Use of technology in agriculture is normally interpreted as technologies that go into on-farm machinery. However, there are many more high-tech applications, involving various sciences, which have come into regular use in agriculture.
|Drones are used in farming for various reasons|
For example, India has a program called CHAMAN which uses satellite based remote sensing information or geo-informatics to manage crop forecasting. High tech systems, that use overhead Drones, chemistry labs and spectrograph analytics are part of agriculture and are used to manage crops and diagnose soil health. Spread your gaze wide, and you will find almost every possible form of science being applied in the field of agriculture.
The concept of more-crop-per-drop is driven by smart use of micro-irrigation & fertigation. IT systems are commonly used to maintain, monitor and communicate agricultural data, advisories that include weather information and market prices. Countering the adverse impacts of climate change is done in pockets by deploying enclosed or protected cultivation. To assist farm level productivity, various machines and implements are deployed so as to speed up the work and add efficiencies.
Hi-tech goes hand in hand with high value agriculture. Horticulture demonstrates maximum spread in the use of high-technologies. Look at the equipment used in poly-houses, poly-tunnels, green houses; sensors, actuators, logic programmes are used to automatically control the light, humidity and temperature to very fine precision levels.
To ensure that farmers will reap exactly what they sow, hi-tech nurseries and TC labs are becoming the source of many fruit and vegetable planting material. Technology like RIFD or bar-coding can also be used in building traceability in planting material by tagging each seedling, plant or packet. Lack of high technology support in agriculture can lead to major mismanagement which can in turn result in total loss, rot or very poor productivity.
Obviously all this technology has to bring about sustainability, productivity and socio-economic benefits. In other words, technology uses are worthwhile only if used in the right or appropriate context. In case of India, most appropriate context for using technology is obvious. We witness depleting resources in form of availability of water and arable land, urbanisation has effected manpower availability, economic growth still needs to be more inclusive, and a large percent of what we produce is lost as dump, before it can ever reach consumers.
If we are to agree with some commonly stated figures, that 25-40% of what is harvested is lost to inefficiencies, then the most urgent requirement of hi-tech science is for the safe custody of what we produce, from farm-to-consumers. Technologists must aim to bring about a transformational change - that farm produce must be brought to gainful end use and thereby reduce wastage. Such wastage is deplorable and an utter loss. This is not waste in the hands of consumers, but loss due to ineffective transfer of value produced to demand.
Wastage is not because we always produce surplus, but also because we are unable to bridge demand with supply. For example we recently learnt that tomatoes were thrown in Karnataka while Delhi faced an acute shortage. In this context, it is mandated that the majority of investment should be in technologies that develop modern agricultural markets and scientific agri-logistics.
Since the majority of the high value produce is perishable, the use of advanced technologies in post-harvest management or cold-chain. is imperative. In India, cold-chain management systems are considered a thrust area, key to the second green revolution - which will be an Income Revolution for Farmers.
Post-harvest management allows for value that was harvested by farmers, to be directly connected to multiple consumers. When fresh food reaches more consumers, and this happens without any intermediary change of custody or undergoing transformative processing, then we can truly say that technology has linked the farmer directly or seamlessly with the consumer. This is what India needs to aim for, both for the well-being of its farmers and to provide better quality fresh foods for greater public good
Good care and handling of what is produced in agriculture, also mitigates many harmful environmental impacts. In fact, the carbon sequestration that happens from agriculture is wasted when we allow the fresh harvest to be wasted.
By focusing on linking farmers fresh harvest to markets, we promote improved public health, environmental safeguards and are able to extract the most value from farming. Where needed or unavoidable, we can also use food processing technologies that convert the fresh produce into a processed product so as to optimise on what is left of the field harvest. Another optimising step would be non-food processing of inedible waste.
However, at ground level, one of the bottlenecks for adopting technology is the initial cost, especially when the innovation is new. These costs are in terms of the capital cost as well as the human capital needed to apply and integrate the technology.
The government recognises this and the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare supports every aspect of modern technology. Including farm mechanisation, it promotes protected cultivation, precision farming, micro-irrigation, soil health, alternate energy applications, complete cold-chain, street vending carts and retail units across the entire agricultural production to marketing phases. Even new innovation and capacity building is supported where it is considered to be beneficial for the farming community.
The reader is asked to visualise a modern farm, it is producing off-season crops by manipulating the surrounding climate, it uses targeted and natural supplements for the soil, has captive bees and bio-pesticides to aid productivity, has areas using aero-ponics, hydro-ponics or vertical farms to grow specialised crops, and is controlling the marketable life span of the produce. Such a farm would reutilise the post-harvest handling waste by converting it into new food products or for non-food uses, shares logistics connection with urban clusters hundreds of miles away, is recharging aquifers in the monsoon sand does not use sunlight only for photosynthesis but for all its other energy needs while monitoring all this online on a webpage – this is one of the many possibilities in the hi-tech future of agriculture.
The future of farming is far reaching - we see the advent of 3D printing of food items, hybrid plants and animals, underwater farms, floating farms, even experiments to produce vegetables on other planets. But we also see agriculture having taken the back-seat in the last half century. It is a must to reiterate, that for the next decade, any use of high level technology should have a focused approach for the inclusion and the betterment of farmers, while protecting our bio-diversity and nutrition security.
Think of hi-tech agriculture as that which helps us make the most of our natural resources, which helps counter climate change, safeguards the value produced, enhances the farmer’s income and that which makes our civilization sustainable and stronger.