How Digital Innovation is Changing Agriculture in India

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India is a place of paradoxes in terms of agriculture. In addition to producing 11% of the world’s agricultural output, it is home to the greatest number of malnourished people. About half of all Indians are employed in agriculture, the majority of them are smallholder farmers. Although medium- and large-scale farmers receive the majority of government agricultural subsidies. Smallholder farmers in India have experienced marginalisation in tandem with the country’s amazing achievements in modernising agriculture. Over 300,000 Indian farmers have taken their own lives since 1995. Additionally, the average family debt of farmers with Tractor has increased fivefold in the last ten years. 


Since Indian agriculture is so complex, no single policy change or technological advancement will help the nation achieve its dual objectives of increasing smallholder farmers’ income and bolstering Indian agriculture’s competitiveness. However, the global agricultural digital transformation offers some hope for progress. In this article, four prominent figures in Indian agriculture share their thoughts on the subject. These farmers go on a search for the Tractor Tyre price. They present observations that demonstrate basic shifts in the industry’s composition and pose concerns about whether smallholder farmers would gain from digital innovation at the same rate as larger farmers.


Income Revolution


India is moving toward an “income revolution” in the agriculture sector, according to Ashok Dalwai, CEO of the National Rainfed Area Authority for the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare, Government of India, and former chair of the Committee on Doubling Farmers’ Income. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Purvi Mehta, head of agriculture for Asia, describes how advancements in digital technology are helping smallholder farmers earn more money. The chairman of EM3 AgriServices, Rohtash Mal, goes into detail regarding the difficulties and concerns of how these technologies would be monetised in order to affect smallholders. The managing director of Jain Irrigation, Anil Jain, talks about how physical infrastructure and digital innovation must work together.


Using digital innovation in the income revolution


In addition to being the CEO of the National Rainfed Area Authority, Ashok Dalwai is an agricultural economist and the additional secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture, Cooperation, and Farmers’ Welfare. He is currently working on putting the ideas into practice. He presided over the group that presented the government with a report on doubling farmers’ incomes.


However, productivity is not overlooked in this shift in the focus of the income revolution from farmers’ income to production. Increased productivity frees up area and resources that can be allocated to cattle and higher-value crops like fruits and vegetables. In addition to lower production costs and increased productivity, successful farm produce monetisation is also necessary. Digital innovation is facilitating important changes in this revolution. India has made it abundantly evident that digital technology is the way of the future.


For instance, we are changing the extension system to incorporate information and communication technology (ICT) into our labour-based system. Manpower extension needs to be enhanced since, while it was a strong system in the 1980s and 1990s, it is currently weak. We can reduce the cost of the extension system and increase its effectiveness and efficiency by using ICTs wisely.


We are also utilising digital advancements to enhance our market-driven crop insurance program. Drone technology, geotagging, and satellite data are being used to confirm crop-cutting tests and enhance intelligence regarding the insured region. Experiments on crop cutting were once done by hand. The reliability of the data has increased significantly for the insurance company as a result of the use of geotagging and imagery in the data construction process. Similar to this, drone technology and satellite imagery are being used to resolve land disputes. The use of digital tools is improving data dependability and streamlining and expediting crop insurance settlement.


Marketing in Agricultural Produce Market Committee


Another significant structural flaw being addressed by digital innovation in India is marketing. Agricultural Produce Market Committees, or APMCs, were organised wholesale markets that were inaccessible to marginal farmers who produced small lots without the help of middlemen in the 1960s. In the fifty years since the APMC was established, we have observed that the commission agents and dealers inside a given APMC have formed cartels and monopolistic activities, depriving the farmers of the advantages of transparent pricing.


We are currently building a new market architecture that will include a base of retail agriculture marketplaces (five to six kilometres from the farm gate), which will supply the APMCs (wholesale market intermediaries) and connect to export markets. However, integration of these markets is more significant than expanding their direct reach. With the use of electronics, we are able to integrate these geographically separated APMCs electronically. The physically separated markets are integrated into the Electronic National Agriculture Market, or eNAM (see box); as a result, more participants participate, and traders start openly bidding on produce lots. 


Numerous digital technologies have already reached a large scale. When we discuss scaling up in a country of 1.3 billion people, where 48% of the population is employed in agriculture, we mean being able to reach 200 million farmers in two or three years. 


For instance, India currently has one of the largest soil health management programs of any nation on the planet. Nowadays, every farmer in the nation receives an advisory on their nutrient status after their soil is tested on 12 different characteristics once every few years. These parameters include all macronutrients, micronutrients, secondary nutrients, physical qualities, and chemical properties. Today, we anticipate utilising a wide range of digital technologies in preproduction, production, and postproduction.


Infrastructure shift from production-to-market-centric


Purvi Mehta, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s head of agriculture for Asia, has been in charge of growing the organisation’s agricultural program, which aims to empower women, improve nutrition, and increase the incomes of smallholder farmers in India.


Purvi Mehta: India’s agricultural sector is at a fascinating turning point. Our agricultural industry has been a tremendous success story despite its complexity and diversity. Agriculture’s export markets are robust, production is still expanding, and local demand has turned into a big potential. We also have one of the greatest workforces in agriculture, as well as a strong foundation of institutions. The agricultural industry has advanced. Here’s the problem, though: most farmers haven’t. Currently, the most significant concern is how to provide chances to the smallest of smallholder farmers.


Farmers in any country, including India, don’t farm because they care about their nation’s food security. They cultivate because they want to be profitable and make money. Those were very significant reforms at the time. However, our agricultural systems are still primarily designed to support production-oriented projects. 


It will be necessary to transition from a production-centric infrastructure to one that is market-centric and to provide smallholder farmers with market access. Farmers have been waiting for this shift, and it is the correct shift at the right moment.


Digital Innovation In the Agri Sector


Mobile phones have transformed rural households’ lives in India and other parts of the world in terms of digital innovation. Twenty years ago, ten per cent of people did not have access to any form of communication. Today, nearly 80% of homes have access to a cell phone. People themselves have spearheaded this technological revolution, which is particularly helping smallholders and the most impoverished. 


Consider the ways in which farmers are utilising digital platforms such as WhatsApp. For instance, women in Bihar raise 98% of the goats, yet since they cannot even afford a half-acre of land, these ladies are the lowest of the poor. Rather, they let their goats graze. For their goats, they are getting between 20 and 47% more per head. 




In the past, production data was the main focus and data collection—rather than data utilisation—was the main focus. We, therefore, have an enormous quantity of data, state by state, but there are gaps in it, and we aren’t making good use of what we have. For example, we have a wealth of crop-cutting data, but we frequently don’t know the farmer’s income. The focus is changing from “what data” to “data for what.”

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