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Information Technology To Double Farmers Income

In this Column, PROF. CHANDER SABHARWAL examines the emerging technologies that may enable, through Public – Private – Partnerships, to benefit farmers in a way as never before.
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Various research reports indicate that the 64 percent of farm households have cultivation as their principal income source. A large number (22 percent) have wage/salaried employment as the principal income source. About 4.7 percent and 3.7 percent have non-farm enterprises and livestock respectively as their principal income source. Remittances also form a principal income source for substantial proportion (3.3 percent) of farm households. The total income is highest for households having non-farm enterprises as their principal income source.

These households earn about Rs 104,593 in a year. This is followed by households that have other agricultural activities as their principal income source. They earn about 92 percent of the incomes earned by households with non-farm enterprises as principal income source. Households with wage and salaried employment as the principal income source also earn about 88 percent of incomes earned by households with non-agricultural enterprises as the principal income source. Cultivation and livestock households earn substantially lesser and their incomes are 72 percent and 73 percent of annual income of non-farm household respectively.

From these observations it seems that all households are able to diversify significantly in cultivation, livestock and wages. But non-farm businesses are not something that is an income source for many. This is unlike wage employment. Though the wage employment households earn significant amount in wages, the other households also earn a reasonable percentage of this amount from it. One of the reasons for this disparity could be because of entry barriers posed by capital and other requirements in non-farm businesses. (Source: ERI reports).

The Farm and Non- Farm picture is changing. Non- Farm opportunities, have increased, and more are on the anvil. Agribusiness, Cold storages, Packaging of food, Food processing, Trading and servicing, etc. have spread across many sectors that use Farm products and are linked to Industry, Retail and Non-Farm Consumers. In the upper and medium rural farm households, non- farm incomes are increasing, while at the lower end, cultivation remains the principal source of income. At the upper end of progressive and rich farmers, opportunities are many in addition to Farm Income.Emerging Technologies may assist in bridging the above gap.

Satellite Communications & Mapping
India has relevant satellites in space that can map weather, floods, storms, and many other natural factors, such as soil erosion. In the future, information will be beamed to service providers, and thereon to Farmers in real time, that will help the farmers take preventive and corrective measures quickly, thereby preventing damage, protecting crops, and working with alternative solutions. The Smartphone, now cheap, full of applications, connected by 4G, will be the vehicle in the hands of the farmers – a powerful tool that will enable quick and ready flow of information in real time, when required, and at small cost.

The Cloud
Information and Data will be stored in cloud and Analytics will keep standardised solutions saved and ready. Thus recommendations regarding Nutrients, Chemicals and other crop related information, will be available to farmers, regionally relevant and crop specific. The Cloud will become the Hub of Knowledge management.

Sensors
Leaf sensors, one in one acre of land, will give out information about plants wanting water and quantity required and when! Sensors in ears of animals will give data about animal sleeping, lying down, or eating. And many other applications, as the technology gets adopted and matures.

Irrigation
Irrigation projects will be connected. The systems will deliver water and fertilizers to the farm when required, consume about 10 percent of what the farmers uses today as water resources, give information on water quality, hardness and TDS. Solar energy will be the enabler for pumps, filters and drainage. Drip Irrigation will take on a new avatar. Water Harvesting for agriculture will be the way forward.

Seeds
GM and hybrid seeds with in planted protection genomes, will protect the Plants from pests and diseases. Seed Treatment will be crop specific and protect the crop through its life span. Data from use of Hybrid and GM seeds, will increasingly be available to be analysed from angles of human and plant safety, and corrections made at every step, by scientists, in collaboration with Universities and Farm Institutions. Indeed, Seeds, have the potential to usher in a renewed Green revolution in India.

Crop Protection
New Chemistries, Use of Biologicals, and Organic Products will make crop protection targeted and pest, weed, disease specific and selective. Use of chemicals will decline. Integrated Pest and Crop Management will become a reality, through use of new mixtures, formulations, and safer applications, that are cost effective. Spray equipment, will carry flexible technology and information for farmers. Soil Testing, Water Testing and Pest threshold levels, would be mapped in real time on farms, through service providers.

Farm Equipment, Robotics, & Machine Intelligence
Driverless tractors, Harvesters, Seed transplanting machines, guided by the Satellite, will take over from landless labour, releasing them for other gainful employments. Equipment suitable for small, medium and large farmers will be available on rent, lease, or sale from high class equipment providers, who would help maintain the machines and systems. Already some Companies are active in this space.

Vertical Farms: Aeroponics: Aquaponics
Singapore, US, Japan, Vietnam, Korea and various other countries are already pioneering vertical farms, as the future of agriculture, in order to save land, and provide fruits and vegetables to domestic populations on a sustainable basis. Small pilot Units in India, in Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Himachal Pradesh have also started such ventures. The Technology is available. Vertical Farm Association has been established in India. Entrepreneurship has to step in with Government support.

Post-Harvest Solutions
Computerised Silos will provide information on weight, volume and other parameters. They will automatically be connected to Cloud. Fumigation and stored grain pests and fungi will be controlled through modern systems. Each silo can cater to a specific number of village clusters in the area on lease basis, and be connected to cold chains, storage warehouses and transport linkages – from Farm to Retail! Vacuum Packaging will keep grains and cereals pest free, healthy, original and fresh, through use of inerts such as Nitrogen. Pilot units are set up in Dharwad University in Karnataka.

Precision & Digital Farming
Above technologies will contribute to precision farming. Track and Trace Digital Farming tools will assist in tracking the history of the crop, such as grapes, fruits and vegetables, from seeding to harvest, and provide real time information on Residues, disease etc. The technology is already implemented by Bayer in India, in the Nasik Grape belt. More applications are on the anvil.

Digital e-learning and farmer education
Already many NGO’s and SHGs offer services to farmers regarding crops, commodities, products and prices. These initiatives will reach multiplier levels soon, thus making information, knowledge, solutions, actions – available to the farmer at the clicks of smart phones. Multimedia, videos, and global connects, will be available at low cost. Extension services will greatly benefit by adopting digital approaches to farmer issues, on the farm, for animals, and for poultry and fisheries.

It can be said that the face of Indian agriculture can and will change. What is needed is for the stakeholders both public and private to focus on this sector, with the objective of making it profitable, for our emerging young demographics. The need of the hour is, Marketing of Indian Agriculture, as a dynamic future vehicle to sustain business and reap profits. If politicians can go beyond politics, and if the Industry can engage with the farmers, using technologies outlined above, Indian Agriculture could climb to dizzy heights, and can provide food security to over 1.5 billion people and more! Do we have the wisdom to bell the Cat and catch the Bull?

(The author is Managing Director, Crop Health Products and Senior Professor of Marketing) 

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