Technology: Transforming Agriculture

Technology: Transforming Agriculture
To overcome the challenges and feed the rising population, it has become a necessity to transform agriculture in scientific manner, Writes Manika Jha

Technological applications in the Indian Farm Sector have witnessed steady growth in the last two decades. Farm mechanisation has taken a lead in this transformation which is paving way for higher income generation for the farmers. Technological advancement in other areas of agriculture was also taking shape.

Technologies such as micro irrigation, biotechnology, soil health cards, mobile money and usage of mobile phones in various agricultural practices have already made footprints in India. Moreover, remote sensing, drones, global positioning system (GPS), weather mapping, digitised mapping among various other technologies are now being used extensively in the sector. .

Indian farmers are facing multiple challenges of erratic monsoon, high cost of agriculture inputs, poor access to credit, low price of produce, inadequate market access and many localised problems. In such adverse conditions, technologies come as a great enabler. The sector adopted not only farm machisation but also enlarged the horizon of advance technologies which can bring the changes in.

Farm mechanisation
After intervention of many elementary technologies in farming sector, now time has moved to advance technologies. The policymakers, private sector, academia as well as researchers need to find out the optimal usage of advance technologies by making them accessible to the small and marginal farmers

Mechanisation is like industrialisation that requires a level of scale among the farmers. Increasing awareness among farmers about the benefits of mechanisation along with various government schemes implemented for its promotion has resulted in steady growth of farm mechanisation in India.

Every individual farmer cannot bring the machines to their field. Thus, the corporate sector can play vital role here by setting up custom hiring centres. With around 55 percent of population engaged in agriculture, India has, so far, achieved 40 percent of farm mechanisation. The remaining 60 percent landholding opens good opportunity that can be tapped with more focus towards mechanising small and marginal farmers with easier access to agricultural credit with improved affordability.

We need to understand the ecosystem of Indian agriculture. As the landholding is very low, we cannot sell tractors to the small and marginalised farmers. Thus, the affordable power tillers can bring the power to the farmers, having fragmented landholding.

Drone: Flying High
According to technical experts, Agricultural drones with appropriate sensors can be a good tool for crop management, increasing yield, managing irrigation water, applying pesticides and chemicals judiciously. Case in point is NETRA, an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) developed by Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) that was used to track damage and marooned people in devastating Uttarakhand floods. It is bringing a big change in the agriculture sector too.

The experts emphasise on the application of space technology and remote sensing data, taken from drones. There is a need to develop mechanism to assess the data received from the agricultural drones.

The National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC) of Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) sells remote sensing data for agriculture sector.

Advanced Technologies
Advance technologies are very relevant and have the potential to address productivity challenges and overall growth of the sector. There is a need for an ecosystem of integrated services offered through public and private sectors, civil society and farmer organisations.

To overcome the challenges and feed the rising population, it has become a necessity to transform agriculture in scientific manner. Keeping in view the small landholding as 80 percent of Indian farmers are having lesser than two hectares of land, the technological interventions need to be inclusive for all.

Availability of advanced technology, scope for scaling up and replicating their adoption at the farm level, commercialisation of agriculture, incubation and financing of such technologies will create a platform to reiterate the need for moving on from mechanisation to technology adoption and its contribution to the overall growth and productivity enhancement.

Public-Private Partnerships
Technology application in Indian agriculture is on the verge to attain heights by the consistent R&D and innovations, undertaken by the public as well as private sector. Advancements such as precision farming, satellite soil mapping and water conditions, hydroponics and innovative machineries that are energy efficient and adaptable to local conditions have proved their efficiency in the Indian farming sector. The focus is shifting towards creating better synergies between various stakeholders to ensure greater technology uptake.

Public as well as private sectors have been investing significantly in the R&D and developing new technologies to address the sustainable agriculture.

Considering the structural shift in agriculture and the increasing need for technologisation, ensuring that the technologies are available to the farmers and agribusiness players and are viable on ground and scalable is most critical. There is a lot of merit in strengthening the public private connect in this area, leveraging the respective competitive advantage. Of course, challenges related to commercialisation need to be addressed.

Agriculture has to be the main pillar of Indian economy as more than half of the population in the country is dependent on it. Technologies would necessarily bring changes in the farming sector as well as the overall economy.

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About Manika Jha

The author is a technical analyst with B.Tech in Instrumentation and has worked with Accenture. Currently, she is specialising in Automation and Robotics at Indira Gandhi Technical University for Women, New Delhi.

View all posts by Manika Jha →

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