How Agriculture 2.0 will transform India?

Exploring the Possibilities

India has become one of the fastest growing economies in the world and there has been a lot of innovation in the past few years that has contributed to it. Be it manufacturing, services or financial sector — all have benefited from it. Agriculture which was written off, is making a big comeback with the use of different technologies. Imagine the millions of lives in India who will be directly impacted by this. This is what Agriculture 2.0 is all about.

Agriculture is said to be India’s largest private-sector enterprise, engaging nearly 119 million farmers and another 144 million landless labourers, as per the 2011 Census.

Agriculture, the backbone of Indian economy, contributes to the overall economic growth of the country and determines the standard of life for more than 50% of the Indian population. Agriculture contributes only about 14% to the overall GDP but its impact is felt in the manufacturing sector as well as the services sector as the rural population has become a significant consumer of goods and services in the last couple of decades.

When did Agriculture begin in India?

From the excavation of the Mehrgarh period sites, we can understand that Indian agriculture would have began as early as 9000 BC. Wheat, barley and jujube were among crops, sheep and goats were among animals that were domesticated.

In the Neolithic period roughly 8000–5000 BC, agriculture was far from the dominant mode of support for human societies, but those who adopted it flourished. Agricultural communities became widespread in Kashmir valley around 5000 BC. It was reported that Cotton was cultivated by 5000–4000 BC in Kashmir.

Other crops cultivated in India 3000 to 6000 years ago, include sesame, linseed, safflower, mustards, castor, mung bean, black gram, horse gram, pigeonpea, field pea, grass pea (khesari), fenugreek, cotton, jujube, grapes, dates, jackfruit, mango, mulberry, and black plum[citation needed]. Indian peasants had also domesticated cattle, buffaloes, sheep, goats, pigs and horses thousands of years ago.

Over 2500 years ago, Indian farmers discovered and began farming spices and sugarcane. People in India had invented, by about 500 BC, the process to produce sugar crystals.
So what happened in the near past?

Before the 18th century, cultivation of sugarcane was largely confined to India. Sugarcane plantations, just like cotton farms, became a major driver of large and forced human migrations in 19th century and early 20th century. The history and past accomplishments of Indian agriculture thus influenced, in part, colonialism, slavery and slavery-like indentured labor practices in the new world, Caribbean wars and world history in 18th and 19th centuries.

In the years since its independence, India has made immense progress towards food security. Indian population has tripled, and food-grain production more than quadrupled.

Before the mid-1960s India relied on imports and food aid to meet domestic requirements. However, two years of severe drought in 1965 and 1966 convinced India to reform its agricultural policy and that they could not rely on foreign aid and imports for food security. India adopted significant policy reforms focused on the goal of food grain self-sufficiency. This ushered in India’s Green Revolution. It began with the decision to adopt superior yielding, disease resistant wheat varieties in combination with better farming knowledge to improve productivity.

With farmers and government officials focusing on farm productivity and knowledge transfer, India’s total foodgrain production soared. A hectare of Indian wheat farm that produced an average of 0.8 tonnes in 1948, produced 4.7 tonnes of wheat in 1975 from the same land. Such rapid growth in farm productivity enabled India to become self-sufficient by the 1970s.

With agricultural policy success in wheat, India’s Green Revolution technology spread to rice. However, since irrigation infrastructure was very poor, Indian farmer innovated with tube-wells, to harvest ground water. The lasting benefits of the improved seeds and new technology extended principally to the irrigated areas which account for about one-third of the harvested crop area.

Between 1970 and 2011, the GDP share of agriculture has fallen from 43% to 16%. This isn’t because of reduced importance of agriculture or a consequence of agricultural policy. This is largely because of the rapid economic growth in services, industrial output, and non-agricultural sectors in India between 2000 and 2010.

India needs to develop infrastructure such as irrigation network, flood control systems, reliable electricity production capacity, all-season rural and urban highways, cold storage to prevent spoilage, modern retail, and competitive buyers of produce from Indian farmers to be the best in the world.
Where does India stand compared to the world?

