Paving the way for agricultural progress

Agriculture experts in both the private and government sectors must be incentivised to help train local Indian farmers to use new technologies, according to Vasanta Madhavi, deputy general manager at Origo Commodities India.

Agriculture experts in both the private and government sectors must be incentivised to help train local Indian farmers to use new technologies and increase production, writes Vasanta Madhavi, deputy general manager at Origo Commodities India, a post-harvest management company.

In India, farmers represent the majority of the population; rural lands and villages form the majority of our land area; and agricultural output, i.e. food, is essential to our lifestyle. But are we failing to roll out technological advances to our farmers?

It’s not a bad idea to combine the two areas or technology and agriculture to synergise development. Countries like the US, Japan, Germany and the UK are using the latest technologies to give their farmers the best means to cultivate their lands. Separate tranches of land are exclusively assigned to raising livestock and farmlands. Machines, tools and gadgets are subsidised by local governments or provided at easy terms to the farmers. And this culminates in farmers abroad earning at least 10 times more than farmers in India.

A farmer in Kentucky makes the hefty sum of $40,000 per year, sends his children to graduate schools and assures his spouse of a pension for life. A farmer in Bhimli makes Rs40,000 ($643) per year, sends his children to factories and spends the rest of his life devising ways to relieve his debt burden.

Oranges, bananas and grapes are making farmers in the orchards of Brazil, Peru and Argentina richer than before. But rice, wheat and corn in India are not doing the same for Indian farmers.

The reason lies neither in the literacy levels nor in the development levels of country. India is a developing country and offers a lot of scope to foreign investors. They are not investing in agriculture because they cannot find the right investment channel.

If foreign direct investment is routed in the latest equipment, agricultural stalwarts can take to rural routes to help farmers raise healthy crops at higher yields. Crops in India yield less than 50 percent of the expected yield, when taking into account damaged crops, weeds, wastage and deteriorating soil, water and fertiliser availability.

The fault lies not in poverty, but in application. There are farmer-friendly schemes all over the world – India, Africa, the US and Russia. In India, the farmers get more help from collective organisations like farmer producer organisations (FPOs) than on their own as individuals. In the US, the farmers get individual as well as collective help from financial institutions and partnerships like Farm to Institution New York State,

Next, farmers know their work well. Technology should be used to improve the agricultural results by applying it directly in the fields. It’s important in soil-testing, field-nourishment, irrigation, cultivation, harvesting, warehousing, financing solutions, price-discovery, packing and sale of agricultural commodities.

But understanding among the Indian farming community is limited. While technology that provides farmland data from satellite images is available, Indian farmers do not know how to use it.

Agricultural experts need to be incentivised to go into the fields to help farmers understand the importance of pesticides, irrigation, how to use equipment and more.

The government could step into consultants’ shoes and enable experts to go to the rescue of farmers. Institutions like the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (majority-owned by the government) could be deploying their representatives on fields to understand farmers’ needs. The government could subsidise the import of agricultural machinery for farmers.

They can then redirect financial institutions to aid farmers or bail them out of penny-pinching situations. Investors can then look more for value-enrichment than returns. Increasing profits for farmers will then feed into the entire agri value chain and consumer markets.

Technology is an equal intervention in the life cycles of farmers and non-farmers alike. Farmers are enriched as they contribute to national development by improving the health of consumers whose prosperity in turn drives that of farmers, wholesalers and processors. All the components in the ecosystem contribute to national development and farmer is a key component of it.

A short-term plan for the next three years is to create farmer groups in villages to be guided by at least one technologist who can provide the best machinery for maximum crop yield, to be sold later to ensure good incomes for farmer family households.

Farmers should get interest-free loans, to be recovered from their profits over five year tenures.

Farmers’ produce cannot find the best route to market if the distributors and buyers do not contribute for giving the best logistics solution, which they can do only if they get the best quality output from the farmers at the right time.

The standard of living of all those concerned in the value-chain (end-consumers, sellers, suppliers, distributors, wholesalers, retailers, advertisers, financers, insurers, manufacturers, processors, researchers) can be elevated with that of farmers’. Agriculture is the grassroots level and our solutions should start there.