Written by: Gargi Sarma, Industry Analyst @ Global Launch Base
India is the 2nd largest producer of wheat (769 million metric tonnes) and the 1st largest when it comes to rice (118.87 million metric tonnes). However, for the same acre of land, China produces twice as much and the Netherlands produces four times as much.
Imagine the impact Indian Agriculture can have with increased productivity. A well developed and managed agricultural sector with an increase in productivity will initiate effective distribution of scarce resources in India, improve the livelihood of nearly 700 million people dependent on Agriculture, create new employment opportunities, reduce the pressure on our precious forested lands and reduce the billions of tonnes of food waste that is one of the biggest contributors to global warming.
Let’s take a look at the chart below, the cereal yield production in India from 1961 to 2018 has not increased much in comparison to other countries like the US, Netherlands, UK, and China even though agriculture is the backbone and income source of the majority of the population.
Figure: Trend of cereal yield from 1961-2018
Benefits of Sustainable Agriculture in India:
Due to its enormous potential for value addition, the Indian agriculture system is set for huge potential improvements, increasing its contribution to world food and commerce every year. Let us take a look at a few key impacts of improved agricultural efficiency.
Although agriculture has played a lesser role in the overall composition of the national Gross Domestic Product (GDP), it is important to note that agriculture still accounts for the income of 50% of India's total population. An increase in agricultural productivity will not only increase the overall income of the country, but it will also help feed nearly 176 million people under poverty and bring 20% of farmers above the poverty line (The National Bureau of Asian Research). It is interesting to note that the role of agriculture in India’s GDP has played a bigger role since the year 2018 as depicted in the chart below.
Figure: Overview of GDP across the years
2. Reduced use of water:
Water plays a very important role in Agriculture. Oftentimes when there are no canals for irrigation from river water, farmers depend on Groundwater (GW). However, this is not an unlimited source of water. If we look into the chart as per the report of the Central Ground Water Board (2017), only 173.25 billion cubic meters (bcm) of groundwater, a major source of irrigation, will be available in future use. Improved agricultural practices can result in higher efficiency with the use of water.
For example, with the introduction of zero tillage (India Water Partnership, New Delhi), 25 % of irrigation water will be saved with a 50% increase in grain yield.
Figure: Status of groundwater availability in India
3. Reduced wastage:
Better planning, production, harvesting, storage, and transportation can result in a reduction of 40% of the food waste (United Nations development program). Currently, 18 % of total greenhouse gases (GHG) is emitted from the Agricultural sector in India (Indian Network for Climate Change Assessment) and there is potential to reduce 85.5 megatonnes of CO2 equivalent per year (Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research).
Sustainable agriculture can help alleviate the problem of wasted food. A number of initiatives to help with this goal have begun, however, a lot more needs to be done to improve the overall efficiency of Agriculture in India.
Why is Agriculture Inefficient in India?
One of the main reasons for the lack of efficiency in Agriculture in India is the size of the farm holdings. On average, each farmer owns about 4.94 acres of land per head in India, compared to 444 acres of land per head in the US.
While the country faces many other challenges such as lack of knowledge, infrastructure, and equipment, there are also factors such as weather and soil conditions that have eroded over many years of poor soil and water management. There are inefficiencies in carrying the best practices of using many farming practices which simply cannot withstand the needs of the modern world economy. For example, a large part of the grains in India is still stored in conventional ways (gunny bag, bamboo structures, mud bins, underground silos) though new improved storage facilities have come up while the modern world has moved on to the use of flat bottom bins and hopper bottom bins with aeration and drying capabilities.
Figure: Traditional storage bins vs modern Silos
The absence of new technology and lack of modernization is one of the primary impediments to increasing agricultural production. As a result, boosting agricultural R&D expenditure is not only necessary for maintaining food security, but also crucial from a socioeconomic standpoint.
New Government Initiatives:
The government of India has made the welfare of farmers a key concern. It has done so by implementing a variety of initiatives, banks like NABARD (fostering rural prosperity) and statutory bodies like FCI and NCDC aim at reviving the agriculture industry and improving farmers' economic situations.
The following are few important initiatives from the Government of India:
Ministry of Agriculture (MOA): The objective is to attain a targeted growth rate of agriculture with the help of the State government and other government departments by increasing agricultural productivity and guarantee farmer’s welfare with the successful implementation of the ministry’s schemes.
National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD): Promote sustainable and equitable agriculture and rural development through participative financial and non-financial interventions, innovations, technology, and institutional development for securing prosperity.
National Mission For Sustainable Agriculture (NMSA): Increasing agricultural production, particularly in rainfed areas, by emphasizing integrated farming, water efficiency, soil health management, and resource conservation synergies.
Gramin Bhandaran Yojana: Aims on providing a comprehensive network of non-urban godowns to assist in the development of appropriate scientific storage for farm produce in rural regions.
Farmers confront a variety of problems, such as floods, barrenness, natural catastrophes, insect attacks, weather fluctuations, money shortages, and so on. As a result, it is critical that they understand and are aware of all government programs designed to benefit and improve their lives.
The role of Agri-Tech and Startups:
The basic goal of each of these startups is to make agriculture sustainable and strong. The advancements of agri-tech and startups aim in bringing the farmer products directly to consumers, digitize agriculture, improve farmer's access to real-time information, increase transparency across the value chain, provide farmers with higher-quality implements to increase yields, and provide farmers with micro-financing options to manage risks. Here are few examples of startups enhancing agriculture:
WayCool: Provides end-to-end control over the food value chain.
AgroStar: Combines data and technology with agronomy.
DeHaat: Aims to revolutionize the food supply chain and production with artificial intelligence (AI) enabled technologies.
Stellapps: Digitise and optimizes milk production, procurement, and cold chain management
CBN agrotech: Provides AI solutions to monitor and store grains.
Ergos: Provides doorstep access to end-to-end post-harvest supply chain solutions through Grainbank.
IntelloLabs: Digitise the quality assessment of fresh fruits and vegetables for efficiency and less waste.
Kisan Network: Aims in building a fully integrated and tech-enabled supply chain.
The role of technology in improving agricultural productivity is clear. Further, we identify the energy from Indian and international startups could be one of the key driving forces to bring changes to the Indian Agricultural segment. This process of evolving and improving Agricultural productivity can and will be accelerated with the help of the visionary programs run by the Government of India. Together, our generation is poised to witness this transformation that can have a significant impact on our lives, our environment, and our precious natural resources. About Global Launch Base: Global Launch Base specializes in bringing high-tech innovation for Agri-Tech and Conservation into the Indian Market. Our expertise includes working with high-tech European Agri-Tech companies and working with local farmers to bring innovative best practices from across the world to Indian Agriculture. Website: www.globallaunchbase.com; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org