As per the 2010 FAO world agriculture statistics, India is the world’s largest producer of many fresh fruits and vegetables, milk, major spices, select fibrous crops such as jute, staples such as millets and castor oil seed. India is the second largest producer of wheat and rice, the world’s major food staples.

India is the world’s second or third largest producer of several dry fruits, agriculture-based textile raw materials, roots and tuber crops, pulses, farmed fish, eggs, coconut, sugarcane and numerous vegetables. India ranked in the world’s five largest producers of over 80% of agricultural produce items, including many cash crops such as coffee and cotton, in 2010.

A report from 2008 claimed India’s population is growing faster than its ability to produce rice and wheat. Other recent studies claim India can easily feed its growing population, plus produce wheat and rice for global exports, if it can reduce food staple spoilage, improve its infrastructure and raise its farm productivity to those achieved by other developing countries such as Brazil and China.

In fiscal year ending June 2011, with a normal monsoon season, Indian agriculture accomplished an all-time record production of 85.9 million tonnes of wheat, a 6.4% increase from a year earlier. Rice output in India hit a new record at 95.3 million tonnes, a 7% increase from the year earlier.

Indian farmers, thus produced about 71 kilograms of wheat and 80 kilograms of rice for every member of the Indian population.

India exported $39 billion worth of agricultural products in 2013, making it the seventh largest agricultural exporter worldwide, and the sixth largest net exporter. This represents explosive growth, as in 2003 net export were about $5 billion. India is the fastest growing exporter of agricultural products over a 10-year period, its $39 billion of net exports is more than double the combined exports of the European Union. It has become one of the world’s largest supplier of rice, cotton, sugar and wheat.

Despite these recent accomplishments, agriculture has the potential for major productivity and total output gains, because crop yields in India are still just 30% to 60% of the best sustainable crop yields achievable in the farms of developed and other developing countries. Additionally, losses after harvest due to poor infrastructure and unorganized retail cause India to experience some of the highest food losses in the world

Whats is the situation of agriculture in India today?
In the past 20 years, nearly 300,000 farmers have committed suicide — India’s National Crime Records Bureau

Farmer suicide is a wrenching and contentious issue in India. There are more farmers in India than in any other country and the suicide rate for farmers is 48 percent higher than any other profession. Although rapidly urbanizing, 845 million Indians live in predominately rural areas. And almost all Indians now living in cities grew up in farming villages or small towns, or are only one generation away from the countryside.

The roots of Indian farmer despair have been well researched and documented: livelihoods drained away by spiraling debt; crops and livestock destroyed by drought or unseasonable monsoon rains associated with climate change; plummeting water tables from rampant groundwater overuse; the loss of agricultural land to development; a collapse in cotton prices and a dependence on expensive genetically modified seeds.

What are the the exact problems that needs to be solved?

> Fragmented land holding

Nearly 80% of the 140 million farming families hold less than 2 acres of land. Large land holdings enable the farmer to implement modern agricultural techniques and boost productivity. Small land holdings restrict the farmer to use traditional methods of farming and limit productivity.

> Irrigation problems

Most of the farming in India is monsoon dependent. The problem here is of proper management of water or the lack of it. Irrigation which consumes more than 80% of the total water use in the country needs a proper overhaul if the country has to improve agricultural output and boost the overall own.

> Seed problems

Most of the farmers, especially the poor and marginal ones are dependent on seeds sold in the market. Moreover, the High Yielding Variety seeds as well as the Genetically Modified seeds which promise higher yields force the farmers to buy seeds for every crop. With spurious seeds hitting the market, the farmers’ woes have exceeded all limits. Sometimes seeds do not give the stated/claimed yields and farmers run into economic troubles.

> Sustainability problems

Indian agricultural productivity is very less compared to world standards due to use of obsolete farming technology. Coupled with this, lack of understanding of the need for sustainability in the poor farming community has made things worse.

