While India has seen some advancements in recent years and is performing well economically, the global giant — with a population of over 1.4 billion people — is still marred by large-scale malnutrition. Some reports posit that nearly 80 per cent of India’s population suffers from one form of nutritional deficiency or another. This means the nation accounts for 50 per cent of the two billion people in the world suffering from one form of micronutrient deficiency or the other.

For a nation to truly develop, issues of malnourishment need to be strictly dealt with in line with World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 2.2 which seeks to eliminate all forms of malnutrition by 2030. Children and women are the worst hit and even though the government has rolled out several problems to stem the tide of malnutrition, the problem persists. From the National Food Security Act (2013), to the National Health Mission, and the Mid-day Meal Scheme, there’s still a whole lot more to be done.

With the rise of agtech and the increasing penetration of technologies in the world of farming, there are indications that agritech might bring about succour in India’s struggle to address malnutrition in the country. Information dissemination and awareness about crop nutrition, suitability of the soil for particular crops, and role of change in the traditional crop cycles can help to better crop selection from required nutrition point of view of the nation.

Agtech and nutritional crisis

It is important to establish that malnutrition has two main factors to consider; food availability and accessibility, and food fortification. What these suggest is that malnourishment is a factor of either non-availability or inaccessibility, or the absence of nutrients in available food. Using the right technologies and applications, these issues can be addressed significantly.

First, technologies like precision agriculture can help boost productivity by ensuring that farming operations are done accurately and timely. Sowing, using crop protection and nutrition solutions and even harvesting — when done on time and with right method — can lead to increased yield and quality. This kind of farming is nutrient-sensitive which seeks to conserve soil fertility. Healthier soil often produces crops with higher nutritional value.

Furthermore, smart solutions that support precision farming help to digitise farm planning and customise the plan so that each plot is treated per its own requirement. Using Internet of Things (IoT) for data collection is also one way to give precise and accurate data and process such data for better farm planning and practices.

Another important technology that can address the nutritional crisis in India is genome technology, in the form of genetic modification. Genetically modified seeds are fortified with the right components and characteristics, which often make them high yielding, pest resistant, and drought-resistant as well, depending on the genic or transgenic composition. This is a form of biofortification which enhances the natural composition of a seed and makes it more nutritious.

Building a healthy society with agtech

There are many other ways that technology can be integrated in agriculture to enhance nutrition, including the use of digital tagging and tracing to know the type and quality of seeds and crops in an area. The Union government can target areas with greater nutritional crisis and track the outcomes based on this tracing technology. This will help to prioritise and focus actions on specific targets.

Moreover, applying tools like drones, robotics, and artificial intelligence (AI) can bolster efficiency, which will reduce errors and increase productivity on farms. With greater investment in agricultural technologies, India can better surmount its nutritional challenges and support the health and welfare of its people.

Although all above things need to accessible to the farmers in all corners of the country, which will require tremendous collective efforts. At the present times all the above things are far from the common farmers. May be working on bringing them within the reach of the farmer is the most important point on which everyone needs to focus. It is worth appreciation that how government is working on the taking the drone technology to the masses in all the states with various schemes like Drone Didi etc. Again, it is a long way to go to make this technology available to the masses.

A country like India needs a technological intervention that can help the farmers to bring a revolution at large. at a low cost.

(The author is Managing Director, Insecticides (India) Limited)