Farming 3.0: sowing seeds of our future

Technology has transformed our lives. It has had a far-reaching, disruptive impact that has upended convention and transformed not just the things we do but how we do them. Consider this — the world’s largest ride-hailing company doesn’t own a single car. The world’s largest ‘hotel chain’, if you will, doesn’t own a single hotel. Google and Apple could one day rival the world’s biggest automakers as manufacturers of autonomous cars.

Technology can have a similarly disruptive and transformational impact on Indian agriculture as well. Granted, the examples I’ve cited above are of companies whose business models are technology-reliant. Agriculture is not as technologically intensive. Still, the adoption of technology could spur a whole new revolution and usher in an era of unprecedented productivity and prosperity.

The way things stand today, more than 60% of India’s population draws its livelihood from agriculture and related activities. But, more than 80% of the country’s farmers are small and marginal, the size of their farms on average less than two hectares. Due to this fragmentation, farmers do not have the wherewithal to modernise production or processing technology, nor use high yielding varieties of inputs like seeds and fertilisers. It’s a vicious cycle of poor productivity and depressed incomes.

Added to this are complexities related to inadequate infrastructure for transportation and storage distribution. All this affects the overall farm production and lowers the value of a farmer’s produce. The adoption of technology could break this cycle, unleashing the potential of India’s farmlands and bringing prosperity to the farmers. In many ways, it already is.

Growing smartphone penetration is opening up new opportunities for farmers. This ubiquitous adoption of mobile phones has also facilitated the development of farmer oriented apps that act as 24X7 digital advisory platforms. These apps provide farmers essential real-time information like weather data, forecasts, mandi prices etc. and at the same time, allow them to interact with each other as well as agricultural experts, building a robust and reliable ecosystem. These platforms keep the farmers equipped with the requisite knowledge, which help them command better prices as well as look after their farms and produce far more efficiently.

Another technology-led initiative is the tractor and farm equipment rental service which is already seeing a strong response among the farmer community. Whenever a farmer needs a tractor/farm implement, he can simply rent it through this service, rather than lock one’s precious capital by buying these assets. This is slowly but steadily contributing to farm mechanisation which will eventually enhance output levels and overall farmer income.

But while these two instances are a start, they only just scratch the surface. Imagine, for instance, a world where drones fly over fields gathering data, satellites measure acreage under cultivation, ‘smart’ farm equipment gauges weather, soil condition and the amount of water a certain crop requires.

Precision will become the name of the game as will efficiency, maximising output while minimising cost. Mobile-based applications will cut down red tape, cut out middlemen and shorten the supply chain, taking wasteful costs out of the system. The farmer will get the fair and full price for his produce, while prices for consumers will drop.

We call this paradigm shift Farming 3.0 and it is already underway. In this exciting new phase, India is actively moving towards innovative farming. Government as well as the private sector are leveraging this shift to bring in efficiencies by serving the farmers and customers in a more disintermediated way. We are seeing a lot of young entrepreneurs coming up with start-ups and path-breaking ideas, challenging the traditional way of operating.

This phase is all about innovation, digital disruption and precision agriculture which will help the sector overcome the challenges of ‘people’, ‘process’ and ‘technology’. I strongly believe that technology-induced solutions which aim to reduce farmers’ dependence on informal and unorganised players in terms of credit, inputs, advisory services or even market linkages, is going to be a critical factor in achieving the dream of Doubling Farmers’ Income.

Farming 1.0, which began shortly after Independence and lasted until the mid-sixties, was characterised by sweeping land reforms. The second phase, or Farming 2.0 which commenced in the 1960s, was aimed at making India self-sufficient and ‘food-secure’.

The next giant leap forward in food production will be sustainable intensification of farming — doing more with less, on a bigger scale and with greater efficiency, which means precision agriculture will become a need. Technology is going to be a key enabler to bring about this revolution.

(The writer is MD and CEO, Mahindra Agri Solutions)

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Farming 3.0: sowing seeds of our future

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