Agriculture in India has changed rapidly over the last two decades. With increasing fragmentation of land holding, small holder farmers (those owning less than 2.0 ha of farmland) now comprise nearly 80 percent of the country's farmers. Consequently, India's nutritional security now rests with the productivity that comes from these small-sized farms. In other words, more productivity, higher economic returns with nutritious food from the small holder farmer is the need of the hour, and vegetable farming presents a great promise combined with innovative solutions and a technology-based approach.
The Economic Survey 2019 tabled in the parliament has stated that adoption of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) should be the ‘backbone of small holder farming in India’ adding that the spread of mobile phones in rural areas has already impacted the way small and marginal farmers get access to information on soil health, weather and prices. It further said the adoption of ICT in agriculture would promote market access, facilitate financial inclusion, and contribute significantly to early warning signals that are critical to the development of small holder communities.
Increasing population awareness to consume more vegetables to meet diverse dietary requirements and nutritional needs has raised the demand for vegetables significantly. As against general nutrition guidelines recommending average per capita consumption of 110 kg of vegetables per annum, the production in the country is adequate at the per-capita level of around 140 kg per annum. However, there is still a relative shortfall of vegetables in meeting the required nutritional needs of the population due to mismanagement at various levels. Because of the inherently perishable nature of the produce, around 30 percent of vegetables perish during harvesting, storage, grading, transportation, packaging, and distribution.
Estimates indicate that India would require around a 35 percent increase in the production of vegetables over the next five years. This shortfall can be addressed by productivity augmentation driven by higher adoption of hybrid seeds in the cultivation of vegetable crops, innovation, and technology-based approaches.
With innovation as its center, "Precision Agriculture" is fast taking center stage with the underlying theme of integration of information to create management knowledge as a means to address site-specific production goals. Responsible companies are supporting sustainable vegetable growing practices such as integrated pest management, cropping sequence methods to maximize productivity through improved agronomic practices such as drip irrigation, mulching, staking, net-house, phytosanitation, plant health, and alternative crops.
Scalable interventions are on the anvil from start-ups in creating models using real-time information on the farm, farmer, and crop to enable access to farmers
Agritech, combined with geographical location devices and remote sensing advancements, promises to change the way crops will be managed. There is already significant work happening on the use of satellites in capturing images and crop information across farmlands, feeding it back for analysis, and providing actionable intelligence to the farmers. These developments lead to increasing business opportunities in Agritech, and there are already early signs of it. NASSCOM, in its report released in November 2019, estimated investments in Indian Agritech at $ 248 million until July 2019. B2B platforms are emerging as an essential disruptive practice in the agriculture industry, with a particular focus on supply chain efficiency. Scalable interventions are on the anvil from start-ups in creating models using real-time information on the farm, farmer, and crop to enable access to farmers. Even more significant issues such as non-availability of labor or an increase in labor costs are being addressed by tech-based mobile applications.
Technology and innovation will be essential to agricultural productivity and stability; however, the key will be to train the small holder farmers by sharing the knowledge and skills needed to improve their productivity. This can be done by implementing practical training sessions and support field demonstrations highlighting profitable and sustainable production practices.
By offering small holder farmers quality vegetable seeds combined with knowledge, training, and technology to grow and harvest them correctly, we can make more varieties of more nutritious food available to more people than ever before. This will contribute to better economic returns for the farmer, better food for the consumer, and put us on the path of ensuring food security for the future.