Why Precision Agriculture in India will remain a Failure?

In last few years many companies have been formed and many people from the same industries have came with various ideas of using Arial /autonomous vehicles for precision agriculture in India. The challenges are not in the technology but in the Indian farming system itself. However, availability of open source technology, and skill in the country is enough to develop the solutions which are very much capable in precision agriculture outside the country but not in India. So think before you enter into agriculture field.

Here is why:

If you look at the Indian Agriculture, there is over 150 million hectares of farming land and more than 118 millions of farmers in India. In last 40 years farming land have shrunk a little but the number of farmers had just doubled.

The break down of operational holding of land average per farmers gives clear idea that why it’s difficult.

As per Agricultural Census of 2010–11, total number of operational holdings(individual farmers) was estimated as 138.35 millions and the total operated area was 159.59 million hectare. The average size of the holding has been estimated as 1.15 hectare. It simply meant one farmer is having 1.15 hectare of land to grow the crops.

  • Marginal Holdings: Below 1 Hectare
  • Medium Holdings: 4 to 10 Hectares
  • Large Holdings: 10 Hectares or more

The percentage of marginal holdings was 67.1% in 2010–11. Except the percentage of marginal holdings, the percentage of all other holdings has gone down marginally in last 20 years. The percentage of large holdings has been found 0.7% in 2010–11. The percentage of medium holdings was 4.3% in 2010–11.

Among families with more land, far fewer have family members living away in cities from home to purse better standard of life and education. While the remaining majority of Other Backward Castes (OBC) and forward caste rural households identify themselves as primarily self-employed in cultivation, the largest chunk of SC households in rural areas are engaged in wage labor or salaried employment.

This result in huge problem of aggregation of agriculture land of country. Suppose a 50 square hectare land is owned by 50 different farmers and aggregating them is a big challenge. This didn’t happen suddenly it is all due to increasing population and division of land in a single family. Take my example, my grand father had more than 150 acre hectare of land which got divide into more than 10 parts in last two to three generations. Thanks to joint families (;

Aggregation of farmers in India has been really big challenge from many last two decades, There have been numerous scheme from government for farmers which couldn’t be successful. Other private firms also tried to aggregate the sector by various offers based on farming equipment’s and benefits but failed and gone bankrupt.

I remember as a kid there was this new chain of Hariyali Kisaan Bazar came to nearby my native village with a plan of more than 300 stores spread across eight states, from Uttar Pradesh and Punjab in the north to Andhra Pradesh. Hariyali Kisaan Bazaar represented a retail revolution in rural India. By understanding and supplying farming families with all their agricultural and household needs. During this it also acted as a platform to remove the middle man to purchase direct from farmers and supplying to big vendors. The concept of Hariyali grew from an agricultural extension program of DSCL, a well-known Indian conglomerate producing fertilizer, seed and sugar. It was a big failure but I consider as partially successful so far due to the effort to create a supply chain of the fertilizers, seeds, and farming equipment which could be a common point to aggregate the farmers. Well, the experiment Hariyali Kisaan Bazar failed after 70 outlets across rural India.

Farmer segments in India largely consist of small & medium farmers who are the future of Indian agriculture. Large farmers constitute only 1.5% of the total population and contribute around 35% of the food grain production. Thus, it is important to understand the role of these experiments on how they can help small and medium farmers to adopt modern equipment, technology, techniques to increase agricultural yield.

The big farmers are known to have clear commercial focus, they have limited credit means, makes their own brand choices and are leaders to new technology practices. But the small & medium farmers need credits, they do not adopt modern technology, procures its inputs from the dealers and is heavily influenced by the dealers, which lead to sub-optimal quality. In fact small & medium farmers are sustenance farmers who produce for their families and a small proportion of crop yield is left for the market, which is supplied by multiple agents, from the village to the Mandi, giving farmer a very small part of the value of the product.

This segment can only be successful only when we can promise lower costs of production, help them to get better price value and also are able to help them to sell their output directly to the processors or the final consumers.

This is what we have, every farmland is not more than half a acre and is not owned by one person.
This is what we need for sustainable precision agriculture. If not in one piece of land then at-least aggregated land of more than 50 acres.

Operating cost of a precision agriculture equipment via an Arial or land platform for few acres is high for both the farmer and operator. We left with only one choice of aggregating the farming land in order to use go ahead with these experiment. An uncertain economic environment with fluctuating low rural income and a high cost of reaching posed a great challenge to any such experiment. Experiments like Hariyali Kisaan Bazaar and Mahindra Subhlabh Ltd., have died a natural death.

They have been operating within their own sphere of influence and hence are unable to create scale economies which are essential for such experiments to succeed then either its precision agriculture or bringing all farmers together.
So can experiments like this be made viable, sustainable and scalable?

Because scalablity is the key with the profit margin to the provider and mainly to the farmers for which the service is being provided.

Personally after belonging from both fields it always seems nice to start with something new to change Indian farming segment. Which is still based on the techniques developed hundreds of years back. But we should not forget the challenges and failure to bring all them together.

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