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Precision farming comes of age?
Scientific agriculture is just another name for precision farming. More than ever, the stagnating Indian agriculture needs all the scientific tools to boost its productivity that is struggling with fatigued green revolution technologies.

In the last sixty years, Indian agriculture has known only one experimental intervention, the green revolution.

It’s time for  India to change its agricultural trajectory drastically. Any staggered approach as dictated by the World Bank in the name of a variety of multi-million dollar national agricultural projects for the past 25 years is certainly not the way forward.  In the past six months, the BJP has not uttered a single word in the name of agriculture. It merely made a politically correct statement about the GM crops that it will be used wherever and whenever it is appropriate. This silence has severely dented scientists’ morale.


A leap backwards...

At a time when the whole world is demanding more scientific approach, the Indian agricultural minister is trying to jump back, a sad commentary on the future of Indian agriculture.  If we don’t take corrective action now, the sorry plight of its pathetic condition will be felt a couple of decades down the line.

Calestous Juma of Harvard Kennedy School in a recent article stated that “there are serious global risks of rejecting or delaying agricultural biotechnology against the looming increases in the demand for food which by 2050, will more than double. Biotechnology can lead to increased food security, as well as improving health in developing countries by enhancing food and nutrition.”   India has already fallen behind catching up with modern science and technology in agriculture by decades; at this rate, it will be a laggard agriculture within the next two decades.


Seed comes first and last...

Brazil’s IBM researcher, Ulisses Mello, has recognised the daunting challenges of real-time data gathering necessary to adopt useful and needed technologies for boosting Brazil’s sagging agriculture.  They are exaining how precision agriculture techniques can maximise food production, minimise environmental impacts and reduce costs. Real-time data is necessary on soil and air quality, rainfall, crop maturity, disease control, equipment and labour costs to make decisions in agriculture like planting and harvesting. These smart decisions are known as precision farming.

In agriculture, it is said that the seed comes first, seed comes last and seed comes in-between.  If we don’t make smart decisions regarding the quality of seed to start with, then no amount of other precision techniques or technologies will do any good.  One cannot squeeze blood out of a turnip.  Often, India’s political class gets enamoured of nation’s past glory, and the glib talk of certain champions of India’s pre-independence agriculture using traditional and other heirloom seeds, long discarded.  That would be a sure prescription for agricultural hara-kiri.

Small farmers will be tech savvy

At present, large agricultural companies use precision agriculture.  But, those days are not far-off, when even a small farmer in a developing country can upload information about his crop on to his smart phone. Also, where an expert can assess the condition of his crop based on its photo and offer instant real time expert advice on crop husbandry to the farmer.  With the help of supercomputing, analytics, and optimisation, Indian IT industry can understand the complexities of Indian agriculture, and develop right weather forecasts, models and simulations that would enable farmers and growers to make smart decisions.

According to Professor Jagadish Shukla, Chairman of Climate Dynamics, George Mason University, it is entirely possible to develop rainfall predictions designed to suit each and every agricultural field in India.  Shukla is an expert on monsoons and has been working all his life to developing computer algorithms for rainfall prediction in South-Asia. The agriculture ministry will serve India’s agriculture ably if it concentrates on developing policies based on the best available science and technology and not hark on obscurantism.



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