THE RECENT DEVELOPMENTS IN AGRICULTURE

The agricultural sector is known as the backbone of India. It contributes to 15% of India’s GDP and is the second-largest producer of agricultural products in the world, producing around 280 million tonnes of produce. India is the largest producer of milk, pulses, spices, tea, and jute, and is the second-largest producer of rice, wheat, sugarcane, fruits, vegetables, and cotton. These achievements were possible only because of our farmers and their hard work. It is because of farmers that we have food to eat today.

The year 2020 has witnessed many unpredictable things that have changed a lot of people’s lives due to COVID-19. Before we discuss the developments in agriculture, let’s take a look at what all issues our farmers are facing today.

IMPACT OF COVID-19 ON AGRICULTURAL SECTOR

On March 24th 2020 a nation-wide lockdown was declared by our honourable Prime Minister Narendra Modi as a preventive measure against the COVID 19 pandemic situation. This lockdown has limited the movement of 1.3 billion people of India for 21 days.

The harvesting process which usually is in mid-April was completely out of order. This was the peak of rabi season, i.e. crops like wheat, gram, mustard etc., reach their maturity stage and are harvestable. This was also the time when harvests reached the market places.

The next issue was the scarcity of labour. For timely irrigation of crops, harvesting of crops and post-harvesting operations at market places needed labour support. The migration of labourers to their native places during the COVID 19 has affected this part of the supply chain in agriculture. Not just in agriculture, many manufacturing industries, factories etc., also were understaffed due to this pandemic situation.

Then there were transportation problems that restricted the movement of the harvest to cross the states. This affected the sale of crops, their income through its sale which is crucial for their family and also most of the farmers did agriculture on loans. Global exports were also blocked. This issue was resolved shortly as the state government of various states approved the access of agricultural harvest while maintaining all the COVID 19 protocols.

The government has also helped farmers in the very beginning of this pandemic situation, as right after the lockdown announcement the Indian Finance Minister declared a package of Rs.1.7 trillion for protecting the vulnerable sections from the impact of lockdown, which included farmers. An advance release of Rs.2000 to the bank accounts of farmers was also done under the PM-KISAN scheme.

All these above-mentioned situations are just an outline of what our farmers have faced at the beginning of COVID-19 pandemic situation. But today protests are going on between farmers and the central government on behalf of farm bills, which has even gained the attention of other nations.

We’ll discuss the farm bills and why our farmers are protesting against it at the end of this blog, but right now let’s see the recent developments in agriculture.

LATEST TECHNOLOGIES AND FARMING METHODS USED IN AGRICULTURE

Agriculture is practised all over the world, which is why along with the developments in other sectors, innovations have helped the agricultural industry and farmers to come across various challenges like the rising cost of supplies, shortage of labour, limited space for farming, sustainability and other changes in consumer preferences. Today modern agriculture uses sophisticated technologies such as Precision Agriculture, Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain, Robotic systems, Farm automation, Livestock farming technology and Indoor vertical farming. These technologies use a lot of high-tech sensors such as IoT sensors, drones, temperature sensors and many more which helps in reducing human labour, reducing water usage, energy conservation and improving quality and quantity of the harvest. Let’s look into it more detailed.

ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE IN AGRICULTURE

Artificial intelligence is used in agriculture for various purposes. It is mainly used for collecting and analyzing farm data generated every day on the farm and helping the farmers in certain decision making using the insights from these data. It is probably hard to walk or drive through an entire field every day and check each crop for any defects, but it is easy to for an AI integrated system that uses drones for these purposes

.Ai sensors can identify and analyze data such as weather conditions, temperature, water usage or soil condition and help the farmer in determining best seed choices that can generate higher yield in that condition. Ai sensors can detect and target weeds and then decide which type of pesticide/herbicide should be used within safe limits that won’t create health problems for humans. Ai is also used for predicting the upcoming weather patterns months ahead to assist farmers in making appropriate decisions.

PRECISION AGRICULTURE

Precision agriculture has developed various technologies that allow farmers to control/vary every variable of a crop such as moisture levels, soil conditions, and microclimates etc., to maximize yield. This is done by using technologies such as Remote sensing, GPS based soil sampling technology, sensors, robotics, drones, variable rate technology, automated hardware and software.

Precision agriculture was introduced with GPS guidance integrated on tractors in the early 1990s, through which tractors could be steered automatically using a GPS-connected controller based on the coordinates of the field, avoiding steering errors by farmers. It resulted in less wasted seed, fertilizer, fuel and time.

