Agriculture and allied sectors account for approximately 14 per cent of India’s GDP, and 50 per cent of its entire workforce is involved in these sectors. India is now the second largest producer of wheat and rice, the major staple food of the world. In the last few years, our country has shown a steady annual increase in kilograms per hectare produce for certain agricultural items.
As a matter of fact, Indian agriculture has transformed significantly over the last few decades. Multiple factors sach as growth in household income, expansion in food processing, and increase in agricultural exports has facilitated double digit growth to this sector. The green revolution was a major technological breakthrough which created a lasting impact on Indian agriculture. However, when it comes to investments on Research & Development (R&D) Infrastructure and Technology implementation, a lot more needs to be done.
R&D in Agriculture: The Ground Reality
With ever-increasing supply-side constraints, the role of R&D has become increasingly important with the potential to offer long-term solutions for Indian agriculture. Farmers’ access to latest researches can help in overcoming issues such as seed problems, pest and disease problems, crop sustainability, climate change, irrigation problems, soil erosion, to name a few.
Earlier, research institutions, agricultural universities, and public sector corporations were important stakeholders in the R&D ecosystem for sustainable agricultural practices. However today, even multinationals and private sector firms, including agrochemicals giant Crystal Crop Protection, is investing heavily on R&D. The R&D team of Crystal is revolutionising the agricultural industry through the promotion and adoption of scientific farming practices.
Benefits of R&D and Technology
Here are some of the significant aspects of R&D and technology in agriculture and its potential benefits that farmers can reap with their implementation.
Genetic Modification of Seeds
Genetic modification of seeds promises high productivity with minimal use of agricultural resources and agrochemicals, both on a seasonal and long-term basis. The most significant example of this technology in India is the introduction of bt-cotton.
Cross-breeding and genetically modified crops are aligned to well-researched genetic engineering and agri-biotechnology, and introduced as a new trait to the crops which does not occur naturally in the species, thereby helping in increasing productivity and pest resistance at times. Genetically modified (GM) high yield seeds have gained increasing acceptance among farmers around the world. Nowadays, transgenic and hybrid seeds are dominating the rural markets in India, especially when it comes to cereals, vegetables, and oilseeds.
Pesticides and Fertilisers
The importance of understanding the judicious use of fertilisers and pesticides cannot be overemphasised. The use of low dosage, high potency agrochemicals that suit local agricultural conditions need to be stressed. It is important to ensure the right amount of agrochemical and fertiliser at the right time to reap maximum benefits. The right approach is to strike a balance between marketing generic agrochemicals that are already in the market and inventing new molecules that will bring about an ‘evergreen revolution’.
To ensure the quality of the agrochemicals used in agriculture, the Indian government has recently set up 71 pesticide testing laboratories across the country. Several private firms are also investing on quality assurance research for appropriate use of agrochemicals and fertilisers. Crystal’s quality control laboratory is ISO certified and accredited by National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories. Crystal’s R&D team emphasises on good manufacturing processes to ensure quality production of agrochemicals.
Efficient Water Management
Water is indispensable for all agricultural activities. The unpredictable monsoon rains coupled with increasing demand for food production has made smart irrigation imperative for Indian agriculture. Water management must be designed to augment local water resources and effective waste water treatment. Area-specific R&D on irrigation technologies can play an important role in this regard. However, in India, electric and diesel pumps are generally used to extract groundwater.
New age water lifting devices such as treadle pumps and efficient water management systems such as drip irrigation allow regular release of water directly to the roots of the plants through a network of economically designed plastic pipes. With the efficient use of the above mentioned technologies and further R&D, small farmers can cultivate year round and increase crop productivity.
Use of biotechnology in agriculture can reduce vulnerability of crops to environmental impact and over dependence on chemical fertilisers to improve yield. Off late, technologies with respect to bio-formulations have been found effective against soil borne pathogens to maintain the productive capacity of agro-ecosystems. Research shows that adoption of zero-tillage agriculture can save water by as much as 11 per cent as against the conventional sowing techniques.
R&D units – both at private and government level – conduct in-house field research and process development for environment-friendly agricultural practices and for educating farmers on land use patterns. Adopting eco-friendly agricultural practices can improve agricultural production, and at the same time, work towards biodiversity conservation to improve livelihoods of rural communities.
The Road Ahead
Technology integration has the potential to transform the entire agribusiness value chain, from agricultural production and origination to trading. It also helps farmers to take informed decisions. With the application of Internet of Things, mitigating risks and tracking crop from field to farm is now much easier.There is no doubt that agri-tech will play an important role in aiding sustainable agriculture for tomorrow. Technology and R&D combined has emerged as critical differentiator of the Indian agro industry, be it at the primary (production), secondary (processing) or tertiary level.
R&D generates new technologies and passes them to farmers. In the coming years, agricultural technology will play a vital role in addressing their concerns related to conservation and management of rural resources. Crystal has been continuously associated with Indian Agricultural Research Institutes (IARI), Central Potato Research Institute (CPRI), Central Rice Research Institute (CRRI), and Directorate of Rice Research (DRR) which are all affiliated to Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) for various R&D related trials.
In spite of successful R&D initiatives around crop cultivation and protection and huge investments from the private sector, a majority of farmers in India have not been able to get optimum yield in the absence of expert scientific advices.The need of the hour is to bridge the gap between research and practice.
( The author is the chairman of Crystal Crop Protection Pvt. Ltd. The views expressed in the article are author’s own)