The agriculture sector is one of the largest employers in India with more than 265 million engaged in farming. Close to 70 per cent of rural India works in farms and depends on agriculture for livelihood. However, farm incomes have seen a steady decline in recent years with low productivity being the main contributing factor. Low productivity leads to fall in farm incomes, hampers long-term food security and affects India's potential to become a global producer and exporter of food, feed and fibre.
The need to scale up agriculture has become more acute with rising global population. By 2050, the world will have 10 billion people, with India accounting for 1.73 billion. Small farmers with limited or no access to new technologies cultivate 80 per cent of India's agricultural produce. They have to grapple with decreasing per capita farmland, depleting water reserves and climate change. Meanwhile, consumers want safe, nutritious and sustainably cultivated food.
India, with its 15 agro-climatic zones and varying cultivation practices, can benefit from advances in agritech such as digital farming. Farmers can benefit from faster, more accurate methods of monitoring plants and take better-informed decisions. With solutions like precision farming, they can ensure that each section of the farm gets the exact crop protection it needs, at the right time. This technology saves farmers' resources and ensures healthy plant growth, leading to economic and environmental benefits.
During the Green Revolution in the 1960s, India experienced how technology can redefine agriculture. In the current scenario, besides discovering new technologies, we need to look at improving awareness of and access to technologies. One technology that has immense untapped potential to enhance India's crop productivity is hybridisation. Hybrid seeds offer various benefits such as stronger biotic stress tolerance and protection against devastating pests and diseases, in-built abiotic stress tolerance, and increased resilience towards adverse growing conditions such as temporary drought, moderate salinity and flash floods. By growing hybrid rice, Indian farmers have achieved additional yield advantage of one tonne/hectare and additional income of Rs 6,000-10,000 per acre.
The use of drones also holds huge potential. Drones can be used for crop analysis and decision making regarding fertilisation and control of weeds, diseases, pests, etc. They can be used to apply crop protection chemicals. The cost of using manual power sprayers is high. It is also time and labour intensive. Drones can evenly spray crop protection chemicals and reduce cost and time. Government subsidies to farmers to secure drone application services can go a long way in enabling easy adoption.
Technology can act as a crucial enabler for sustainable agriculture by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, promoting water and soil conservation and enabling judicious use of crop protection solutions. It can also address income inequality faced by rural farming communities. With this in mind, global and local players are already developing customised agronomic solutions and digital tools tailored to meet the specific local needs of Indian farmers.
The gap between technology's promise and reality can shrink with the Indian government's support through targeted incentives. Enabling policies and industry thought leadership will pave the way for more local innovation. This can transform Indian agriculture as a strong third leg to India's growth story in addition to manufacturing and IT.
The author is CEO and Managing Director, Bayer CropScience