Agriculture in India is livelihood for a majority of the population and can never be underestimated.
Although its contribution in the gross domestic product (GDP) has reduced to less than 20 per cent and contribution of other sectors increased at a faster rate, agricultural production has grown. This has made us self-sufficient and taken us from being a begging bowl for food after independence to a net exporter of agriculture and allied products.
Total foodgrain production in the country is estimated to be a record 291.95 million tonnes, according to the second advance estimates for 2019-20. This is news to be happy about but as per the estimates of Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR), demand for foodgrain would increase to 345 million tonnes by 2030.
Increasing population, increasing average income and globalisation effects in India will increase demand for quantity, quality and nutritious food, and variety of food. Therefore, pressure on decreasing available cultivable land to produce more quantity, variety and quality of food will keep on increasing.
India is blessed with large arable land with 15 agro-climatic zones as defined by ICAR, having almost all types of weather conditions, soil types and capable of growing a variety of crops. India is the top producer of milk, spices, pulses, tea, cashew and jute, and the second-largest producer of rice, wheat, oilseeds, fruits and vegetables, sugarcane and cotton.
In spite of all these facts, the average productivity of many crops in India is quite low. The country’s population in the next decade is expected to become the largest in the world and providing food for them will be a very prime issue. Farmers are still not able to earn respectable earnings.
Even after over seven decades of planning since the independence, majority of the farmers are still facing problems of poor production and/or poor returns. Major constraints in Indian agriculture are:
– According to 2010-11 Agriculture Census, the total number of operational holdings was 138.35 million with average size of 1.15 hectares (ha). Of the total holdings, 85 per cent are in marginal and small farm categories of less than 2 ha (GOI, 2014).
– Farming for subsistence which makes scale of economy in question with majority of small holdings.
– Low-access of credit and prominent role of unorganised creditors affecting decisions of farmers in purchasing of inputs and selling of outputs.
– Less use of technology, mechanisation and poor productivity for which first two points are of major concern.
– Very less value addition as compared to developed countries and negligible primary-level processing at farmers level.
– Poor infrastructure for farming making more dependence on weather, marketing and supply chain suitable for high value crops.
Future of agriculture is a very important question for the planners and all other stakeholders. Government and other organisations are trying to address the key challenges of agriculture in India, including small holdings of farmers, primary and secondary processing, supply chain, infrastructure supporting the efficient use of resources and marketing, reducing intermediaries in the market. There is a need for work on cost-effective technologies with environmental protection and on conserving our natural resources.
The reforms towards privatisation, liberalisation and globalisation affected inputs market at a faster pace. Agricultural marketing reforms after 2003 made changes in marketing of agricultural outputs by permitting private investment in developing markets, contract farming and futures trading, etc. These amendments in marketing acts have brought about some changes but the rate is less.
Along with this, the information technology revolution in India, new technologies in agriculture, private investments especially on research and development, government efforts to rejuvenate the cooperative movement to address the problems of small holdings and small produce etc are changing face of agriculture in India.
Many startups in agriculture by highly educated young ones show that they are able to understand the high potential of putting money and efforts in this sector. Cumulative effects of technology over the next decade will change the face of agriculture.
All the constraints in agriculture make the productivity and returns complex but still a high untapped potential is there in India’s agriculture sector.
Advantageous weather and soil conditions, high demand for food, untapped opportunities, various fiscal incentives given by the government for inputs, production infrastructure, availability of cheap credit facilities and for marketing and export promotion are attracting many individuals, big companies, startups and entrepreneurial ventures to do a lot of investments on innovations, inventions, research and development and on other aspects of business.
The efforts are being done to convert all the challenges in agriculture into opportunities and this process is the future of agriculture.
Key trends expected
1. Changing demand due to increase in incomes, globalisation and health consciousness is affecting and going to affect more the production in future. Demand for fruits and vegetables, dairy products, fish and meat is going to increase in future.
2. Researches, technology improvements, protected cultivation of high value greens and other vegetables will be more. There will be more demand of processed and affordable quality products.
3. More competition will be there among private companies giving innovative products, better seeds, fertilisers, plant protection chemicals, customised farm machinery and feed for animals etc in cost effective ways at competitive prices giving more returns on investment by farmers. Use of biotechnology and breeding will be very important in developing eco-friendly and disease resistant, climate resilient, more nutritious and tastier crop varieties.
4. Some technologies will be frequently and widely used in future and some will become common in a short time while some will take time to mature. For producing the same products in other way so as to use resources judiciously and using new resources also like hydroponics, use of plastics and bio-plastics in production. There will be more of vertical and urban farming and there will also be efforts in long term to find new areas for production like barren deserts and seawater.
5. Precision farming with soil testing-based decisions, automation using artificial intelligence will be focused for precise application inputs in agriculture. Sensors and drones will be used for precision, quality, environment in cost effective manner. Small and marginal farmers will also be using these technologies with the help of private players, government or farmer producer organisations (FPO). Use of GPS technology, drones, robots etc controlled by smart phones etc can make life of farmers easy and exciting with good results. These advanced devices will make agriculture be more profitable, easy and environmentally friendly.
6. Use nano-technology for enhancement of food quality and safety, efficient use of inputs will be in near future. Nano-materials in agriculture will reduce the wastage in use of chemicals, minimise nutrient losses in fertilisation and will be used to increase yield through pest and nutrient management. IFFCO has already done successful tests in nano-fertilisers.
7. India has improved remarkably in its digital connectivity and market access has become very easy. The number of internet users is projected to reach 666.4 million in 2025. Farmers will be behaving more smartly with mobiles in hands and would be able to be more aware and connected with different stake holders. Government will be making wide use of digital technology for generating awareness among farmers, information sharing, government schemes using digital technology for direct transfers of money.
8. There will certainly be more work by government, village communities, agri startups and private players in conserving sharply depleting water resource. Use of digital technology can make revolution in this direction. There will be use of satellites, IoT, drones for better collection of data regarding soil health, crop area and yield which will make cost for insurers less with better estimations and system will be more exact and effective.
9. There will be more of niche marketers in operations, area, and crop specific small equipments which will make operations even at small farms easier and efficient. Food wastage will be less and better use of waste materials in agriculture will be more. Number of warehouses in private sector will be more and linkages between government and private warehouses will be increasing. This will help in balancing supply with demand and stabilisation of prices of agri-outputs in the market.
10. Retailing in agriculture will largely be digitalised. A study estimates that over 90 per cent of kirana stores across the country will be digitalised by 2025 with modern traceable logistics and transparent supply chain. Many players have already taking kiranastores to the door steps of consumers like Amazon and Jio Mart.
Question arises whether farmers will be able to make use of modern technologies in a country where education, holding size, infrastructure, low level of technology adoption and many other constraints are there.