Theme for this year’s (2019) National Science Day is ‘Science for the people, and People for the science’. Agriculture which absorbs nearly 50 percent of population into employment is mainly driven by science from Green revolution to today’s biotechnology aided breeding development. So, the theme rightly synchronises with Agriculture, where Science and Technology has lead to sustainable farming, rural upliftment, and agrarian livelihood and farmer empowerment.
Towards Sustainable Farming
Technology has revolutionised the path of agriculture towards more eco friendly manner. Conservation Agriculture with minimum soil disturbance, Integrated farming system by accommodating more enterprises like paddy with fisheries, Integrated pest and disease management that reduces chemicals by relying more on biological management.
Besides altering the existing farming methods, it introduces new scientific application to solve agrarian problems. Nanotechnology is one such tool to support sustainable agriculture. It enhances soil quality using hydrogels, enhances productivity of crop by application of nano -fertilisers like nano zinc particles. Nano-pesticides allows for enhanced effect on targeted pests by controlled release of toxic molecules. Further, smart monitoring using nano-sensors mitigate biotic and abiotic stresses.
Next tool shaping the future of Indian agriculture is Plant Biotechnology, Bt cotton is the only genetically modified crop cultivated in India. Bt Brinjal and DHH-11 transgenic mustard are also developed in India, cleared by scientific regulators and awaiting central government approval. The future prospects of gene editing through CRISPR – Cas9 and technology, RNA interference are bright in fight against malnutrition and climate change.
Facing roadblocks in release of genetic engineered varieties and hybrids, conventional breeding take a chance. Protein rich varieties of rice (CR DHAN 310) and climate smart varieties of rice (CR DHAN 801, 802) that tolerate both drought and submergence released by NRRI is an example. Similarly iron rich lentil variety (Pusa Ageti masoor), Iron and vitamin ‘C’ rich pomegranate ‘Solapur lal’ and ‘Abhisan’ breed of sheep developed for dry areas are few scientific intervention in the area of improved varieties and livestocks recent past.
Farm mechanisation has been increasing with establishment of ‘custom hiring centres’ across the country. Farmers can even rent farm equipment using apps like Trringo. Innovation has made mechanisation economically feasible for small farmers like CSIR’s Krishi Shakti tractor for l lakh rupees and driverless tractor technology – developed by Mahindra for reducing labor costs. Further, Farmers are also increasingly adopting micro irrigation systems, drones/UAVs, precision farming implements for site specific nutrient management. An educated farmer of Perambalur district even uses heli-sprayer for pesticide spraying.
Smart agriculture apps has been increasingly adopted by farmers. M-KISAN app, Pusa-Krishi app delivers market information, weather data, crop specific cultivation tips, critical information about schemes, etc,. government has also exploited the benefits of standard SMS, KISAN TV, Kisanvani radio, KISAN call centre to help farmers. Private players and Start-ups are also venturing into this digital extension platforms. Plantix, a mobile based disease diagnosis tool is gaining popularity among farmers now a days. “Precise information and on time support is major barrier in Indian agriculture, mobile technologies fills that gap more efficiently” says Venkatesh, Operations head of Kultivate, an agricultural software development Start-up.
Though there are voluminous advances in the area of agricultural science and technology in recent past, it has its own gap.
So, what could be done to take it further to improve farmers income and farm sustainability ?
Roadmap for improvement
First, traditional knowledge of farmers has to be recorded, developed and put into use. Vast collective intelligence of farmers are not exploited due to top down approach of scientific innovation. For which, Agricultural innovation hubs in KVK can be developed.
Second both public and private extension institutions visualise mobile applications and websites as next step to take innovative practices to farmers. But 76% of apps released by government is in English, while only 24% is Bilingual. Apps and website should be made available in all regional languages. Even most of the programs in KISAN TV is available in Hindi only. Besides, the agricultural mobile apps provide one way information in most of their services, it’s scope must be expanded to allow users to share their experience.
Third, there is an under-utilised technology that could disseminate knowledge and information at grass root level,i.e., community radio. Even at District level, the agriculture operations and rural artisans works varies greatly. Community radio serves this purpose as it could reach people of around 15 km and provides local solutions, ideas and local choices available. “suggestions for pest attacks, sharing success stories of farmers of that region has made a huge impact through this community radio” said Sundarapandian of ‘Vayalaga vanoli’ stationed at kottampatti, Madurai district.
“Financial sustainability remains a major handle, Government should provides monetary assistance to field level reporters. Secondly, roping in government officials for interaction is difficult task as they had to get permission from higher officials. Government may make it mandatory for local agricultural officers, public health officials to speak in community radio at regular intervals” said Sundarapandian.
It is disheartening to witness community radio stations functioning with inadequate monetary resources and manpower, while facing rigid rules of government. NGO, Agriculture research institutions, KUKs, State Agricultural Universities must be encouraged to set up community ratio near their campus to make people informed, more locally, more relevantly.
Hon’ble President of India in his republic day speech remarked, “In many cases, technology has been a force multiplier. And in all cases inclusiveness has been a moral multiplier”. Though agriculture sector in India is adapting to modern science and technological innovations, it should also try to be equally inclusive. The technological solution shall not benefit only few, it should reach every farmer, who are inaccessible, illiterate, poor and vulnerable.