The agriculture and allied sector contribute to 49% of the total workforce of India. And despite that fact, it only accords 16% of the economy. Today the government of India has pledged to increase the net income of our farmers by twice the size it is at present by 2025 in terms of value. Given the poor record of investments in the agricultural sector, it is going to be a huge challenge for the government. 80% of the total water consumed in the country goes into irrigating the farms, and given the fact that farmers in India heavily rely on rainwater and groundwater, it puts immense pressure on the sustainability of the natural resources and farming practices as a whole. Farmers also in an attempt to get maximum yield, get involved in the overuse of fertilizers and other agrochemicals which again risks the health of over a billion people, and degrades the soil quality. The vague knowledge of proper farming practices, unaffordable technology, and irregular weather pattern have by large contributed to the deteriorating condition of farmers in India.
The problem starts with an overproduction of a crop whose demand is way below its produce which forces the farmer to distress sell. The central and state government need to work together to set up entities that do demand analysis surveys and instruct the farmers of the particular state which crop to go with. This survey may be affected by various factors such as the season, most likely weather patterns, soil quality, availability of resources, and other relevant data.
These data then would be related to farmers which will give them a better idea of what to grow to get a secured trade in the future. But then the problem of information relay comes into action. Indian farmers lack basic knowledge regarding existing technology. This is the result of the absence of a proper framework that connects rural India to urban regions. According to various reports, there are over 315 million cell phones in rural India. This serves as the best opportunity for the government to reach out to the farmers directly and educate them.
The government can start collaborating with private partners working in the sector to leverage their knowledge and expertise to bring quality information to the farmers. Some potential firms could be:-
- PEAT is a Berlin-based start-up that has developed applications that use mobile camera clicked photographs to calculate and correlate the foliage patterns and soil defects. It then comes up with possible solutions to repair the soil and help farmers utilize resources efficiently.
- Microsoft developed software that only required feature phones to receive messages regarding the best sowing season of a seed and the essential information related to it.
- Blue River Technology developed computer vision and ML models to help farmers sustainably use pesticides and fertilizers by analyzing farm with the amount of care needed.
- IBM developed a crop yield prediction model to help improve the soil quality and overall produce.
Minimization of cost is another factor that affects the bottom line profit of farmers. The central and state government instead of focusing on subsidies, which actually discourage companies producing farm equipment and chemicals, should actually focus on universal basic pay which would be distributed among farmers to meet their basic needs of buying equipment. This would restrict farmers from overbuying fertilizers under subsidy and allow them to buy farm commodities at market price which would also encourage companies in this sector.
Taking care of the price security of farmers has been the top priority in the sector. Indian farmers have a low level of price realization which tallies up to 20% lower than the actual price. The government announced MSP, terminated at the moment, only secures few crops ignoring the security of a large number of farmers involved in other crop patterns. It is important to make a dedicated platform for farmers which will be centralized and allow farmers to get a better knowledge of price realization. The platform would be similar to the platform for contracts where companies bid their price to get the tender. Farmers could be connected to e-mandi where they have the option to sell to the highest bidder above the minimum price level.
Unavailability of continuous energy supply and overdependency on weather has posed serious problems as well. It's time to go sustainable and become future-ready. The companies mostly don't invest in the agricultural sector due to low return on investment. In this situation, governments need to come in and put in the initial investment required to boost the sector.
Both central and state governments should search for solutions elsewhere as well. A New York-based company Aero Farm has been working on perfecting the vertical farming technique to find a possible future farming solution. The company claims to have reduced water usage by up to 95%, reduce agrochemical usage up to 60%, and reduce the growth cycle to significantly shorter periods. This technique solves multiple problems such as the fast degrading land, water scarcity, overuse of chemicals, and the problem of fragmented land at the same time.
As per FAO, approximately US$14 billion (more than ₹1 lakh crore) worth of food is wasted in India every year. More than 40% of the produced food gets spoiled even before it reaches the consumers. This problem is one of the most prominent factors as well. The lack of proper storage has posed serious problems of crop destruction which makes farmers sell their crops at lower prices. The central and state governments need to come up with infrastructural projects to boost the construction of storage units in every state. This not only ensures the proper price security of farmers but also hedges food shortage problems.