The year 2021 is the year of ‘change’ as the world prepares itself to battle the unprecedented challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic. According to a report released by World Bank in June last year, the global economy plunged into a recession, last experienced during World War 2! Earlier this month, National Statistical Office, Ministry Of Statistics & Programme Implementation, Government Of India released a press note on ‘First Advance Estimates Of National Income 2020-21’.
According to this report, the GDP for FY 20-21 would shrink to minus 7.7 % with the manufacturing sector witnessing a significant contraction of 9.4%, while the agriculture sector is expected to witness a growth of 3.4% in FY 20-21. According to an EY India Report released in August 2020, the agriculture sector contributes to 16% of the country’s GDP and provides employment to 43% of the total workforce. Employing almost half of the country’s population and having a significant share in the GDP along with maintaining a steady positive growth during the pandemic, it can be concluded that the agriculture sector has an integral role to play in revitalizing our rural economy.
Even though the sector has shown stable micro-economic indicators on the ground during a pandemic-struck economy last year, its full potential is neither realized nor explored, unfortunately. Since the last couple of years, the sector has been witnessing the same set of problems that are hindering its growth prospects. Some of these problems are, poor yield per hectare (total agricultural production per unit of land), the gap between farmers and market, low investment in rural infrastructure and a lesser understanding of ecological problems (harmful pesticides, depleting water table, soil erosion).
The need of the hour is to sync agricultural production with the market demands as well as environmental changes which are impossible without the intervention of science and technology! Scientific solutions based on thorough on-ground research backed with tech-infused products\services would help solve the critical issues plaguing the sector, simultaneously contributing to its exponential growth.
Agritech is the application of technology in the field of agriculture to increase production and maximize profits. It solely has the potential to help India embark on its journey of the next ‘Green Revolution’ by expanding its agricultural production through sustainable methodologies. The Indian agritech market is still in its nascent stage with a menial 1% penetration though it is estimated that it can grow to 24.1 Bn in five years! (EY India Report). The technologies listed below elaborate on a few of these critical methodologies capable of ushering in India’s Green Revolution 2.0.
Food security is a pertinent social challenge in India having catapulted post-Covid-19 outbreak. It results in the wastage of food grains due to poor rural infrastructural facilities like dilapidated warehouses and a dearth in cold-storage units. ‘Scientific warehousing’ would help maintain digital records of the food stock stored and help maintain virtual customer relationships. Solutions embedded in artificial intelligence would facilitate real-time tracking of all the processes being carried out in the warehouse (stocks stored as well as stocks in transit).
These paperless tech practices would help provide an error-free status report of the warehouse. Maintaining a digital customer service network would be essential in providing an excellent hassle-free service to customers. These practices would help mitigate post-harvest losses as well as disrupt and resolve storage and distribution issues in India.
Convergence Of Agri Biotechnology With Nanoscale Science & Technology
The sustainable solutions to ecological problems (poor soil, seed quality) marring the Indian agriculture industry will be the result of multidisciplinary efforts at the intersection of food technology, agriculture, biotechnology and nanotechnology. For example, Biofertilizers, nano-biofertilizers and nano-pesticides are some of the products based on nano-technology, essential in providing micronutrients.
They play a pivotal role in maintaining soil health, targeted nutrient requirement of the crops (development of roots, increased uptake of water and nitrogen) and preventing the decontamination of soil from the excessive usage of harmful pesticides and fertilizers. Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), using genetic engineering is another way of contributing to food and nutrition benefits of crops while boosting their production, however, India is in a state of policy paralysis in the matter.
Agro-IT Using AI/ML Blockchain In The Agri Value Chain
Our agricultural industry is a highly unorganized sector. And sadly, this flaw is taken advantage of by some middle-men, pushing the marginal farmers into the vicious cycle of poverty! Leveraging blockchain technology would help streamline this sector as well as promote transparency and traceability, valuable in creating efficient supply chains. It will also empower farmers to switch from traditional methods of buying and selling, introducing them to new markets which would help reduce the gap between farmers and urban markets. Artificial Intelligence helps in comprehensive data collection and analysis along with concise and accurate predictions related to farming-related activities and price fluctuations.
These technologies help farmers in increasing their crop production, maintaining soil health and adopting profitable sowing practices. Using 3D laser scanning, hyper-spectral imaging crop metrics can be built across thousands of acres. IoT sensors and UAV images can also be used extensively to gather real-time data on soil moisture, crop health and crop stressors, among other parameters. These technologies are creating a plethora of opportunities for farmers to develop and upgrade their farming techniques for more profitable results.
Depletion Of Ground Water And Contamination
The presence and absence of freshwater have made and marred human civilizations over the centuries as it is the very basis for agriculture. The next World Wars if they ever happen will not be over crude oil but freshwater. Indian farms are heavily dependent upon groundwater, a finite depletable resource.
Multiple factors contribute to it like excessive usage of chemical fertilizers, wrong crop in certain geographies i.e. water-guzzling crops in water-stressed regions as well as excessive irrigation i.e. irrigation done in the same way as it was practised decades back. It is observed that no technological advancement has taken place around water usage. Organic farming which can mitigate water wastage to a large extent is not seen as profitable due to its premium pricing structure and low yield.
Despite facing myriad challenges hindering its growth, agritech has the potential to revolutionize the agriculture landscape in India through innovative tech-based solutions. Though the sector faces certain challenges hindering its growth, agri-tech has the potential to revolutionize the agriculture landscape in India through innovative tech-based solutions. It is absolutely fundamental in fulfilling the ‘Make in India’ and ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ missions as it helps increase crop production, which could position India as an agro-export leader across the globe along with promoting it as a global industrial hub (providing essential raw materials at minimal costs).
The backbone of our country and its economy; our farmers would benefit greatly from this revolution, transforming them into industrious entrepreneurs serving urban global markets. To stimulate the growth of agritech as estimated, all the stakeholders (government, farmers, investors and startups) involved in the system would have to collaborate efficiently, syncing their effort in perfect harmony in order to boost the rural economy and help India revive from the post-pandemic economic slump.