In the last 50 years, the agricultural sector has witnessed a remarkable technological transformation. The green revolution, which was characterised by intense contemporary agricultural methods, high-yielding variety (HYV) seeds, and fertilisers remains the most notable phase in Indian agriculture.

In fact, governments all over the world have been pushing for technological interventions for a long time to help farms make more food, keep more water, and achieve their goals for sustainable farming.

Indian farmers largely rely on cash cultivation and have widely adopted chemical fertilisers and pesticides in practice since the green revolution. The 1990s saw innovations in agro-processing and biotechnology. Farmers have also increasingly started to replace their traditional harvesting methods with tractors to reduce cost and time.

Though agriculture has been the backbone of the Indian economy, there weren’t many technological innovations until recently. Consequently, the overuse of chemicals over the years has led to poor soil health and reduced farm output.

It was only in the late 2000s that Indian farmers saw a new method called “protective farming,” which not only ensured soil and water retention but also helped farmers gain high yields.

Today, agtech companies are increasingly focusing on offering technological interventions to help farmers increase their productivity. Agtech solutions combined with sustainable farming practices will further help farmers retain soil health without compromising on their output.

Achieving agri sustainability via technology

The availability of technology to farmers in India is primarily motivated by the need to increase production, profit, and productivity. However, significant restrictions include a lack of funding, technological know-how, and market concerns. To compete on a global scale, farmers must have easy access to cutting-edge technologies.

Farm equipment’s scale, speed, and productivity have increased as technology has advanced, allowing for the efficient cultivation of large areas. Farmers are integrating innovation to reduce planting and harvesting hours while increasing farm yields.

Artificial intelligence, analytics, connected sensors, and other types of technology can help farmers keep their crops resilient and promote sustainable practices. Moreover, the use of technologies like drones, data science, and IoT further helps farmers increase their yield.

Simultaneously, they can also rely on other sustainable farming practices. For instance, protective farming products like Mulch Film, Crop Cover, Crop Support Net, Agri Wire, Shade Nets, Insect Nets, and Agri Threads ensure high-quality produce without compromising soil health.

Rise of agtech start-ups

The rise of agtech has transformed the agricultural sector by improving efficiencies, knowledge, and connections, and making a variety of critical and supporting activities available at the touch of a button. Similarly, technical advancements have resulted in tremendous growth in the Indian agriculture sector.

The Indian agriculture sector, according to Inc42, will grow to $24 billion by 2025. Similarly, the global market is expected to grow at an 11.1 per cent CAGR to $12,541.15 billion in 2022 from $11,287.56 billion in 2021.

The agricultural sector has seen several technical breakthroughs, from the advent of tractors in the 1960s to the current AI-driven farming methods. Drones are also being employed in a variety of applications. In short, smart and modern farming methods are paving the way for a better future.

Notably, India has approximately 1,300 agtech start-ups offering a diverse variety of solutions, ranging from computerised soil maps to tech-powered indoor farms. While many businesses focus on AI-driven solutions, others believe in precision farming and protective agricultural solutions.

All of these approaches and procedures, however, attempt to produce sustainable agriculture without jeopardising the already compromised soil health.

Many agtech companies have launched their own mobile apps that provide reliable information about meteorological conditions, rain, and potential droughts. This enables farmers to make informed sowing decisions and thereby minimise financial loss.

These apps also offer a variety of other useful features, such as information about various crops, farming methods, global agricultural news, and much more.

Increasing awareness

Markets and customers have become more concerned about food safety, sanitary food preparation, and the use of sustainable farming practices in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. Food traceability, for example, is becoming increasingly popular.

Customers can discover more about the crop’s history from pre-harvest to the market shelf by learning more about when, where, and who produced it. Technologies open doors and reassure farmers about the benefits of adopting sustainable practices.

Agtechs are pioneers in training farmers about various farming practices such as precision farming, protective farming, equipment knowledge, and so on. But it is important for the public and private sectors to work together to spread the word about technical advances that can help farmers achieve their long-term goals.

Government initiatives

The Indian government created a digital agricultural mission for projects based on new technologies such as artificial intelligence, remote sensing and GIS technology, blockchain, drones, and robotics, among others, for the years 2021–2025.

In addition, the government has developed a variety of schemes and projects to encourage the adoption of technology in the agricultural sector in order to achieve sustainable farming methods.

For example, the government developed the National Agriculture Market (eNAM), a pan-Indian electronic trading platform that connects the current APMC mandis to create a unified national market for agricultural goods.

The government set up the National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture (NMSA) to focus on integrated farming, water retention, soil health management, and resource synergy to increase agricultural output, especially in rainfed areas.

Other programmes for farmers include e-sagu, Community Radio, Digital Green, Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana (PMKSY), Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana (PKVY), Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY), and Gramin Bhandaran Yojana.

The way forward

Without sustainable strategies to increase farm production efficiency, the supply-demand gap would widen further. Also, the major environmental challenges should not be overlooked. Agtech start-ups are in an excellent position to equip them with the best technological solutions and farming practices.

It is the responsibility of both the private and government sectors to ensure that farmers do not lag in the fourth industrial revolution. Strong digital infrastructure is critical for uplifting the lives of farmers in India.

For example, India became the largest exporter of bananas through technology after lagging in the international market just a decade ago, thanks to technological interventions. So, ensuring the growth of farmers along with the evolution of innovation is the need of the hour.

(The author is founder, GrowiT India Pvt Ltd)