Today’s India is very different from what it was, say, three years ago. Slowly but steadily, we have embraced advancement in technologies, and it is heartening to see the penetration of internet and smartphones in smaller towns and villages of the country, empowering people to be connected to the world. At the same time, it is encouraging to see the initiatives by the central government that have brought unprecedented growth in several industries by promoting all-round development, especially through technological and digital platforms. Innovation has continuously been encouraged to bring revolution in telecom, mobile and internet segments that have changed the way we communicate and consume information today. This success is replicated by Indian researchers in various fields including IT, medicine and space research. However, the big gap that exists is the fact that, in agriculture, the pace of innovation has been slow, despite it being the biggest sector of our economy.
According to a report by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), India needs to invest more in R&D to improve food productivity. It further states that while India’s investment in agricultural research is the highest within South Asia, it continues to be 3-4 times less than countries like Brazil and China. Hence, it is imperative that India invests at least 3-4 times more than what it is currently investing in agricultural research, especially key farm inputs such as seed innovation and irrigation, to bolster the required agricultural growth. The situation is worsened due to our selective nature in bringing and recommending innovation to the sector. Despite having a robust infrastructure of public, private and PPP research institutes in agriculture, the growth and outcome is limited. This can be transformed if the sector is supported with more investment in research and an encouraging policy environment.
Over the last few years, there have been several innovators and enterprises from the country who have developed ground-breaking technologies to address various farm challenges. However, unless we adopt an integrated approach towards farming, the sector cannot be made profitable in a sustained manner. This includes investment and innovation in various aspects of agricultural chain including farm mechanisation, seeds, Big Data Analytics, irrigation and precision agriculture. While being selective, we have a favourable policy environment for ICT, Internet of Things (IoT) and Artificial Intelligence (AI), but uncertain policy environment for agriculture biotechnology. This poses the biggest challenge in encouraging investments in the sector to find sustainable solutions to agricultural challenges.
With increasing challenges of evolved pests, diseases, reducing natural resources, climate change, rising population, investment in innovation in agriculture cannot be ignored any more. According to a report by the scientific journal PLOS ONE, crop losses due to pests and diseases are a major threat to incomes of rural families and to food security worldwide. The report also estimates yield loss due to pests and diseases at 24-41% in rice in Asia, 5-96% in potatoes in France, and up to 100% in cotton in Thailand. Countries, both developed and developing, are increasingly emphasising on investment in new farm technologies to overcome issues of productivity. It is time for India to pay heed to these warnings and improve its policies towards research and development of sustainable innovations. As a leading agrarian nation, we cannot afford to be selective in innovations and provide the freedom of choice to our farmers.
Given our rich farming experience and expertise, coupled with the central government’s focus on improving farmers lives, we must not shy away from the dream of becoming an agrarian superpower. This will be possible only by bringing new and improved innovations in the sector. India needs a supportive policy for innovation in agriculture, and encourage public and private sectors to bring new farm innovations regularly that will help our farmers access advanced technologies and uplift the confidence of our research community.