The agriculture sector forms only about 18 percent of India’s GDP despite employing almost 65 percent of the total workforce. Despite significant improvement in food grain production, there are several challenges to tackle as the government aims to increase agricultural production as a share of GDP.
Agriculture in India is largely dependent on nature, but climate and global warming issues make farming unpredictable. The need of the hour is to educate farmers in the use of modern technology and innovative approaches to increase productivity and raise profitability.
Agricultural development practices over a period of time have been perceived to exploit natural resources faster than they could be renewed. Exponential growth in human population has resulted in demand for food and shelter, which the “natural” carrying capacity of land is under pressure to provide.
Natural imbalance is visible in pollution, soil degradation, wildlife population decline, and a human-created alterations of flora and fauna. It is reasonable to assume that human population growth will continue and place greater demands on the agri-ecosystem. Thus, technology has and will continue to play a major role in agriculture and sustainable development going forward.
Technology has a major role in farming and agriculture practices; and with the advent of digital technology, the scope has widened. Innovation in agriculture is leading an evolution in agricultural practices, thereby reducing losses and increasing efficiency. This is positively impacting farmers. Use of digital and analytic tools is driving continuous improvement in agriculture, and the trend is here to stay, resulting in improving crop yields and helping to increase the income of the farming community.
Importance of Technology in Agribusiness
Technology in agriculture affects many areas of agriculture, such as fertilizers, pesticides, seed technology, etc. Biotechnology and genetic engineering have resulted in pest resistance and increased crop yields. Mechanization has led to efficient tilling, harvesting, and a reduction in manual labor. Irrigation methods and transportation systems have improved, processing machinery has reduced wastage, etc., and the effect is visible in all areas.
New-age technologies focus on robotics, precision agriculture, artificial intelligence, block chain technology, and more.
Some technological advancements that have innovated agriculture:
Improved productivity from mechanization of agriculture – Manual labor and hand tools used in agriculture have limitations in terms of energy and output, especially in tropical environments. Resistance to agricultural mechanization, especially among smallholder farmers due to accessibility, cost, and maintenance issues, often acts as a detrimental factor. To reduce manual labor and make processes faster, combine harvesters are finding greater use. Indian farming is characterized by small landholdings, and the need is to partner with others to take advantage of modern machines.
Capacity building of farmers through hand-holding, making modern machines available especially to small farms, and tackling affordability issues through policy will lead to a greater adoption of mechanization services going forward. Agricultural mechanization has the potential to directly and indirectly affect yields through reduction in post-harvest losses and increase harvest gains.
Climate/ weather prediction through artificial intelligence – A major advance in agriculture is the use of artificial intelligence (AI). Modern equipment and tools based on AI enable data gathering and assist in precision farming and informed decision-making. Drones, remote sensors, and satellites gather 24/7 data on weather patterns in and around the fields, providing farmers with vital information on temperature, rainfall, soil, humidity, etc.
However, AI finds slow acceptance in a country like India where marginal farming, fragmented landholdings, and other reasons act as impediments. But there is no doubt that technologies based on AI can bring precision to large-scale farming and lead to an exponential rise in productivity.
Resilient crops developed via use of biotechnology – Agriculture refers to a wide resource of methodologies that include traditional breeding methods, genetic engineering, and development of microorganisms for agriculture. Generally speaking, genetic engineering uses the understanding of DNA to identify and work with genes to increase crop resistance to pests, and the development of high-yielding varieties also makes improvements to livestock.
The spinoff of biotechnology in agriculture has resulted in all-around benefits for farmers and end consumers. Though some controversial approaches have led to resistance in the adoption of biotechnology, there is no doubt that the future of agriculture is heavily dependent on SAFE biotechnology, given the changing climate and increase in population.
Agriculture Sensors – Communications technology has evolved rapidly in India and made smart farming a possibility. Sensors are now being used in agriculture to provide data to farmers to monitor and optimize crops given the environmental conditions and challenges. These sensors are based on wireless connectivity and find application in many areas such as determining soil composition and moisture content, nutrient detection, location for precision, airflow, etc. Sensors help farmers save on pesticides, labor, and result in efficient fertilizer application. They allow farmers to maximize yields using minimal natural resources.
Improving farm yields and supply chain management use Big Data – The collection and compilation of data and its further processing to make it useful for decision-making/problem-solving are expanding the way big data functions. Big data is slated to play a major role in smart farming, and the benefits percolate across the entire supply chain and the markets. Agriculture is becoming larger, and it depends on a large number of variables.
This is resulting in greater collection and use of complex data, which has to be meaningfully interpreted and managed. Data can be from external sources such as social media, supplier network, markets, or from sensor/machine data from the fields. Transformation of agriculture from using big data is taking place that affects crop yield, supply chain management, yield prediction, etc.
Livestock monitoring – Use of chips and body sensors can help prevent disease outbreaks and are crucial in large-scale livestock management. Chips and body sensors measure vital parameters and indicators that could detect illness early and prevent herd infection. Similarly, ultrasounds are a useful tool to judge the quality of meat. This helps control and improve the quality of the meat.
Also Read – 5 Ways to Boost Agricultural Development in India.
S M Sehgal Foundation promotes technology in Indian agriculture
The Agriculture Development program at S M Sehgal Foundation promotes sustainable livelihoods by building the capacities of farmers, including women producers, with improved agricultural practices and new technologies that increase crop yields, conserve water, and improve soil fertility. The team works with small-holder farmers in rain-fed and irrigated areas to facilitate adoption of improved and advanced agricultural practices that include 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 agriculture.
Helping farmers to achieve food security in India requires uplifting and enhancing the lot of the farming community by increasing their income. Intervention in agriculture through modern technology and mechanization has the potential to address hunger and malnutrition as well as challenges such as poverty, water and energy use, climate change, and others.
FARM MECHANIZATION: 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 more rewarding. Some of the areas this scheme has been able to help with:
- Paddy thresher. Through the Gram Utkarsh Project, 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 and has also enabled Brijesh to earn extra income from renting out the machine to fellow farmers.
- 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-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 in the area of mechanization has been the Gram Utthan of PTC Foundation, which is 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 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.
Also Read – Sustainable Agricultural Water Management: The need of the hour
LASER LAND LEVELING
The use of modern technology in land leveling has helped Ayyaz in reducing time and cost of irrigation. A CSR-supported project implemented by 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.
World population is slated to grow to about 9 billion by 2050. The challenge is to find ways and means to produce enough to feed it. The challenge of reducing acreage under agriculture and food wastage in production and distribution are having a major impact on the world. The increasing role of technology in addressing these issues is the only way forward to a food-secure future. Technology can help save foreign exchange for countries, increase productivity, and lead to an improvement in the overall standard of farmer communities. India has a long way to go in adoption of modern farming practices through technology. The pace is slow and path-breaking efforts need to be made to educate farmers about the benefits to be had with technology. Transcending the barriers of archaic farming practices and medieval mindsets is the challenge that needs to be overcome for a better tomorrow. Technology in agriculture has the potential to truly lead India to be “Atmanirbhar Bharat” in all respects, and be less dependent on extraneous factors.