BLOCKCHAIN

Blockchain is one of the most advanced technologies for traceability which can help to reduce various food frauds, product recalls, and other supply chain inefficiencies. It has a unique decentralized structure for producing tamper-proof data and it ensures the quality of the product in each step in its product life cycle. The food industry is very time-dependent which is why it is vulnerable to food frauds that could affect human health ultimately, to prevent such risk blockchain-based traceability can be used. Other than food safety, blockchain can also help in improving the potential in transport, logistics, and transaction costs etc., by improving the inventory tracking, shipping processes and reduces transaction costs by avoiding third-party involvements from banks. Farmers can produce proof of their harvest quality using blockchain traceability which helps them to increase their profit in markets or by selling it to manufacturers.

FARM AUTOMATION

The main aim of farm automation is to optimize food production processes and to improve quality, it is also known as smart-farming. In farm automation, the labour intensive repetitive works such as watering the crops, harvesting, seeding etc., can be done using robots, also called “agrobots”.

Another innovative technology is driverless tractors that can plan its own route and get real-time reports and alerts without direct human intervention. Various other robots such as seeding and weeding robots, automated harvesting robots, automated irrigation systems and monitoring systems are all developments that come under farm automation. The major difference between farm automation and precision agriculture are, farm automation applies these technologies to traditional farming methods and they do not focus on getting precision in measurements for determining yield.

Farm automation technology addresses major issues like a rising global population, farm labour shortages, and changing consumer preferences.

LIVESTOCK FARMING TECHNOLOGY

Livestock also plays an important role in the Indian economy. It provides livelihood to two-third of the rural community of India, contributes 4.11% to GDP and 25.6% of total agriculture GDP. Poultry farms, dairy farms, cattle ranches, are examples of some livestock farming. Recent developments in technology have helped in tracking and managing livestock much easier and data-driven.

The productivity of livestock such as dairy farms can be improved by closely monitoring every cow on the farm. For this, a concept was introduced known as ‘Connected-cow’. In this technology the cows are given control over their own routines, choosing when the cow should be milked by robotic milkers etc., for creating a stress-free environment for them. A wearable sensor (tag) is attached to them to monitor any sickness or health issues and to track their daily activity which will help to calculate their productivity. If any health issues are found, they are immediately accommodated separately to avoid any kind of spreading of sickness and for their treatment. Data-driven decision making gives us efficient and timely decisions that will advance the productivity of livestock farming.

MODERN GREENHOUSE FARMING

A Greenhouse is a structure made of walls and roof mostly with transparent or partially transparent glass, inside which we can grow any particular crops, flowers or fruits under a completely controlled environment. This way of providing favourable conditions to grow plants regardless of the weather, location and climatic conditions is known as Greenhouse technology, and it can predict the time and quantity of the harvest. In the beginning, greenhouses were used for research and experimentation on plants under controlled environment, later it was adopted for farming.

Greenhouse farming gives about 7 to 12 times higher yield compared to traditional farming and also this technology helps to produce disease-free and genetically superior plants. The other advantages of greenhouse farming are the less requirement of water, the area of land needed depends on the scale of production but it can be done on smaller areas, the chemicals and other pesticides are used very efficiently and are monitored to avoid any health issues from it.

The botanical gardens, flower nurseries etc., are some examples of greenhouse farming. The latest technologies in agriculture such as Precision Agriculture and Farm Automation are also implemented inside the modern greenhouses in many developing countries. The entire global greenhouse market currently produces nearly $350 billion US dollars in vegetables annually. Also, the greenhouse industry is becoming increasingly capital-infused, using venture funding and other sources to build out the infrastructure necessary to compete in the market.

INDOOR VERTICAL FARMING

Indoor vertical farming is similar to greenhouse farming because both practice indoor farming, but their difference is indoor vertical farming can be done in much smaller space than the greenhouse, which is why we can see indoor farms in cities and urban areas. In this type of farming the plants are stacked in layers, one above another vertically and they usually rely on artificial lights. Some vertical farms don’t even require soil for plants to grow.

Most of the plants grown using this farming are either hydroponic, where vegetables are grown in a nutrient-dense bowl of water, or aeroponic, where the plant’s roots are systematically sprayed with water and nutrients. Vertical farms use up to 70% less water than traditional farms. All the other features of greenhouse farming such as controlled environment, adopting Precision Agriculture or Farm Automation is possible in indoor vertical farms.

