India is known as the land of agriculture, with a holding of nearly 157 million hectares of cultivable land, making our country the second-largest agricultural landholder in the world. With over 58% of the country’s population depending on agriculture for earning livelihood, it is also the biggest employment avenue in the country.
The Indian Green Revolution is regarded as one of the greatest achievements of the 20th century, which was adopted on a large-scale, benefiting small, medium and large sized farms. While the Green Revolution took the agricultural industry by storm, leading to a dramatic increase in production, the momentum of improvement has declined over the last couple of years.
Our biggest concern is that while India is primarily an agrarian economy, it hasn’t attained its rightful capacity. Blessed with favourable combination of land, water and sunshine, India fulfils the key requirements of food and fodder; however, it lags other countries in terms of agriculture richness. Over the years, poor utilisation of critical aspects such as land, water, seeds, fertiliser and energy has diminished the actual potential, making us dependent on global markets for domestic sustainability.
The agricultural sector is facing issues such as burgeoning population, shrinking resources of land, water, unavailability of quality agro products, shrinking skilled workforce, low penetration of technological innovations and high post-harvest productivity loss. There is an urgent need to modernise farming technologies and to upgrade human resource skills. The sector is at the risk of losing 4 million workers to the tertiary sector in the next couple of years, which has necessitated the sector to embrace farm mechanisation.
Farm mechanisation implies the use of various power sources and improved farm tools and equipment, with a view to reduce the drudgery of human beings and draught animals, enhance the cropping intensity, precision and timelines of efficiency of utilisation of various crop inputs, and reduce the losses at different stages of crop production. The end-objective of farm mechanisation is to enhance the overall productivity.
I believe that today the Indian agriculture sector needs a fresh injection of pioneering agro technologies and enhanced farm mechanisation to tide over labour and farm produce loss. I also believe it is time for us to effectively promote ‘frugal innovation’ and leverage our resources. When I say frugal innovation, I mean affordability in the Indian context, where innovation is about solving a customer’s/society’s needs for sustainable growth, through the most appropriate technology. In a price-conscious market such as India, it is critical to take cognisance of both the capital cost as well as the operating cost, thereafter. In a country where mechanisation is still a luxury in most regions, one needs to understand the requirement for an appropriate and affordable technology, rather than providing global technologies, which may not even be relevant in the local context.
As there is shortage of farm labour, the need for greater mechanisation arises. As you move to more mechanisation, such as use of rotavator, higher HP tractors play a vital role for the implements to work more effectively. Once farmers start experiencing new implements, they will see benefits such as higher productivity. While this movement towards mechanisation has begun, it needs to increase manifold. We have seen a shift towards the use of implements in the past 2-3 years but we have a long way to go.
Utilisation of new-age farm mechanisation techniques helps broaden the scope of operations such as multiple cropping, higher cultivable opportunities, greater harvest, fertility, growth of tertiary industries, among others. Also, mechanisation leads to increase in the human labour employment for the on-farm and off-farm activities, as a result of manufacture, repair, servicing and sales of tractors and farm equipment.
With companies like ours exploring various avenues to improve the sector, the government is also propagating farm mechanisation to farmers across various land holdings through initiatives such as National Mission on Agricultural Extension and Technology. Industry bodies such as the CII play a crucial role in providing a platform for all key stakeholders to assemble and take a joint action for the progress of the sector. For example, CII Agro Tech 2014 that was held recently was one such effort that can help attract higher investments in agriculture and related sectors. Now a concentrated effort through a joint PPP is the need of the hour for a brighter future of agriculture industry.
The author is chairman, CII Agro Tech 2014, and executive director, Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd