Creating an environment wherein the next generation gets exposure to cutting-edge technologies and understand their benefits would entice the farmers to actively participate in agriculture
India’s agriculture sector stands at a critical juncture. On the one hand, it has to bear the burden of keeping the world’s largest population fed. On the other hand, it has to do so while grappling with the uncertainties thrown up by climate change. It is being called upon to produce more food than ever at a time when producing food is harder than it has ever been.
And to achieve this, we need another revolution – a digital one.
The agriculture sector is the backbone of India’s economy, but it is losing its sheen. The Indian Economic Survey 2022-2023 released earlier this year offered a sobering wake-up call.
Highlighting impediments to the sector’s growth, such as fragmented landholdings, sub-optimal mechanisation and low productivity, it called for a “re-orientation” to equip India’s farmers to surmount these challenges.
Disruptive new digital tech has transformed every aspect of our lives and society. From the way we transact to the way we travel, digitisation has completely altered the shape of human experience.
Brimming with promise and potential, it can do the same for agriculture.
At the most basic level, technology can empower farmers with information like weather updates or the prevailing market price of their produce or greater access to credit. At a more evolved level it will help them monitor soil health, plan resource utilisation and crop planting and sowing cycles, which is especially crucial in an era of unpredictable weather. It will make farming more efficient, allowing our farmers to produce more with less.
The use of satellites is another good example of how technology can be used to make agriculture more sustainable. In oil palm cultivation, for instance, satellites can be deployed to monitor land use.
Oil palm cultivation has historically been associated with deforestation, but plantations today can be established sustainably to co-exist with forest land. Satellites play a key role in identifying land suitable for a plantation. This has been especially pivotal to the success of oil palm cultivation in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.
Unleashing a new wave of rural prosperity
The digitisation of agriculture has the potential to catapult the rural economy. Enabling the need for new skills, it will sow the seeds for new businesses. Catering to the sector’s need for technology, it can lead to the creation of an entire ecosystem around tech-enabled farming.
This will create jobs. But more importantly, it will change the perception of opportunities in the agriculture sector and make it aspirational. Creating an environment wherein the next generation gets exposure to cutting-edge technologies and understand their benefits would entice them to actively participate in agriculture.
In doing so, it could give birth to a whole new generation of agricultural entrepreneurs in rural areas, driving economic and social development. However, to foster innovation and transform agriculture, public-private partnerships need to mushroom.
The good thing is that efforts to digitise agriculture have already been mobilised.
Chief among these is the government of India’s Digital Agriculture Mission (2021-25), which aims to incorporate technologies like artificial intelligence, blockchain, remote-sensing and GIS technology, drones and robots into farming practices.
Take drones for instance – drones can have a transformational impact on agriculture. For starters, they can cover a large area, spraying crops with everything from water to fertilisers and pesticides, reducing the manpower required to irrigate and fertilise a field. At the same time, resources like water and pesticides can be delivered to the crops more precisely, allowing them to be used more judiciously.
With the government promoting its use for precision farming, it has a potential to help farmers conserve manpower and resources. Aiding them enhance operational and financial efficiencies, it can benefit farmers to preserve soil health for longer, making agriculture more sustainable.
To boost awareness, a fast-track strategy will be essential and public-private partnership will be a key to modernise the sector. When we do so, we must remember the basic principle of customer centricity in agriculture – the farmer should come first.
(Burjis Godrej is executive director & coo, Crop Protection Business, Godrej Agrovet Limited.)