Excess fertiliser usage not only makes the plants dependent on artificial fertilisers but also erodes the land quality, polluted ground water and in case of a surface runoff, pollutes the nearby water bodies.

Similarly, planting crops which require more water like rice on the basis of irrigation facilities extended to areas which are water deficient uses up more water than required. Besides, the excessive evaporation cause salts to accumulate on the fields making them lose their fertility quickly.

Lack of proper understanding of the need to grow crops sustainably will push farmers into a vicious circle — of debts, heavy use of fertilisers, water mismanagement, low productivity and thus more debts for the next cycle.

>Over dependence on traditional crops like rice and wheat

Every crop requires certain climatic conditions to give the best yields. Though rice and wheat are produced in a large area in India, certain areas can readily switch to other crops to get better productivity. Heavy dependence on traditional rice and wheat points to the lack of a proper national plan on agriculture. Excess stocks in a few crops lead to problems in the selling of the produce, storage and shortage of other essential farm output.

> Supply channel bottlenecks and lack of market understanding

Lack of a proper marketing channel forces the farmers to distress sale, makes them victims in the hands of greedy middlemen and ultimately restricts their income. An improper marketing and storage channel also leads to storage problems in the years where productivity is good, leads to poor agricultural exports due to problems in maintaining quality and in many cases leads to gross wastage of valuable food grains and other farm output.

> Waste of Food Grains

India produces over 265 million tonnes of food grains per year, which is more than enough to feed all its citizens for a long time. Yet, we see so much of unwanted food wastage, rising food price inflation and millions of hungry people. Food wastage running into thousands of crores of rupees every year is nothing short of a crime in a country where more than 25% is below poverty line and where millions go hungry day after day. In case of perishable agri-output like vegetables and fruits where estimates of wastage are around 40%.

India lacks the required number of storage facilities (granaries, warehouses, cold storage etc) which negates the advantage of having a bumper crop in years of good monsoon.

> The Minimum Support Price Offered

The Minimum Support Prices (MSP) offered by the Government is a double edged sword — MSPs protect farmers from being exploited by middlemen but during times of excess crop, Government runs the risk of an unnecessary fiscal deficit by buying the excess produce. Lack of proper storage facilities and lack of a proper international market linkage leads to lower exports and in many cases leads to huge amount of wastage.

This List continues ……………. The Problems don’t seem to end.

But, what about the potential India has?

India is the 2nd largest country with arable land ( 60.3 percent of land is agriculture land) after USA.

India ranks in top 3 to top 10 ranking of producers of every crop it grows.

India has variety of climates and ecological parameter to support the growth of various crops.

So what are some solutions that can put an end to this going forward?

1> Consolidation of village lands and cooperative farming will ease the burden of fragmented land holdings. When the farmers form a consortium at the village level, the aggregate land can be farmed by using the latest technology.

2> Irrigation problems can be addressed by Government — preferably at the State and National levels. Though the Government cannot force farmers to produce only the designated crops in particular areas, it can surely educate them about the alternatives.

3> Seed problems can be overcome by creating in house seed banks at the village level for traditional crops (thereby reducing farmer dependence on external seed banks), selling Government approved seeds through proper channels (to eradicate spurious seeds) and strict penalties on seed marketing companies.

4> Some sustainability solutions are proper crop management on the basis of water availability, crop rotation, deploying modern agricultural practices to boost productivity, switching over to organic farming (village pools will reduce costs), thrust on allied activities.

5> Storage facilities can be boosted by small cold storage or granaries at village level which can be established from Panchayat funds and loans to the village society (this eliminates dumping of excess crops in the market yard). 
A 700 ton cold storage cum warehouse will cost around Rs. 1.5 crores which is very reasonable cost for a group of villages or a large Panchayat, provided the State or Union Government funds the cost. E-Mandis will also help the farmers to correctly predict the prices and thus market them profitably.

6> At the National level an agricultural strategy or policy to improve information exchange, national level cold storage chains and logistic network is the need of the hour. Proper management of PDS has to be done to cut down wastes so that a reliable estimate of the food grain needs will be made.

