Agriculture has remained as a centrepiece of Indian economy. Though it is a main source of livelihood for a majority of Indian population, it still stands as a technologically backward sector. Despite its importance to the economy, little has been done to revive the sector. From production challenges to financing inefficiencies, Indian agriculture is plagued by several issues. Inadequate farm equipments, lack of access to fairly priced credit, distribution challenges due to intermediaries between farm to fork are some of the challenges facing the Indian farmer. Farmers are the sole risk bearers of all these challenges that arise in the farming cycle. Be it lack of quality tools, erratic monsoons or pest outbreaks, farmers have to face it all without any risk mitigation among other stakeholders.
We live in a world where technology is at the heart of our everyday lives. Similar to the transformations in other sectors, technology is sure to shape farming practices. Technology can transform Indian agriculture by addressing challenges related to quality, quantity, distribution and storage. Here’s how:
Production: Currently farmers choose crops on the basis of the trends of the last season. Technology can assist them in making right growing choices by carefully analysing demand, pricing and fluctuations in weather conditions. This will create a better balance between supply and demand. Technology enabled farming tools can be a boon for small farms. Large machinery used in developed countries have very little applicability in most of our small farms. The key is to build mechanised processes suitable for small farms, that reduces dependency on manual effort and results in better productivity.
Technology based crop advisory around crop planning, pest control, disease mitigation can be very useful. Online marketplaces offering wide variety of authentic agri inputs that are backed by scientific agri-advisory can also help.
Financing: Technologies that enable contract farming arrangements can help solve financing inefficiencies in the system. This reduces the farmer’s risk with guaranteed off-take arrangements and agri-inputs supplied by the contracting company. Apart from with this, technology can also help farmers avail crop insurance and credit that are rightly priced. This can be possible by analysing data from various sources including land records, weather analysis, historical and current satellite imagery and remote monitoring using drones
Distribution: In the traditional model, middlemen walk away with a large chunk of a farmer’s income. E-marketplaces that can connect buyers and farmers directly can dis-intermediate the chain and offer better incomes to farmers. An effective cold chain system is the need of the hour for Indian agriculture. Most of the existing cold storage units are outdated. Technology enabled cold storage chains that are controlled using smart devices can prevent post harvest losses. Automated grading and sorting of crops using robotics and machine vision, can also reduce efforts and wastage in the supply chain.
Sharing economy models that allow shared usage of high cost equipment like tractors can decrease financial burden on the farmers. This model can help farmers use tools and machines on a per usage basis instead of investing a high cost on outright purchase. With growing usage of smartphones, farmers can tap into the wisdom of the crowds, other knowledgeable farmers and agronomists to take inputs during the growing period.
Unlike the olden day farmers, the new age Indian farmer is not the stereotypical ‘kisan’. They are tech savvy and are open to adopting new technologies that can help them improve their income. For instance, a Facebook group for organic farmers in India with a member strength of 22,000 has become an engaging platform for farmers to seek help or advice from other farmers. Whatsapp groups are now used extensively by farmers to exchange knowledge and collaborate with peers. From ordering seeds online to seeking inputs on social media, there is rapid adoption of information technology by Indian farmers.
In spite of new technologies making their way into agriculture, some factors still hold back their adoption. Quite often, farmers can be hesitant to try out and invest in new technologies due to lack of clarity on ROI or lack of successful case studies of other farmers. Infrastructural issues like power supply and internet connectivity in remotely located farms can be a challenge while building connected farms or deploying IoT solutions. Last mile logistics, to get agri products, into the hands of farmers, is still a big challenge, and very often needs to rely on cash-based traditional distribution channels, which are not nimble enough.