At various levels, India’s farm sector is increasingly embracing technology, and industry is coveting after the enormous potential for tech-driven initiatives that could change the agricultural sector in a couple of decades.
Aside from technology penetration in the Indian agriculture sector is occurring at multiple levels, including policy implementation, digital inventions, and biotechnology. In June, Bain & Company estimated that by 2025, agri-logistics, offtake, and agri-input delivery will generate $30-35 billion in valuation.
Several agri-tech companies are working on a variety of smart solutions to problems that farmers face on a daily basis. Drones and precision farming techniques, for example, are assisting farmers at all stages, from seed treatment to sowing, crop protection and nutrition, cultivation and harvest, and linking them to non-traditional Agri markets.
The use of geographic information system (GIS) maps, satellite data for weather prediction, and new pesticide spraying methods are also on the rise.
According to AgFunder, a foodtech and agritech venture capital firm based in the United States, investments in agrifood startups will total $1.1 billion in the fiscal year 2020.
As per Ram Kaundinya, director-general of the Federation of Seed Industry of India (FSII), technology can help agriculture make a significant leap in the next 25 years compared to what it has been able to achieve in the previous half-century. ‘Technology has the potential to make farmers’ lives easier, more predictable, and profitable, while also increasing food production.’
Apart from digital technology, which has made some progress, agricultural biotechnology is still in its early stages. Agriculture research scientists working on genetic engineering and molecular diagnostics see enormous potential in biotechnology’s lab-to-field application.
Advances in genome sequencing and other technologies, according to Rajeev K Varshney, research program director (accelerated crop improvement) at the International Crops Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics(ICRISAT), have made it possible to identify genes for agronomic traits. ‘As a result, a variety of biotechnology approaches, such as genomics-assisted breeding, genetic engineering, and gene editing, can be used to develop crop varieties with improved tolerance to biotic and abiotic stresses, as well as improved nutrition.’
Experts are placing large bets on these technologies to increase crop yield, increase production stability, make crops resistant to pests and environmental changes, and improve post-harvest shelf life.
Varshney’s team, in collaboration with other research institutes, developed several drought-tolerant and disease-resistant chickpea varieties through genomics-assisted breeding, yielding 15-28 percent more in pilot studies.
South Asia Biotechnology Centre’s founder-director, Bhagirath Choudhary, sees edible oil as one area where GM crops can help the country reduce its deficit. ‘We use 22-23 million tonnes of edible oil per year, with 15 million tonnes imported. Import dependency can be reduced by increasing soybean, sunflower, and mustard seed production through biotechnology.’ He wonders why the government has no qualms about importing edible oil, which is mostly sourced from GM crops, but it is not encouraged among Indian farmers.
Although most agricultural experts are optimistic about the widespread adoption of technology, their optimism comes with a condition. They see policy support and clearing regulatory stumbling blocks as critical to moving forward.