Indian Agriculture and Covid Impact: Post lockdown holds huge scope for building seamless ecosystem
Post the Covid adversity, 2020 will no doubt be a year full of challenges, with various issues to resolve. Among the list, there is a need to look at preserving the role of women in agriculture.
Amid the Covid-19 crisis, agricultural activities related to production and marketing have been deemed “essential services” and were not restricted in any state. However, the lockdown shut the operations of retail sellers and restricted their movement, constrained the movement of goods severely. Closed processing units that consume agricultural commodities and-despite their essential service tag-shut down some mandis and markets. Even in Manipur too, large quantities of vegetables products (both from hills and valley) have been damaged extensively like that in the Khoijuman village of Bishnupur district as reported by media houses. As the country begins to open up again, we summarize the impact of Covid-19 lockdown on different sub-sectors and look at the ones that are in a position to bounce back and the ones that will continue to struggle.
The Government of India (GoI) and many states government have designed several measures to address the problems that farmers face. While the country grapples with Covid-19, there are two worries that concern us all-the first being the health of India’s large population and how can we minimize the extent of damage. And, second, what will be the future of our business after the pandemic eases? The far reaching implications of Covid-19 have once again propelled the “not- so glamourous” profession of agriculture into mainstream discussion, worldwide.
Given that 60 per cent of aggregate employment in India, there’s a fair degree of concern over what will happen in the future, especially post this life threatening disease. The Covid-19 crisis has brought to the fore some of the persistent problems that Indian agriculture faces. Despite the impressive strides made toward improve access to institutional credit, dependency on informal credit sources remains high, especially among smallholder farmers.
The government has to step in to ensure farmers can access fresh credit for the Kharif season. The important dynamic that policymakers and the wider development community need to look at is preserving the role of women in agriculture. The surplus labor in rural areas can potentially undermine the status of women in agriculture and push them further into economic exclusion.
It is important to note that despite the lockdown and the supply-chain impacted nationwide, the government is working overtime to ensure easy availability of vegetables, fruits, dairy and essentials. Even in such a crisis, agriculture took center-stage. And, why is that? Because “food” can never go out of business. After all, it is a basic necessity for survival. However, we have witnessed that agriculture cannot survive solely on traditional methods and desperately needs large- scale technology intervention to resolve various pre/post –harvest agri-chain woes, which will in turn boost healthy production and revenue.
As per NASSCOM’s 2019 report, India is home to more than 450 agri-tech start-ups, growing at a rate of 25 per cent annually. The sector has received more than $248 million in funding, which is a clear indication of the agri-tech industry’s growth potential. Given that the food economy impacts human population, there’s a huge scope for building a seamless ecosystem in the agri-technology space.
Post this adversity, 2020 will no doubt be a year full of challenges, with various issues to resolve. However with greater investor, interest and government partnership, agri-tech companies can surely address immediate problems that threaten the agricultural space. Fundamental issues like poor soil quality, water shortage, quality seeds, climate change, lack of market access, inadequate storage facilities and poor credit facility has crippled the agriculture sector. Only agri-tech companies can fill this gap quickly with the help of high end technology like GIS, Block-chain, Artificial intelligence, remote sensing data analytics and various Internet of things (IoT) devices.
With 15 agro-climatic zones and different cultivation in practices across the country, India will benefit from advances in digital farming. In fact, block chain technologies enhances transparency and traceability that can be leveraged to create more efficient supply chains. Aggregating and organizing the supply chain will further promote better standardized agri-market practices. Instead of indiscriminating selling of technology which may can’t afford to buy, providing technology inputs at the intersection of business and selling to medium and small-scale farmers will lead to incurring lowest cost by the farming community and higher acceptance of technology. This is because, 86 per cent of India’s farmers are small and marginal as per Agriculture census 2015-16. The agronomic intelligence can help enhance micro-financing and credit facilities for farmers and create a faster access to traceability certification, which is beneficial while exporting to the overseas market. Data analytics will also help provide accurate inputs and discourage sale of spurious seeds and crop care products to farmers. In order to become sustainable market linkage and networks are an essential part of any agribusiness, which is the focus of enterprises. Concentrated efforts are also being made to reduce dependency on intermediaries involved in the value chain which eats into farmer’s profit.
Agri-tech firms are equipped to provide viable farming solutions and the activity in the industry will multiply manifold post the lockdown. These enterprises will create positive impacts and will lead India’s journey towards overall digital agriculture transformation. Advanced mechanism can help local farming be profitable enterprises. Hence, emphasis should be on innovation data-sharing, easy access to working capital, infrastructure and enable real-time information access to farmers across the country. Quality, safety, traceability and sustainability of foods produce will be a priority for agri-economy stakeholders. Going forward, we can look at creating new collaborative, neutral platforms for sharing data and enable a culture of transparency as well as mutual accountability across global networks. This also means empowering consumers and stakeholders with accurate information.
The global crisis has brought all of us together like never before. Given the adversity and the crying need for urgent and smart solutions, we are set to see the best minds at work to propel innovation. The dynamics of agriculture is going through a metamorphosis and agri-tech industry is bound to change the way business of agriculture will be conducted. And that could well bring about another green revolution- like transformation in India.
(The views expressed are personal)