The tech-driven future of Indian Agriculture
It’s easy to take technology for granted when we have access to some of the most powerful information tools in our pocket and the Intelligence tools that makes it easier for us to access that information. But there are sections of society that need technology in order to survive. In this article we want to focus on one such section, the farmers and the agriculture sector of India.
Issue At Hand
In the US the average farmland size is 445 acres (180 hectares). In China - the average farmland was 0.96 acres till 2010, which increased to 1.6 acres in 2016 after the land redistribution scheme, and in India - 93% of the landholding is below 1 acre while 4.9% of the farmers own 32% of India’s farmland. The farmers and farming operating agricultural processes in farmland less than 5 acres are called marginal farmers - and marginal farming has been super inefficient.
The inefficiencies of marginal farming can be overcome with techniques of modern agriculture and has allowed the US to produce its agricultural output of $164 billion with only 2.4 million people working directly on-farm and India’s reliance on manual farming has allowed us to produce Rs. 32.5 Lakh Crore worth of agricultural output annually while employing 232 million people.
According to a report India can increase its agricultural output to $830 Bn with an investment of $230 Bn in aggrotech.
Precision farming is a three-step process. First, data is collected with high spatial and/or temporal resolution. Second, data are analysed and related to treatments or manipulations that are specific in location and/or timing. Third, prescribed treatments are implemented using systems capable of precise control, tracking, or handling.
How can Technology Help?
Factors such as soil moisture, chemical composition and soil quality can greatly affect a crop’s output and yet they are either overlooked or farmers lack the means to reliably measure these intricate properties of their farmland. Specialized drone technology enables the farmers to measure these variables which they can use in something called precision farming. Companies like CropIn manufacture these drones which can measure the crop and soil health. Farmers can then, for example, use this information to figure out the patches requiring irrigation more precisely and save time & money.
Predictive AI models allow farmers to collect data on crop yields, pests and diseases, and analyse that data to get recommendations on optimal crop management practices. These models can predict crop yield based on weather patterns, soil conditions, and crop variety allowing farmers to decide when to crop, irrigate and harvest their crops.
There is a lot of information parity when farmers go to the market looking to buy inputs for their crops or trying to sell their yield. Indian farmers can leverage Big Data to identify the trends and patterns of crop prices, weather patterns, and market demand. Farmers can use this information to make better harvesting and investment decisions.
Blockchain is an emerging technology but has revolutionary applications in supply chain management. The technology is being used by farmers in India to bring transparency to the agricultural supply chain enabled by cryptography. This ensures traceability and brings the trust factor in the agricultural value chain where one can easily track where their produce originates from.
The Gaps in the technology adoption
Prof. Kadambini Katke from DSCASC, Bangalore interviewed 203 farmers from the Tumkur district of Karnataka to find out what are some of the most common reasons behind India’s continuous reliance on obsolete farming methods.
The modern farming techniques require skilled hands & demand a thorough knowledge of how to most effectively use the technology. Indian farming being characterized by largely uneducated workforce leads 77.83% of the farmers to feel that the modern technology is complex and would be difficult to use.
Lack of technical assistance and expertise is also an obstacle for precision technology adoption. 86.69% of the respondents feel lack of local technical support and training is a deterrent for adoption. Incompatibility between different equipment and hardware device further add technical complexity
Looking at US & China
China had a similar problem in 2010. The average land size was 0.93 acres which went up to 1.6 acres, almost doubling the average land yet they face an agricultural shortage. By 2017, 35% of all arable land was transferred 56% of which was to farmers.
Private land ownership is banned in China. Under China’s current Household Responsibility System (HRS), started in the early 1980s, all rural land is owned by rural collectives. They allocate contract rights for parcels of farmland to eligible households. The tenure of contract rights was 15 years in 1983, renewed for 30 years in 1997, and again by 30 years (i.e., starting 2027) in China’s 19th Party Congress in 2017 (NPC 2017). Farmers cannot resist land transfer under the contract which made it easier for rural collectives to enforce land transfer on the tenants.
The Department of Agriculture (USA) has a separate division called National Institute of Food and Agriculture. The NISA has several grants associated with it, one of which is called Precision, Geospatial and Sensor Technologies Programs. Through this program leadership and grants, NIFA emphasizes the use of information and precision technologies to deliver decision tools that improve management capabilities for agricultural, food, forestry, and community enterprises.