Over half the population of India rely on agriculture is their main source of livelihood. With 58 percent of Indian population involved in agriculture, the sector has been contributing to the country’s food security and increasing its share in world food trade every year thereby helping the economy through export earnings. In 2019, the gross value added by agriculture sector to the national economy topped Rs18 trillion (US$270bn) and earned the country over $40 billion from food exports.

The Agriculture Export Policy, approved by the government in December 2018, aims to increase India’s agricultural exports to $60 billion by 2022 and $100 billion in the next few years by ensuring a stable trade policies. To foster exports and boost growth of agri-sector, the government has launched a slew of initiatives, including allowing 100 percent Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in marketing of food products and in food product e-commerce under the automatic route.

Indian agriculture has come a long way since the time of independence when we were a net importer of many staple foods. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) India is today the world’s largest milk producer, accounting for 21 percent of global production. In 2019, India with more than 59 million cows produced over 165 million tonnes of milk and nearly 80 percent of this production came from an unorganized sector of small farmers across the country.

India is also the world’s largest producer, consumer and exporter of spices and spice products, with spice exports earning the country over $3 billion in 2018. In addition, India ranks as the second largest fruit producer in the world, with production of horticulture crops estimated at a record 315 million tonnes in 2018-19. Meanwhile, the Indian food and grocery market is the world’s sixth largest, with this retail market being currently worth close to $400 billion annually.

India, which produced over 1.3 billion kilograms of tea in 2018 is also the world’s second largest producer and fourth largest exporter of tea in the world. Meanwhile with a production of 320,000 tonnes of coffee in 2018, India is the third largest producer and exporter of coffee. While tea exports reached a 36-year high of 241million kilograms in 2018, coffee shipments from the country reached a record 48,000 tonnes.

In a bid to boost innovation and entrepreneurship in agriculture, the government is also introducing several new programs and schemes, including a new ‘Agri-Udaan’ program to mentor start-ups and to enable them to connect with potential investors. In addition, the government is to provide more than $300 million for computerisation of Primary Agricultural Credit Society (PACS) to ensure cooperatives are benefitted through digital technology.

India is expected to achieve the ambitious goal of doubling farm income by 2022. The government plans to increase the average income of a farmer household at current prices to Rs 219,724 (US$ 3,420.21) by 2022-23 from Rs 96,703 (US$ 1,505.27) in 2015-16.

The agriculture sector in India is expected to generate better momentum in the next few years due to increased investments in agricultural infrastructure such as irrigation facilities, warehousing and cold storage. Furthermore, the growing use of genetically modified crops will likely improve the yield for Indian farmers.  The concerted efforts of scientists to get early-maturing varieties of pulses and the government’s increase in minimum support price are also likely to result in the country becoming self-sufficient in pulses in the next few years.

The adoption of food safety and quality assurance mechanisms such as Total Quality Management (TQM) including ISO 9000, ISO 22000, Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP), Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) and Good Hygienic Practices (GHP) by the food processing industry, are also predicted to offer several benefits.

Indian agriculture turns to hi-tech solutions

From preparing the land, to sowing, to reaping and monitoring of the crop, everything today can be done with the aid of sophisticated technology driven systems. Such disruptive technologies and innovations in application engineering are fast changing farming practices in India.

Irrigation has become highly evolved with sophisticated fluid management systems using hi-tech water pumps that are well suited for meeting the challenges of bringing fresh water to the farming fields and providing farmers complete control over available water resources.

These hi-tech pump systems are ensuring supply of adequate and timely potable water to farms in the recesses of the country, notwithstanding the challenges of terrain or inadequate water pressure, while helping combat unplanned irrigation that leads to water shortage and wastage.

Smart pumps automate and understand the specific water requirement and thus save this critical resource water. The IoT enabled pumps have given farmers full control to operate the entire system from his mobile phone — set the quantity of water to be pumped and time of watering his field and also get a real-time report of the critical health parameters of the pump system. On the other hand, precision agricultural technology, such as those used in drones, is aiding farmers to better plan and monitor their crops, to ensure greater productivity.

Wastage of unmonitored irrigation water is the highest cost contributor for the farmer through the crop production cycle. Further, water shortage and water management challenges are so grave in India that it has led to hundreds of farmer suicides over the past few years.

The extent of mismanagement of irrigation resources in India can be gauged from the fact that our farmers use 2-4 times more water during a particular food crop cycle as compared to China or Brazil. In fact, the agricultural sector uses up to 78 percent of fresh-water available in the country, the highest among other sectors.Though India has among the world’s largest areas under non-irrigated (rain-fed) agriculture and most farmers rely on rainwater for cultivation, nearly 65 percent of rainwater in India is not even harvested and runs off into the sea.

Also, with depleting ground water levels, farmers face challenges of getting clean water from borewell. The power supply in many villages is irregular and still fluctuates, which makes it difficult for the farmer to pump up water from deeper borewells. Also, water so acquired is not clean and could potentially damage crops.

Several reports suggest that by 2050, in India the per capita availability of water will decrease by 40-50 percent. With a shortage of clean, potable water increasingly becoming a reality, smart farm technology solutions will enable the country to find better water conservation solutions in farms. India has developed its own world-class engineering capabilities in water management systems by leveraging disruptive technologies such as Internet of Things, AR/VR and 3D printing.

Some of these hi-tech products include the new-gen pumping systems that are capable of meeting the diverse challenges in water supply to farms. The new-gen pumps are equipped to function normally even on low voltage. There are also pumps that are suited for meeting sprinkler and drip systems in farms where pressure can be controlled. Some are fitted with chlorination technology designed for improving the quality of water delivered through the pump.

The most remarkable factor about these new-generation farm technologies is that they are completely indigenously engineered and manufactured, hence affordable, widely available and easily serviceable.

Among other precision agricultural technologies is that of the use of drones. Data on precise crop health can be monitored and recorded regularly using drones and farmers can immediately intervene, when required, thus ensuring better production. Adoption of drone technology in agriculture is leading to ease of the process of production and enhanced productivity, both in terms of quality and quantity.

[Excerpts from an article by Alok Kirloskar, Executive Director, Kirloskar Brothers Limited]



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