Traditionally, India is an agrarian country and even today over 55 percent of the country’s population directly depends on agriculture and accounts for over 14 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP) and about 11 percent of its exports. Though India accounts for only about 2.4 percent of the world’s geographical area and 4 percent of water resources but has to feed about 17 percent of the world’s human population and 15 percent of livestock.
Agriculture also contributes indirectly to India’s GDP by creating demand in other sectors. The sector needs to grow by at least 4 percent for the economy to grow at 9 percent (RBI, 2011). Focused growth in agriculture is thus required not only to ensure faster overall growth and food security but also to increase incomes of those dependent on agriculture and thereby ensure inclusiveness.
Role of farm mechanisation
Indian agriculture landscape is complex and unique in many ways. While on one side we are a bottom of pyramid economy where over 92 percent operational farmers own less that 4 hectare land. Stretched in terms of the resources and on the other side to improve farm productivity, we need to adopt mechanisation which needs resources. Today, farm productivity is almost stagnant and we need higher output to serve increasing population. Currently, our farm output is far lower compared to other leading market standard.
Though the reasons for low productivity comprises many factors including farm mechanisation, high yield variety seeds, fertility and proper irrigation. In India, we have already exhausted the high yielding varieties (HYV) seeds and fertiliser usage. The potential option left is farm mechanisation and adequate but efficient irrigation system. There is direct correlation between farm power and yield.
It is noteworthy that Indian agriculture sector is undergoing a shift and transforming gradually into mechanised way. Today’s farmers are much more aware of new technologies and ready to adopt newer way of farm practices which of course pave a way for mechanised farming.
Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) and investment into infrastructure sector have also pushed the mechanisation to an extent as these programmes syphoned some of farm labour into other projects.
Tractors are an integral part of farm mechanisation and critical for increasing agricultural productivity and farm output. Despite India is world’s largest tractor market in volume but per ha kw power is far low compared to other agriculturally developed countries. India has a tractor density of about 13 per 1,000 ha as compared to 32 tractors per 1,000 ha in developed countries. Another fact is that average tractor size in India is 40 HP which is much smaller compared to the other referred developed countries. In India, currently around 1/3rd of the farmers own tractors and 70 percent of farmers hire tractors on rent. The usage of tractors is skewed towards land preparation and transportation.
With increased use of tractor and emergence of other farm machinery, the size and feature of tractors are undergoing a change and second generation tractors are taking shape. Today, all tractor manufacturers are investing into new technologies and we hope to see better and well equipped tractors in India in near future.
Challenges in front of farm mechanisation
We can see challenges through the perspective of various stakeholders;
Integrating marginal farmers into farm mechanisation gambit is important and critical. Major constraints are a) marginal farmers believe higher technology is complex and is not his cup of tea. b) second deterrent is higher cost of equipment and need of high investment into variety of equipment/size/technology for different conditions/crops.
It requires adequate resource building with easy and affordable access to the farmers. Implement bank, pay per use could be a possible solution but need diligent planning and execution. Another challenge is knowledge transfer both for usage and manufacturing. Importing new technology equipment is expensive and hence need to adapt for Indian conditions. At the same time large investment is required in skill building for correct usage.
The country needs to invest in design and development. Not only for adaption but also we need versatile equipment that can be used in multiple crops like we have multi crop harvesters and tractors. Another major shift needed is blend of agronomic practices and farm mechanisation.
Field accessibility for farm machinery movement into the field is poor. Our fields are smaller and not connected with roads and hence many a time moving machine from one field location to other is not possible and/or efficient.
The government has already identified the need for farm mechanisation and formed a submission for agriculture mechanisation in the 12th five year plan. Though long way to go; the beginning is important.
Over 54 percent of Indian farmers are dependent on rain for agriculture and that brings uncertainty in the agribusiness. Poor and erratic monsoon coupled with untimely rains affected past three cropping seasons in a row and hence the buying power of farmers. Another fact which is pertinent to mention here that over 92 percent of farmers own land less than 4 ha and those actually stretch their resources; therefore impacted with slightest change in the environment. Fallout of low disposable income is defaulting loan repayments. Hence, the majority of financier have gone into cautious and selective mode and that has further dampened the market momentum.
However, we are hopeful that this Rabi season and coming monsoon shall be good and bring some breath into the industry. The new crop insurance scheme, Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana, announced by the Central Government shall be helpful in protecting farmers from uncertain natural climatic conditions and reduce their risk to a large extent. I believe that it shall have a positive long-term impact on agro-based industries.