Though India produces enough food for its 1.2 billion+ population, there is still a deficit of some commodities. The increasing population and adverse climatic activities may put challenges to feed the increasing population in the future. Meanwhile, the technological adoption can tackle the challenges as well as increase the farm production significantly. Mohd Mustaquim reports
To foster the farm production while mitigating the climate risk, the technological advancement has become a necessity for the agricultural growth. Here are such technologies which can turnaround agriculture sector.
Traditional technologies, though successful so far, are not enough to meet the future challenges in agriculture. There is a need to use cutting edge technologies to enhance food production. Biotech or genetic engineering (GE) is not a new technology, but it is a very important tool with much more potential yet to be unleashed. With the developments in plant molecular biology and biotechnology, the plant scientists have modern tools such as DNA-based molecular markers and recombinant DNA technology thus embarking on precision breeding for development of high performance crop varieties. The products derived from these technologies are being commercialized across the globe.
About the GE, most people have probably heard of its herbicide resistance. The other would likely be insect resistant traits. Crops can be made to express toxins that control particular pests. Many employ Bt toxin that is the same toxin found in some organic pesticides. That means, a farmer won’t have to make a pass through his fields to apply pesticide, which not only saves on pesticide, but fuel, labour, and wear on equipment too. New biotech products coming right now are like drought resistant traits and nitrogen use efficiency. Another way to look at it would be that farmers who irrigate their crops can cut short water without affecting the yield. Nitrogen use efficiency is another benefit which decreases dependency on chemical fertilizers, especially on urea. A single crop variety can be made to express one, two, three or potentially even all of these traits in a single plant.
Nanotechnology is a field of convergence among life sciences, material science and information technology. It is an emerging field of science capable of resolving issues and problems that are impossible to tackle in engineering and biological sciences. Nanotechnology including nano-sensors and nano-based smart delivery systems could help ensure natural resources such as water, nutrients and chemicals are used efficiently in agriculture. Nano-barcodes and nano-processing could also help monitor the quality of agricultural produce.
Understanding the essence of nanotechnology, Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (TNAU), Coimbatore established first-of-its-kind in India, the Department of Nano Science & Technology in January 2010 to initiate research in cross-cutting areas. The department is currently working on nano inputs such as nano-fertilizers, nano-herbicides, nano-pesticides; bio-sensors such as seed sensors and early detection of diseases; food systems such as nano-films and nano encapsulation of functional foods. Besides, it is working on nano-remediation of pollutants in soil and aquatic systems.
Nanotechnology application in agriculture will help meeting the food security challenges enshrined in the Millennium Development Goals, later in its successor Sustainable Development Goals.
Geospatial Technology can assemble soil resource and land quality information in spatial format, cadastral level mapping, integrating soil and climatic data, crop mapping, customizing techniques for drought monitoring by using remote sensing and meteorological data, and mapping soil nutrient status to support soil health programmes.
With these preparations, it is possible to embark on g-Governance in agricultural sector to integrate all the developmental programmes and link all the developmental agencies and offer site specific advisories in right time to significantly increase the agricultural system productivity in near future.
The scientific knowledge through geospatial technology can be transferred to the farmers in the area of soil enrichment, efficient farm and water management, natural resource management, input use efficiency, climate resilience, maintenance of biological wealth, farm mechanization, among various other aspects of agriculture sector.
Environmentally sustainable plant protection
Evidences indicate that pests cause about 25 percent loss in rice, 5-10 percent in wheat, 30 percent in pulses, 35 percent in oilseeds, 20 percent in sugarcane and 50 percent in cotton. India has successfully reduced pesticide consumption without adversely affecting the agricultural productivity. This was facilitated by appropriate policies that discouraged pesticide use, and favoured Integrated Pest Management (IPM) application.
Despite this, adoption of IPM is low, owing to a number of socio-economic, institutional and policy constraints. On the supply side, lack of commercial availability of bio-pesticides and inappropriate institutional technology transfer mechanisms are the critical impediments to increase application of IPM. The presence of private sector in bio-pesticide production and marketing is marginal, and needs to be increased through financial incentives. On the demand side, farmers though are aware of technological failure of pesticides to control pests, and their negative externalities to environment and human health, pest risk is too high to experiment with newer approaches to pest management.
IPM is a complex process and farmers lack understanding of biological processes of pests and their predators and methods of application of new technology components. The socio-economic environment of farming is also an important factor in adoption of IPM. There are a number of IPM practices that work best when applied by the entire community and in a synchronized mode.
Seed quality enhancing
For better yield, there is a need for availability of high yielding and drought/flood resistant seeds. The quality enhancement can be done with advanced techniques adopting seed management strategies to achieve high level of plant stand and usable plants to mitigate under changing environment situations and water deficit conditions.
The precision and mechanized sowing using seed drilling or sowing can increase crop yield to 25-30 percent. For better results, the high yielding seeds through mechanized sowing can multiply the farm production. For this, there should be effective farmer outreach programmes through mass media, awareness creation, forming farmers groups at village level through farmers participation.
Climate Smart Village
Since India presently grows enough food to meet the needs of its 1.2 billion+ population, the erratic weather patterns, along with floods, droughts, harsher summers and winters, could threaten national food security. Agriculture around the world can be significantly affected by climate change, hence it is imperative that ‘Climate Smart Villages’ are developed to circumvent the problems.
To minimize the wastage of farm produce, there is a need to provide better market access through entrepreneurship development. The fostering of university-industry linkages for better technology interface and upscaling and commercializing the technologies developed in the agricultural universities and institutes can play vital role in the development of agribusiness units with the small and marginal farmers.
The small and marginal farming households who are dependent on their small landholding cannot sustain for round-the-year. Thus, the governments need to provide financial support to the small and marginal farmers for setting up small agribusiness and food processing units at the grassroots level. It would help value addition to the food and fetch better prices to the farmers. It can be a medium of providing sustainable livelihoods to the small landholder farmers that would further put a check on distress migration as well.
The prospects for Indian agriculture, however, are good. The demand will grow fast and if we create the correct incentive and organization systems, the Indian farmers will not fail as they have responded well in the past when policies were supportive. The research systems will have to concentrate on a much larger cafeteria of crops and support to non-crop agriculture, including animal husbandry, fish and forests. Indian agriculture is going to visualize technology led agriculture with nano technology, genetic engineering, Geographical Information System (GIS), Geographical Positioning System (GPS), Information and Communication Technology (ICT), and weather based forecasting. In short, the science led and market and technology driven practices are the future of Indian agriculture.
The transmission of information will play important role in agricultural growth. The technology portals, community radio broadcast, Kisan Call Centres, development and dissemination of Farm-Crop Management Systems, crop doctors, e-mail based scientist integrated technology solution, lessons on CDs, short films are the faster and effective mode of communication that can be held with the farmers.