FARMERS AND FARM BILLS-2020

The indian farm bills were passed by Lok Sabha on 17th September 2020 and were passed by Rajya Sabha on 20th September 2020 and were finally signed by the President of India, Ram Nath Kovind on 27th September 2020. There is a lot of confusion among the farmers regarding the recent farm bills. Most of the farmers have no or little knowledge about them. The government did pass the bill but have grandly failed to communicate it to the small farmers. These farm bills have majorly affected the states like Punjab, UP, Haryana and other states in the north. Government has stated that these bills are majorly aimed to improve the lives of farmers but the facts hardly support the goals of these bills. The three farm bills are as follows

  1. The Farmers (empowerment & protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services-2020

As the name suggests, this bill aims to protect and empower farmers by enabling them to get into legal agreements with the buyers. In short, contract farming. Here the corporates can directly come to farmers and make an agreement with them regarding the pricing and farm services. This may encourage private investment into the farming sector but every coin has two sides

The positive side of this bill is the buyer has to pay the amount stated in the agreement even if the market price falls down at the time of delivery. For example, if a company decides to buy tomatoes for Rs.20 per kg it will have to buy the tomatoes for Rs.20 even if the market price falls down to Rs.10 at the time of delivery. This assures the farmers about the prices for their produce. However, if the market price goes up, even then the amount stated in the agreement will be paid to the farmers, which can be a loss to the farmers.

Apart from this the corporate can put conditions regarding the farm services, the company will have the uphand in deciding the quality, grade, time of delivery and such other things. If ever any disputes arise between them, corporates will always have access to higher legal resources against the poor and marginal farmers.

Loopholes:

If the farmers get into contract farming, and stop selling in mandis and APMC eventually, the mandis and APMC will disappear. If that happens the corporates will be in a position to dominate the farmers and force them to sell their produce at a low price. This again leads to exploitation of farmers. Another cause of concern is most of our farmers are not well educated and the companies will be in the position to out trick the farmers for the benefits of their company..

Secondly, the government cannot intervene in the corporate agreements which means the government cannot promise MSP in contract farming, as a result the farmers may be forced to sell their produce below minimum support price. Which is why farmers are protesting and are against the new farm bills.

2. The Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce ( Promotion and Facilitation) Bill- 2020

Earlier, the majority of the farmers had to trade their produce through mandis and APMC. The farmers could not directly sell to the consumers. Farmers have to obtain a license from the APMC to sell their produce and both the buyers and farmers will have to pay a certain amount to the mandis and APMC for this service. This bill provides barrier free trading to farmers, within and outside states, also farmers can utilise the E-commerce platforms and electronic trading. When this happens the companies can procure produce for less price without paying tax to APMC and farmers can also benefit from this bill. This bill is more beneficial to big farmers as compared to small farmers. Small farmers have been selling outside mandis for long and so this bill will not affect them more. Whereas big farmers are provided with options. Small farmers are not in a position to sell their produce at a far location because they will even have to bear the transportation cost.

Loopholes:

If farmers start selling outside mandis and APMC, the APMC and mandis will go on loss and eventually disappear. Mandis and APMC require funds to function well which they acquire through commissions. If the trading stops there will be no commissions. If all farmers start to sell outside APMC, the government no longer has the control on price which means the buyers can again dominate the farmers and purchase at a price below MSP and the government will not be able to help the farmers to get the right price for their produce. Basically, the government will not intervene in any act outside mandis and APMC.

3. Essential Commodity (Amendment) Bill 2020

Government has declared certain items as essential. During the pandemic, hand sanitizers and masks were declared as essential commodities. The government regulates the production, supply and distribution of these essential commodities. Earlier before the bill was passed it was illegal to hoard the essential commodities but now as per the new farm bill companies can hoard the commodities as long as they want. This means the companies can buy as much as they want when the products are available at a good price which is also beneficial to farmers as there is no limit in selling. This creates artificial scarcity and the prices rise high making it favourable for the buyer to further sell the products. This is beneficial to farmers because the buyer can buy as much as he wants as there is no limit on storing and farmers can earn more. The government will intervene and put the commodities in the essential list only in the following cases

  • If the price of a non-perishable product goes above 50% of its actual price. For example, if the price of pulses is 50rs and it goes above 100rs, the government will put the commodity back into the essential list to bring down the price and make it affordable.
  • If the price of a perishable product goes above 100% of its actual price. For example, if the price of onion is 50rs and it goes above 150rs. Government will put it back on the list of essential commodities.

Loopholes:

If this bill is put into act, initially the buyers may buy the produce at a good price from the farmers and then store them as long as they want. When the next batch of the produce comes they may simply tell that they have enough stock and ask the farmers to sell their produce at a low price or leave. This again is in favour of corporate rather than the farmers.

To conclude, These bills may seem to be in favour of farmers from one side but on the other side, corporate will be in a more beneficial state than the farmers. It also looks as if the government wants to get out of the agriculture business and let the private trading take over the agriculture sector. Above all, it’s important to educate farmers about the bills. In most cases, only the positive aspects of the bills are shown to the innocent farmers while ignoring the negative aspects which can ruin the lives of farmers.

Creating transparency marketing systems in packaged food products to make people aware what they eat!

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