World Food Day: Using agritech to transform food systems is key for India to achieve zero-hunger goal

On World Food Day, it’s important to remember that regenerative agriculture, a greater voice for farmers, and moving from low cost to "true cost" food can build a stronger food system for people, the planet, and the future.
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Food is essential for our survival. It’s a fundamental requirement of life, and the provider of strength, vitality, and energy. It is also the keeper of our cultural traditions and indispensable to our social lives. However, our relationship with food is dangerously imbalanced.

The impact of COVID-19 has raised global concerns on making nutritious food available, accessible, and affordable. According to a UN report, globally 931 million tonnes of food go to waste each year, with between 8-10 percent of global carbon emissions linked to unconsumed produce.

With the world’s population expected to increase by two billion people in the next 30 years, it has become recognised by numerous stakeholders that simply producing a larger volume of healthier food more sustainably will not ensure human and planetary wellbeing.

Regenerative agriculture, a greater voice for farmers, and moving from low cost to "true cost" food can build a stronger food system for people, the planet, and the future.

The involvement of youth is also essential as India progresses towards achieving the key goal of ‘zero hunger’ – one among the United Nations’ 17 sustainable development goals.

For India, this transformation will happen through sustainable value chains and innovations in agricultural technology.

Agriculture industry in India

Agriculture is the main source of livelihood for about 58 percent of India’s population. Indian food and grocery market is the world’s sixth largest, with retail contributing to 70 percent of the sales. A majority of Indian farmers are smallholders who rely on traditional resource-intensive farming techniques.

The increase in India’s digital ecosystem is witnessing healthy tailwinds such as affordability and availability of high-speed internet and maturing digital content ecosystem, this has given an impetus to the agriculture sector.

Technology today addresses challenges ranging from soil issues, climate, and irrigation to supply chain gaps for farmers. It can help them predict weather patterns more accurately, adopt more sustainable irrigation practices, reduce wastage and, in turn, enjoy better yields and higher incomes. Another solution for overcoming the challenge is agricultural biotechnology, or agri-biotech as it’s more commonly known.

Why is agritech revolutionary?

Agricultural technology, or agritech, is the application of technology to produce more with less, to make the farming process more efficient, from field monitoring to the food supply chain itself. 

Agritech techniques include hydroponics, genetic modifications, vertical farming, drone technology, etc. Agritech is having a huge impact on the entire food supply chain, using technologies such as the internet of things and blockchain to reduce waste, while also improving the traceability of the food consumed.

For the past five years, the agritech market has been in a rapid growth stage. The overall agritech industry witnessed revenue growth of 85 percent during FY 2019 - FY 2020.

The sector observed a 2X growth rate from FY20, crossing $300 million in the past year. The industry is expected to witness a CAGR of 32 percent based on revenue by FY25. This creates great potential for agritech startups to help farmers who dealing with multiple problems.

These startups have the potential to address challenges from the very beginning, and subsequently change the face of Indian agriculture. NASSCOM every year reports a growth of 25 percent of agritech startups and has given birth to 450 startups to date. As much as $313 million were raised by 53 startups.

This is a huge breakthrough for Indian startups and these figures are bound to inspire young entrepreneurial minds of our country to pursue agricultural technology.

Bringing innovation and next-gen techniques

The future would look decidedly bleak for farming and food production were it not for advances in technology and their potential to tackle challenges head-on. Investment, research, and innovation in the agritech sector offer a beacon of hope. 

Next-generation techniques like aeroponics, urban farming, aerial farm management, etc will shape the future of the agriculture industry.

Let’s get a better understanding of a few of these farming techniques:

  • Aeroponics is a subset of the hydroponic system. However, with the hydroponics method, plants use water as the growing medium while aeroponics uses no growing medium at all. 
  • Urban farming is the practice of growing food in urban areas such as cities, building rooftops, or underground, for the purposes of commerce. Urban farming can take on many forms, but two of the most popular include urban and vertical farming.
  • Farm management from above has also added a lot of value in a short amount of time to farmers across the world. Drones and other unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have burst into the industry, and have a plethora of agritech applications that work to save farmers time and money while boosting yields. The recent relaxing of the regulations on the use of UAV for agriculture in India will give a much-needed impetus to this powerful technology.

These techniques have only one aim -- to grow more food in less space and/or with fewer inputs. Agritech helps farmers cut costs and save time, by automating tasks and replacing much of the labour needed on a farming operation.

Creating sustainable value chains

Along with these new technologies in agriculture, private investments, especially in research and development, and government efforts to rejuvenate the cooperative movement to address the problems of smallholdings and small produce, etc are changing the face of agriculture in India.

The first task is to protect indigenous seeds to support local produce. The benefits of cultivating indigenous crops are their field resistance to different prime pests and diseases, and the fact that they are highly adapted to climatic conditions of the land. We then move on to providing knowledge and basic training to farmers, and additionally give them platforms to voice their concerns to facilitate solutions through agritech.

Empowering farmers with the right digital tools and knowledge on end-to-end contemporary agricultural technologies and practices is the only way to keep up with the coming future.

Edited by Teja Lele Desai

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)

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