When travelling across India, you may pass by richly planted fields and see farm workers busy with harvesting these. The Agriculture Industry is one of the largest employment sources for Indians, providing jobs to more than half of the population. Anyhow, the success of the industry and the farmers` income today are majorly dependent on the monsoon. India has suffered two consecutive years of below-average rainfall, with this year bringing slight relief, even if in some regions rainfall was 4-5% below the long-time average. In consequence, experts urge the Agriculture Industry to become less dependent on the monsoon. ‘AgriTech’ (Agricultural technology) is one of the solutions to change the methods of farming and harvesting to increase the produce and consequently, make it more profitable. AgriTech is already revolutionizing the traditional Agriculture worldwide and is also beginning to do so in India. Will this development revitalize India’s Agriculture Industry, and what are the concrete applications of technology that might change how Agriculture is done in India?
The ‘Green Revolution’ in India in the mid 20th Century yielded to double-cropping existing farmland, expanding farming land continuously and using seeds with improved genetics. This project reached record-high grain output in 1978. It made India almost self-sufficient in food. Now, Indian Agriculture is the provider of most of the local food in India. Due to its geography, many different fruits, spices and vegetables can be cultivated. Therefore, many people’s livelihood depends on farming as their main income. According to the Indian Merchants Chamber, India has great potential for more Agriculture exports. The prerequisites missing for this are good logistics and facilities. India is for example the largest banana producer worldwide, but doesn’t export them. Tapping into opportunities of Agriculture exports would create more jobs and strengthen the country’s economy. This could in consequence reduce the urbanization process caused by insufficient income produced by droughts, which result in less profitability for the industry.
Another factor that will positively impact Agriculture is the recent decision by the Union Government to allow 100% FDI in food retail. Foreign technology infusion will lead to better processing and reduced food waste of perishable products, as well as provide a better possibility for farmers to realize a higher value on their fresh produce. This will also make the farm and retail infrastructure and supply chain more efficient, robust and transparent, along with increasing the market access for farmers.
A frequently discussed aspect is the need for modern technology in India’s Agriculture Industry. On one hand, many products are still planted and harvested by labourers today and many farmers only own small scales of land. On the other hand, shortage of farm labour and the rise of labour costs in Indian Agriculture urge the industry to switch to farm machinery, as machines and equipment are easily available and may be cheaper than labour in the long-term. Machinery in India’s Agriculture consisted mainly of tractors (market worth $6 billion). The market for specialized machinery in India, such as zero till drills, power weeders and threshers is already worth $4.8 billion, growing at 5-8% per year. The farm instruments industry in India is majorly an unorganized sector, however many global companies are now looking at India as a potential market. As modern farm machinery are expensive, small farming companies may not be able to purchase them. Therefore, start-up companies now begin to rent equipment to farmers, accelerating the mechanization of the industry. Subsequently, farmers become increasingly at ease using technology, which could help them in future to stay ahead of the competition, as well as make the most out of their production.
As mentioned earlier, Indian farmers are dependent on heavy monsoon rains to score sufficient output. Another way to reduce dependency on the monsoon is the highly promoted ‘micro irrigation’. To reduce the water use in Agriculture, ‘micro-irrigation’ is indeed a worthwhile system. By March 2015, 7.73 million hectares of land were covered by this method. It uses drip irrigation and sprinklers to water plants and seeds. Micro-irrigation is an economic and efficient way for irrigation with which farmers are able to control water use and save 20-48% of water, as well as increase yield by 20%. Acknowledging the seriousness of the issue of water shortage for use in the Agriculture Industry, the Indian Governments decided to collaborate with Israel for their water technology. Israel’s water technology will assist India in reducing the cost of water desalination and water recycling for irrigation purposes. The Indian Government is also taking additional steps, such as transport water to drought ridden areas or educating farmers on water conservation.
Farmers in India need to become more entrepreneurial, for example by adopting methods like the Agricultural Markets Support Programme in Africa, where farmers receive the know-how about crops and irrigation, as well as market demand, and cultivate popular cash crops in accordance with rehabilitated irrigation schemes. Farmers are organized in associations and learn how to market their products directly to big buyers without going through middlemen.
Apart from conserving water in India, many farmers have started adopting solar power for farming to save energy as well. solar panels automatically tilts to harness sunlight during day Solar panels harness sunlight during day and the generated power is then used to operate the irrigation system. To promote the use of solar power in Agriculture, the Indian Government provides 80% subsidy for the installation of solar powered irrigation pumps. These pumping systems will help replace polluting diesel-pumps and also increase a farmer’s income by selling generated surplus power to the power grid. During 2015-2016, 31,472 solar pumps were installed across India.
As seen, there are opportunities for India’s Agriculture to develop and remain a strong contributor to the Indian economy. With smart use of technology, farmers can become less dependent on rainfall and at the same time conserve water and energy. This will make India’s Agriculture Industry more robust and attractive for local and foreign investors. Research & Development has a strong role in the advancement of Agriculture as without innovations and research e.g. on how to improve soil health, develop genetically improved seeds, etc. the Indian Agriculture Industry will remain steady in its current situation. Agricultural Technology & modernization can bring India’s Agriculture a second revolution after the ‘Green Revolution’. Using more Agricultural mechanization can further improve the productivity of farms. With the support of private players, foreign investors and the Government, technological advancements can significantly modify India’s current practices in Agriculture and make it future-ready.
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