Agricultural sector is a lucrative field for investors and budding entrepreneurs. There is a huge potential for technological innovations and startups as the farmers are facing lots of problem such as lack of labourers, unavailability of water, inability to access fair market apart from other problems. India is either first or second in the world in terms of overall production of many agricultural commodities, but it is very much behind in terms of productivity, that is the yield per unit input.
Earlier this year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had expressed his desire to double the farmer’s income by 2022 which was followed up by a series of announcements by Ministry of Agriculture and Farmer’s Welfare. This has evoked interest among many stakeholders- the farming community, scientists, entrepreneurs and economists.
a) Precision farming
Precision farming refers to application of precise amount of inputs such as water, fertilizers, pesticides, at correct time to the crops for increasing productivity and maximizing yields. The key technologies used are Remote Sensing and GIS, mechanisation, Hi-tech nursery, drip irrigation and fertigation, etc. The most important component in taking precision farming forward is creating a huge resource of engineers, scientists and agriculturists to develop various components of this technology.
b) Smart machines for agriculture
A new class of machines called ‘smart machines’ are being developed by scientists of ICAR and various state agricultural universities. ‘Smart machines’ operate with greater precision, less efforts, developed to perform specific operations and are mostly remote operated. Coconut tree climbing robot, seeding machines, precision dusters and electrostatic sprayers, handheld equipment for maturity determination of fruits and precision land levellers are some examples of such ‘smart machines’.
Nanotechnology devices and tools, like nanocapsules, nanoparticles and viral capsids, are used for the detection and treatment of diseases, the enhancement of nutrients absorption by plants, the delivery of active ingredients to specific sites and water treatment processes. The use of target-specific nanoparticles reduces the damage caused to non-target plant tissues and the amount of chemicals released into the environment.
d) Post Harvest Technologies
Agricultural crops are predominantly perishable in nature. Once they are harvested, it has to be cleaned, sorted, stored, processed, packed and transported. Storage technologies such as cold storage and machineries for cleaning, sorting and processing crops right at the farm have been developed. Importance of Post-harvest technology lies in the fact that it has the capability to meet food requirement of growing population by eliminating avoidable losses, making more nutritive longer shelf life food items from low grade raw commodity by proper processing and fortification and creating rural industries thus supplementing the farmers and the villagers.
The role of Startups
The hurdles for agritech startups are many. The sector is highly unorganized and fragmented. Farming in India is a family run business which involves traditional methods and techniques. Farmers take time to adapt to new technologies and processes. Moreover the entrepreneurs come from various backgrounds. They genrally don’t understand the ground situation and they fail to judge the market and build suitable products.
Many agritech startups in India are mainly in marketplace segment where e-commerce companies provide fresh and organic fruits and vegetables procured directly from farmers. Very recently many startups have come up providing innovative and sustainable solutions for farmer’s problems. Startups have provided solutions such as biogas plants, solar powered cold storage, fencing and water pumping, weather prediction, spraying machines, seed drills, vertical farming, etc.
In India, land holding size is just about 1.16 ha per farmer. The small and marginal farmers hold about 44% of the total cultivable land and their role in agricultural production is very important and indispensable. To tackle the absence of labourers and to enhance productivity, mechanization of farm operations is the only solution. But, the small and marginal farmer’s can’t afford the high end and expensive mechanization options. Moreover, farm machinery which run on fossil fuel is generally heavy which when used compacts the soil and makes it unproductive.
Entrepreneurs can come up with renewable power (solar and biomass) based machines for all operations such as tilling, sowing, spraying, weeding, harvesting. Also they must be both light-weight as well as affordable for small farmers. Also they can establish farm machinery leasing enterprises in rural areas which can also provide trained manpower for operating them.
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Smart and sustainable innovations indeed are the only way in which we can increase the productivity and the income of the farmers.