Guest Column: Agriculture to Technoculture
Rural Marketing Expert, Navin Karkera says the Agri industry is facing major challenges in all key areas of Production, Finance, Logistics and Marketing, but with AI and IoT, a lot can be done to minimise risks
In my three decades of association with the agriculture sector, I have never witnessed this kind of a shift in farmers towards prosperity and best practices. The second-generation farmers are more prudent and aware. They are seeking better means to minimize risks and get a better value for their yields. They are willing to deal directly with end consumers thereby discount the middlemen, resulting in added value for the consumers as well.
Let’s give it some context. 70 per cent of the population depends on agriculture for a livelihood i.e. not just farming but Agri industry as a whole. India has the largest cultivable land in the world and we are the largest producers of fruits and vegetables. Yet the irony is that our productivity is the lowest. It’s only natural to imagine a scenario of increased productivity and its likely impact on the economy and the entire food chain. Not to mention the delta in terms of prosperity the 70 per cent of the populace will witness.
In reality, Indian agriculture is facing multidimensional problems. The bitter fact is, in the current context, agriculture is not a sustainable business for farmers. Changing climate, labour shortage, increasing input costs, lack of market connectivity, poor post-harvest infrastructure etc. make farming unviable. However, farmers still continue because that is their core expertise and outside of farming, they have limited options. If you view it through a philosophical lens, you will conclude that there are no better risk-taking entrepreneurs than farmers. The system has always failed them by not plugging the exploitation and doing very little to help them succeed.
Other factors adding to their woes also include an age-old system of APMC with limited modernization, limited post-harvest industries, limited encouragement for public-private partnership in Agri sector and most importantly limited control on Agri input product costs. The net outcome is debt-ridden farmers, resulting in human tragedies in particularly the marginalized community cultivating non cash-rich crops.
On the whole, the Agri industry is facing major challenges in all key areas of Production, Finance, Logistics and Marketing.
To elaborate more, in terms of Production, the key reasons are:
• Fragmented land holding hence, not viable for an economic scale of operation
• Labour shortage
• Lack of knowledge
• Dependency on monsoon
• Climate change
When it comes to Finance, some key points are:
• Poor penetration of banks in the rural areas
• High interest rate from private lenders
• Dependency on local Agri input retailer for finance, leading to higher input costs.
In terms of Logistics, almost 30-40 per cent post-harvest is lost during transportation and storage. Limited or no warehousing facility to store the produce compounds the problem.
Issues pertaining to marketing is due to an absence of a mechanism to determine the price and a dependency on local agents to sell the produce. There is also a large variation in the selling price at mandis and at a consumer level. Invariably, farmers don’t even manage to recover the cost of production.
So what can be done?
It is a complex problem to solve and will need the involvement of key stakeholders like Agri input companies, retailers, agronomists, progressive farmers and marketing specialists. The biggest contributor to the solution will be affordable and inclusive technologies that can be effectively leveraged to address the issues.
• Timely and unbiased knowledge sharing will help farmers to use right Agri inputs thereby reducing the cost of production.
• Reduce farmer dependency on Agri input companies or retailers for knowledge. A combination of technology and historical native knowledge will help farmers to control costs and look at better yields.
• Use weather predictions and local know-how to select right kind of seed varieties and minimize the risk. There are big technology advancements already being made in this regard.
• Encourage community farming to bring down the overall cost of cultivation and take advantage of bulk buying of Agri inputs, farm equipment hiring etc.
• Incentivise farm producing companies to come together and market Agri produce. They can also plan cropping pattern to take care of price fluctuations.
• Encourage farming communities to consider related income avenues like Agri tourism, investing in food processing etc.
Technology has a huge play in all of this and is the best leveller. The more it can be localized, the better it will be. With AI and IoT, I'm sure a lot can be done to minimize risks. There are many online communities of farmers helping each other and have become de facto support groups. Scenario post-Jio is very different. In my many market visits over the last year, I have witnessed visible shifts every time. It is just the beginning of Agriculture transitioning to Technoculture.
I am also quite positive that the system will move beyond lip service and save these natural entrepreneurs by removing multiple layers and providing facilities to flourish.
(The author is the Founder & Director of 21N78E Creative Labs. He has nearly three decades of experience in creating marketing communications for products related to agriculture. He is also an advisor to NGOs working closely with the farming community)
Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not in any way represent the views of exchange4media.com.
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