From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Not much
Mains level : Digitization of Agriculture
In June this year, two significant documents relating to the Indian agriculture sector were released.
What are the reports about?
- The first is a consultation paper on the India Digital Ecosystem of Agriculture (IDEA) and the second on Indian Agriculture: Ripe for Disruption from a private organisation, Bain and Company.
- Through their work, these reports have depicted the agriculture reforms announced by the union government as a game-changer in the agriculture sector.
The major challenges of the agriculture sector are:
- Food Sufficiency but Nutrition Deficiency
- High import of edible oil and oilseeds
- Yield plateaus
- Degrading soil, Water stress
- Inadequate market infra/linkages
- Unpredictable, volatile prices
- Post-harvest losses, wastages
- Lack of crop planning due to information asymmetry
Key takeaway: Way for doubling farmers income
- These reports in short argues that benefiting from the huge investments into the agri-ecosystem, doubling farmers’ income targets can be achieved in near future.
- The Indian agriculture sector in future will encompass farm to fork and pave the way for a single national market with a national platform with better connection between producer and consumers.
- The Bain report is a data-based prediction on agri-business scenarios, anchored to the agricultural set-up at present and predicting its future trajectories in another 20 years.
- It includes targeting the production of alternative proteins, and food cell-based food/ingredients and initiating ocean farming, etc.
- The report has a ‘today forward– future back approach’ and predicts a drastic investment opportunity development by 2025.
- The agriculture sector (currently worth $370 billion), is estimated to receive an additional $35 billion investment.
The two enabling conditions for such investment opportunities are:
- Changes in the regulatory framework, especially recent changes in the Farm Acts and
- Digital disruption
The IDEA of integration
- Digital disruption: The blueprint of “digital agriculture” is similar to the digital disruption mentioned in the Bain report.
- Integration: Eventually, the farmer and the improvement of farmers’ livelihood is the aim of the IDEA concept and it is proposed to happen through tight integration of agri-tech innovation and the agriculture industry.
- Enabling conditions: To be precise, the IDEA concept profounds the creation of second enabling conditions (which is described in the Bain report).
- Openness of data: The IDEA principles explicitly talk about openness of data, which means open to businesses and farmers, indicating the kind of integration it aims at.
- Value-added innovative services: by agri-tech industries and start-ups are an integral part of the IDEA architecture.
- Data architecture: The services listed in the document (to be available on the platform) are equally important data for farmers and businesses.
A thread of digital disruption
- The IT industry has opposition to IDEA mainly due to the ethics of creating a Unique Farmer ID based on one’s Aadhaar number and also the potential for data misuse.
- Beyond the news coverage about the prospects of achieving the goal of Doubling Farmers Income on which the present government has almost lost its hope.
Issues with these reports
- The Bain report has not been widely discussed — at least in the public domain.
- The assumptions used by authors especially for its ‘future back approach’, need more or less focusing on widespread food production in controlled environments.
- The emission, energy, and other resource footprints and sustainability issues around these techniques are not adequately studied.
Yet these reports are important
- The report has convincingly demonstrated the business opportunity available in supply chains between farm to APMC mandi and mandi to the customer.
- This can be realised with the support of digital disruption and the latest agriculture reforms.
- Both these reports heavily rely on digital disruption to improve farmers’ livelihoods, without discussing how much farmers will be prepared to benefit from the emerging business.
An unconvincing ‘how’
- Digital divide: The fact is that a majority of small and marginal farmers are not technology-savvy.
- No capacity building: That most of them are under-educated for capacity building is ignored amidst these ambitious developments.
- Unrealistic assumptions: The Bain report relies on the general assumption that more investments into the agriculture sector will benefit farmers; ‘but how’ has not been convincingly answered.
- Overemphasis on technology: Similarly, how the technology fix will help resolve all the issues of Indian agriculture listed at the beginning of the report is unclear in the IDEA concept.
- Reluctance by farmers: These reports ignore the protest of farmers against the reforms without considering it as a barrier or risk factor resulting in a repealing of these new farm laws.
Way ahead: Focus on the farmer
- A data revolution is inevitable in the agriculture sector, given its socio-political complexities.
- However, we cannot just count on technology fixes and agri-business investments for improving farmers’ livelihoods.
- There need to be immense efforts to improve the capacities of the farmers in India – at least until the educated young farmers replace the existing under-educated small and medium farmers.
- This capacity building can be done through a mixed approach through FPOs and other farmers’ associations where technical support is available for farmers.
- Considering the size of the agriculture sector of the country this is not going to be an easy task but would need a separate program across the country with considerable investment.