Providing a source of livelihood to 70% of rural households, the Indian agriculture sector has grown at an average rate of 4.6% over the last six years. However, despite our country rapidly emerging as a large exporter of agricultural products, the growth rate of Indian agriculture and allied sectors has dropped to 3% in 2021-22 from 6.8% in 2016-17. While multiple factors – like fragmented landholdings, sub-optimal mechanisation, and low productivity – have impeded the growth of the sector, a slew of indicators suggest the sheen is wearing off Indian agriculture.

Additionally, there is growing uncertainty surrounding the impact of climate change on farmers’ yields. All this certainly underlines the need to address the problems impacting the country’s farmlands. This is why we need a “re-orientation” to equip India’s farmers to surmount these challenges.

Re-orientation of the Farm Land

One of the major hurdles that has held back Indian farmers is the size of their landholdings. Having halved over the past two decades, the average size of landholding in India today is at just 1.08 hectares and is significantly smaller than that of developed countries.

Smaller landholdings typically have poorer yields. But through a holistic approach, farmers can make their small landholdings work for them and maximise their productivity. This includes aggregation and creating network effects – wherein small farms jointly access credit, inputs, information, and known products. Such initiatives would aid in addressing our current issues in agriculture, as well as making agricultural businesses more income and employment oriented.

Additionally, educating farmers on how best they can utilise technology and mechanisation suitable for small landholdings would also enhance yields and boost incomes. For instance, Samadhan centers in Hyderabad and Telangana are empowering new oil palm farmers with best practices during their five-year-long gestation period, helping them achieve sustained productivity in mature gardens through the use of modern agricultural technologies and expert advice.

Re-orientation of the Technology

Farming has long been reliant upon the vagaries of the weather. With climate patterns becoming more erratic than ever, farmers have never been more at the mercy of the weather than now.

Fortunately, we’re also now in an age of technological immersion. Connected technology can revolutionise farming. New technologies like predictive analytics, AI, and IoT can enable connected agriculture. This will enable farmers to adopt resource-conserving precision farming and also be able to predict and prepare for unseasonal weather events. Additionally, countries embracing genetically engineered technology are gaining an advantage in terms of productivity and cost. Hence with 30% of cereals still under traditional varieties, it clearly indicates the urgency to increase penetration of improved seed technology to more farmers across the country.

Farm mechanisation, meanwhile, can help increase productivity through the timely and efficient use of other inputs and natural resources while reducing the cost of cultivation and the drudgery associated with various farm operations.

Re-orientation of the Education

Almost a quarter of our country’s population is aged under 15 years of age. Hence, with agricultural education playing a critical role in boosting the economy and speeding up the development process, the reorientation of agricultural higher education in the context of globalisation, food security, diversification, sustainability of ecosystems, and agribusiness is necessary. A more broad-based curriculum coupled with scientific training around new-age technologies such as biotechnology, genetic engineering, etc., can help students understand the effort, money, and resources that go into food production and make agriculture/farming a career choice.

With agriculture going out of vogue with the younger generation, getting them involved and grooming them as agricultural entrepreneurs is also crucial to the economic and social development of the country. Emphasis should be placed on practical skills and entrepreneurial capabilities among students to achieve excellence. There are already initiatives in action that aim to do just that. One such example is the Future Agricultural Leaders of India programme. In action for almost a decade and has empowered over 13,000 students, FALI has established itself as a unique, high-impact programme that makes agriculture attractive for the next generation by providing interactive learning, field visits, business plan contests, and exposure to cutting-edge agriculture and agribusiness.

In conclusion, the Indian agriculture sector has significant hurdles to overcome. But they aren’t insurmountable. A comprehensive collaborative approach, involving all stakeholders from farmers and policymakers to researchers and the private sector is the key to unlocking its full potential. This will drive India’s economic success.

(The author is the Executive Director of Godrej Agrovet Limited)

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