given the right conditions, it can transform the Indian agricultural sector, pave the way to food security, and enhance farmer income. Benefits include:
- A shift to commercial agriculture. Marginal and subsistence farmers often struggle with low yields, vagaries of the weather, and the resulting low return. Modern technology leads to an adoption of commercial farming techniques and productivity goes up. Farmers who transition to commercial farming are able to reach out and fetch a better return on their investment and efforts.
- Labor shortage issues addressed. Small farmers are dependent on external labor in the sowing and harvesting season, as most of the work is done manually, using primitive methods. Migration has added to a shortfall in available labor for manual operations. Thus, mechanization eases the dependence on manual labor and helps to enhance productivity and minimize losses.
- Productivity increased. Small farm mechanization results in efficiency in the farming process. Turnaround time is reduced, and the farmer is able to multiply their gains through better productivity and proper utilization of resources.
- Increased yield and lower input costs. Farm mechanization has shown to create an increase in yield from 15 to 50 percent, depending on the crop. Small farming tends to ignore certain input costs such as labor. When opportunity costs are accounted at prevailing wage rates, small Indian farms are found to be less profitable. With better farming methods, input costs come down as wastage and labor costs reduce over time.
- Enlarged cropping area due to effective land utilization. With reduced or no dependence on animals, land use for cropping increases. Besides mechanized farming brings efficiencies in tilling and other farming operations, resulting in better coverage of cropping area. For small farmers, this has added economic implications.
Stories from the ground
S M Sehgal Foundation has helped farmers to achieve food security in India by uplifting and building capacities of the farming community, thereby increasing their income. Interventions in agriculture through modern technology and mechanization have the potential to address hunger and malnutrition as well as challenges including poverty, water and energy use, climate change, and others.
Farm Mechanization: Zero Tillage (As enterprise)
Project Gram Utthan of PTC Foundation, implemented by S M Sehgal Foundation since 2017, has been helping farmers benefit from mechanization. Chalitar Bhagat, a progressive farmer of Nariar village of Motipur block, Muzaffarpur, Bihar says, “Getting timely agricultural labor is a major problem in agriculture. It increases the cost of production and so decreases the profit to farmers. Hence, mechanization in agriculture 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 is an entrepreneur through renting 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.
Farm Mechanization: Machines for the small farmer
Sehgal Foundation, in partnership with GE, implemented the Gram Utkarsh project in Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh, in an effort to help farmers make agriculture more rewarding. Some areas this scheme has been able to help with:
- Paddy thresher. Brijesh Pal, a farmer of village Chakanur, acquired an electric paddy thresher machine that helps separate grain from the crop. The paddy thresher has saved time and labor costs needed for crop threshing, which has also enabled Brijesh to earn extra income from renting out the machine to fellow farmers. Brijesh says, “Earlier we used to do it manually by engaging labor. For three bigha of my land, the cost came to Rs 4,500, which we now save. There is no loss of grain with the use of this machine.”
- Drill. Seed drill is another farm mechanization tool that helps farmers at the time of sowing. Farmer Inderjeet Singh, from village Chakpura Miyan Khurd, used the 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-savings, use of less seed, good sprouting, and of course the financial savings. Inderjeet used the seed drill in his three bigha land and, since he does sowing work in other fields as well, he used the machine for another 41 bighas of other farmers and earned Rs 500 per bigha.
- 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.
The way forward
Though the government has made small farm mechanization a focus area under umbrella policy schemes, the effort is still lacking and much work needs to be done in this regard.
Small farm mechanization has immense potential and can help to achieve enhanced agricultural productivity, food security, agriculture exports, and mitigating labor shortages. The skew of the population employed in agriculture versus its contribution to GDP offers a major potential for economic development of India and puts it on a high growth track.
Some initiatives that could help:
- Provide access to custom hiring centers (CHCs) where farmers could hire small farm machines suitable for their farms.
- Develop farm machines that are suited for small farms.
- Make power available in rural areas for the farming sector.
- Educate small farmers and guide them through the mechanization process.
- Promote modern technology on farming and its benefits.
- Make credit easier and cheaper to access.
The bottom of the pyramid, farmers should be led to adopt efficient farm mechanization practices. Besides economic benefits, mechanization can play a critical role in multiplication of the small farmers’ income and lead to improvement in their economic condition. The economic potential is huge, the revolution is near, and now the stakeholders have to put their feet forward.