The changes are already happening and visible. The government has offered subsidies and interest-free loans to ensure that farmers can make a profit out of their crop. But there is agri-innovation that is reaching the farmers nation wide that is speeding up their development.
What are the innovations happening in the agriculture space?
BaySpec Hyperspectral Camera (OCI-UAV-1000) Imaging Flight

BharatRohan has built a prototype that collects and interprets valuable data by flying UAV’s equipped with Hyperspectral Cameras. Actionable information that we create using cost-effective Hyperspectral remote sensing technique is crucial for profitable agriculture operations. BharatRohan follows a diagnostic framework to empower farmers with knowledge service package that consists realistic prescriptions and recommendations about needed treatment.

The “Greenhouse-in-a-Box”

Kheyti has created a low-cost and modular greenhouse structure that protects farmers’ crops from wind, rain, hail, heat and pests which also uses 90% less water, grows 7 times more food and gives farmers a steady dependable income

MITRA develops proprietary agricultural machines that automate labor-intensive functions for farmers in emerging markets. We at MITRA are manufacturing world class orchard and vineyard sprayers suitable to all type of planting patterns. Developed for fruits and vegetables in general, and grapes and pomegranates in particular, the sprayers, used to add hormones that help the growth of crops, reduce the expenditure on manual labour and are less time-consuming.

Agrostar is a “direct-to-farmer” m-commerce platform through which farmers can procure agri-inputs needed for their farms by simply giving a missed call on our platform and eventually accessing our mobile app. Farmers in these states can procure an entire range of good quality and branded agri-inputs like seeds, crop nutrition, crop protection and agri- hardware products through the company’s m-commerce platform.

What does the Future hold for the farmers and the economy?

Entrepreneurs are realizing the scope for disruption in this industry and are testing out their ideas across different farms and weather zones in India. Technology is assured to bring the next agricultural revolution in India.

R&D will play a big role in deciding the speed at which our agriculture sector grows. While India spent 31% of its agricultural GDP on research and development in 2010, in the same year China spent almost double than amount. Even our neighbour Bangladesh spent 38% of its agricultural GDP on research and development in that year.

The bright side is that the Indian government have promised to double the income of farmers by 2022. Whether this will be achieved or not is not assured but the steps are in the right direction.

The scope for innovation is immense and its benefits will directly improve the quality of life for millions of farmers across India and their dependents. We can become the agricultural super power/food capital of the world and lead other countries into organic/sustainable farming practices.

This technological revolution that is going to hit Indian agriculture will end up changing India in many ways. The Indian economy will improve, poverty levels will decrease and their will no longer be food scarcity in India.!

Ideas that can change the Future
What could be the Effects of Agriculture 2.0?

First of all, with farmers having more control and understanding of their crops, the probability for the failure of the crop is drastically reduced. By using data to understand the overall performance of villages and their farming practices, there can be a coordinated steps that can be taken to maximize the use of water and promote sustainable agriculture strategies.

Secondly, with the supply chain being altered in favour of the farmer, there is the opportunity for the farmer to earn more than 150% of what they used to earn previously. Now they not only have greater quantity of crops, but with the right distribution system, they get a fair price for their produce.

Thirdly, the farmer and his whole family can easily live of the income from agriculture and not depend on other jobs or move to the city to do mean jobs to sustain themselves. By being financially strong, the farmer is able to have a high quality life with the best services coming to his door step.

Fourthly, with greater produce and high quality crops, the market for exports grows significantly. Not only does India able to feed its own growing population but is able to add to its GDP via exports. With proper storage facilities, no food material is wasted and also the poverty is alleviated.

These are just a few major changes that will happen with the wide usage of technology and data actively in farming. The chain reaction that is going to happen with the success of agriculture is enormous. The positive effects are going to happen in numerous other sectors and touch millions of live on a positive manner.

Agriculture 2.0 has the potential of rapidly increasing the development of rural areas and taking India a step further in becoming a developed nation.
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