Smart Farming And Educational Institutions

I am not an agricultural engineer, a farmer or a scientist. However, I have my root in the villages of India that appears at this age pulling my mind to think about it. I keep on writing about my viewpoints of rural India and farming that interest me.

Surprisingly, some of the totally urban-centric magazines have started taking interest in rural India and farming. Farming is even getting discussed in the big conference halls of Metros and becoming the subject matter of the panel discussion such as one on “Smart Farming-The Promise and the Problems” organized by the Business Today-DuPont Sustainability Forum in New Delhi. With 60% or more population of the country dependent or living in rural India, it deserves more attention rather mandatory coverage from media.

As reported, the new generation in farming community is getting disenchanted with this dirty arduous job. “Global estimates suggest that by 2020, we will have about 400 million people going out of farming.” Naturally, the main reason is the low earning out of farming. “For a farmer who is cultivating rice on one hectare of land, at the current minimum support prices, he gets about Rs 20,000 to Rs 30,000 per hectare. If one were to deduct the inputs costs that he incurs, then the farmer is left with barely Rs 4,000-5,000. This for an average family of 5-6 members is not sustainable.” Can science and technology reverse the trend and provide the solution to this disenchantment? Will the technology be able to drive increased productivity in a sustainable manner, and to meet the demands that the world has placed on agriculture?

Can a clear focus on working towards doubling or tripling productivity out from a specified amount of land with intelligent use of the same or less amount of inputs, energy and environmental impact yield the desired result? As the first requirement, every farmer and grower must be able to get and use the high quality seeds and the right inputs to realize its full genetic potential.
Unfortunately in present condition, most of the farmers who are generally marginal are not able to do that. Neither they have the necessary resources, nor have they been educationally prepared. Most of them even after 60 + years of Independence follow the agricultural practices inherited. Some so-called progressive ones try to copy some success story from neighbourhood coming through the words from mouths. They require some sort of handholding. The government, NGOs, hundreds of scientists and teachers in agriculture-related institutions and corporate India must come out in planned manner to improve the situation.

As reported, ITC’s paperboard division has improved the lot of some 75,000 farmers, mostly tribals, through plantations. ITC provides best samplings and all necessary input requirements. ITC is today not dependent on any forests for pulp. Is it not a real win-win story?

How do we ensure that the next generation remains attracted and retained in agriculture? Agriculture must get back the old social status ‘Uttam Kheti’ (Farming is the best). India Inc and the government are to work out a systematic strategy for that.

Technology and the best management practices along with the government support must be the core, making it challenging. Biotechnology and nano-technology must overcome yield fatigue. Schools in rural areas must cover the subject of basic agriculture: science involved, good practices for soil health, conservation of water and yield. How can the farming remain manned by people with absolutely no knowledge of the modern farming?

India has a large number of educational institutions teaching the subjects related to agriculture. Unfortunately, its interactions with the rural problems are minimal. All these institutes must evolve an integrated action plan to improve the lot of rural masses and agriculture in particular. Every institute worth name must adopt one or more villages.

Some of the higheragricultural research institutes must concentrate on agricultural fundamental researches such as need to stretch the life of plant nutrients and to produce organic manures and insecticides to replace the chemical and inorganic ones. Every farmer must be encouraged to keep a small area for experimenting the new seed, fertilizer or practice. Once the technology is known, the seeds and organic fertilizers and insecticides must get produced locally.

Some new developments* such as “conservation agriculture” must get into practice. The system involves basically the use of novel concepts: minimum or zero tillage; planting of crops on raised seedbeds; meticulous leveling of land with the use of laser technology; and improved methods of irrigation, such as drip and sprinkler irrigation.

*Some New Developments

Direct seeding of rice Unlike the traditional transplanting of saplings, paddy is directly seeded on to the field. Direct seeding cuts water usage by up to 35 per cent and reduces methane emissions by as much as 43 per cent. As claimed, direct seeding can help reduce global warming. PepsiCo is piloting and planning to introduce direct seeding across 1,000 acres in Punjab, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka this year. Rice growing techniques are undergoing major transformation.

Sulfonylurea Technology, a DuPont proprietary, is a low-use rate/ high-efficacy herbicide technology used to produce the herbicides that leave a minimal environment footprint-they are applied at rates as low as 8 gm per acre against the current industry use rate of 500-1,000 gm per acre of other herbicides for growing wheat, rice and soyabean across India.

New Breeding Technology: Molecular breeding and other advanced plant genetics tools like Quantitative Trait Loci (QTL), enable higher yield, higher disease and insect tolerance. An example is hybrid rice.Hybrid rice cultivation are now used in UP, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, and Jharkhand. It can increase yield by 15 to 20 per cent, and means thus more production using same area of land and reduced use of water, chemicals and fertilizers.

More and more of the corporate sector need to work with the farmers on the line of ITC or in a better way. And India Inc must take up the responsibility without any further delay. Very soon they will realize that this is a good business proposition too.

Farming has remained the family profession. However, the farmers must change their mindsets to take agriculture as serious business. It needs dedicated workers and must attract the best talent to help it.

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