Agriculture has often been considered an essential component in India’s quest to become a fully industrialised and developed nation. After all, it contributes around 18 per cent of the nation’s GDP and provides livelihood for more than 55 per cent of the nation’s population, according to available data. From milk to cereals, fruits and vegetables, the country ranks top in the world for volume of production for many agricultural products.

With exports exceeding $40.9 billion in 2023 and an overall agri market size ranging between $350 and $500 billion, according to available data, India’s agricultural sector is on its way to become the food basket of the world. However, this will require investing in innovation and technology to enhance capacity and productivity towards achieving future targets.

As 2024 comes into full glare, there are great expectations from players in the sector for increased adoption of agro innovation through significant budgetary considerations. Operators in the agricultural sector are looking forward to a promising year as far as agro innovation is concerned. From artificial intelligence (AI) to machine learning (ML), robotics, and automation, there’s a long list of technologies that are expected to shape India’s farming sector in 2024 and following years.

Breakthroughs to look out for

One of the most disruptive technologies that will drive farming in 2024 is automation. Kisan drones, one of the fast-rising unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) used in the agricultural sector, will become even more widespread in India. Kisan drones are going to be the important tools for crop protection, which are used to spray crop protection products the crops to protect the crops from insect, pests and diseases and ensure productivity.

In the same vein, Kisan drones have been identified by the Indian government as important components in the nation’s Agriculture 4.0 vision. Most of them come with a 15 litre payload and a 30-minute flight time; enough to spray over certain portions of the farm, assist with pollination, and also help with surveillance. Thankfully, there are a couple of programmes initiated by the government that support the proliferation of drones across farms in the country.

Using several programmes, including the Kisan Drone Yatra and Kisan Drone Yojana, the Indian government is providing a number of subsidies and interventions. On one hand, women small holder groups are provided the drones for them to sell to local farmers at subsidised rates. On the other hand, the government provides grants which cover 75 per cent of the cost of each drone to small holding farmers, making accessibility to such technologies possible for small and marginal farmers.

The move towards precision farming will also see a boost in 2024. This means increased deployment of remote sensing, global positioning systems (GPS), geographic information system (GIS), and data collection to support site-specific crop management. Where in-field variability occurs, this can also be spotted easily and addressed. Precision farming also allows farmers to vary the number of seeds they plant and the amount of fertiliser spread by a square meter, for instance.

Aerial imaging, biotechnology, convergence with internet of things (IoT), and RFID technology are other technological tools that will become more commonplace within the agricultural space in India. While these technologies may seem out of the reach of poor, local farmers, provision can be made to promote schemes like cross-subsidy. Furthermore, there is a need to enhance extension services to include agro innovation training, so that farmers are also taught how to use emerging technologies.

Other innovations to expect

The hope of many farmers in India is that the Union Government will give more attention to agriculture in the forthcoming budget. This will go a long way to support research & development which can help boost productivity. While that is underway, innovations like vertical farming and regenerative agriculture should drive the farming sector in 2024. A good example of regenerative agriculture is when farmer plants cover crops during the fallow period, as this will help to protect the soil and restore its fertility.

Building a better, prosperous ecosystem

From the governments at all levels to farmers, investors, agritech entrepreneurs, and other relevant bodies, there’s a need to collaborate effectively towards ensuring increased penetration of the technologies and innovations discussed in this post. The journey to food security depends on it. The government needs special initiates to provide incentives, support, and education to local farmers who must be willing to learn and accept modern ways of doing things, while techpreneurs must continually innovate to provide the best tools for India’s farming sector. At the same time looking at the current situations, reaching this technology to the last farmer will take some time may be years, but the starting steps are most important to set the tone towards a better agriculture.

The author is Managing Director, Insecticides (India)