Policymakers have recognized the urgent need to make Indian agriculture economically viable and address the structural challenges that have driven many farmers to seek alternative livelihoods. While there are limited exit routes available for farmers, a majority of them express a desire to quit agriculture.
In response, several policy options have been proposed to revitalize the sector and empower farmers to improve their lives. These options include digitalization of agriculture, integrated/natural farming, climate-smart agriculture, adoption of best farm practices, saying 'no' to informal credit, leveraging collectives, and developing agri-value chains.
Digitalising the Agriculture Sector
Digitalization of agriculture has emerged as a promising solution. Agri start-ups have leveraged technology to provide farmers with comprehensive solutions, ranging from the supply of seeds, fertilizers, and pesticides to obtaining loans, purchasing crop insurance, and selling their produce at fair prices. Gurugram-based DeHaat, for instance, employs artificial intelligence, machine learning, and data analytics to serve 15 lakh farmers across 35 different crops. Farmers equipped with smartphones can access digitized agri-services for inputs, advisory support, and marketing of their produce, significantly streamlining their operations
.Integrated Farming and Addressing Ecological Concerns
Another option, integrated/natural farming, is particularly beneficial for farmers with uneconomic land holdings. By combining agricultural activities such as milch animal rearing, backyard poultry, fish farming, and vermicomposting, farmers can achieve self-reliance and financial empowerment. Integrated farming relies on family labour and proves commercially viable and environmentally sustainable, ensuring a holistic approach to agriculture.
Addressing ecological concerns, climate-smart agriculture emphasizes the shift to eco-friendly agri-inputs. Excessive use of fertilizers has caused significant damage to the ecosystem, soil infertility, and contamination of the food chain. To counter this, the adoption of Nano Urea, a cost-effective and logistics-friendly alternative, has gained traction. A 500 ml bottle of Nano Urea, priced at approximately ₹240, can replace a 45 kg bag of urea costing around ₹3,000 in the market. This shift not only mitigates environmental damage but also enhances crop yields substantially.
Adopting of Best Farm Practices
To improve agricultural productivity, adopting best farm practices is crucial. Israel, despite facing adverse climate conditions, has become a global leader in agricultural technologies. By prioritizing cooperative principles, such as those practiced by the Kibbutz and Moshav farming communities, Israel demonstrates the power of social equality, cooperation, and mutual aid in generating agricultural output efficiently. Indian farmers can benefit from these practices, which include the integration of Internet of Things technologies into farming operations.
Sources of Finance and Leveraging Collectives
While formal sources of finance from banks and financial institutions are available to farmers, informal credit sources like money lenders, traders, and landlords still persist in rural India. Addressing this issue requires counseling farmers on financial prudence and promoting the accessibility of formal credit. Awareness campaigns and training programs can help farmers make informed financial decisions, reducing their reliance on informal credit and improving their financial stability.
Leveraging collectives, such as Self-Help Groups (SHGs), Farmers Producer Organizations (FPOs), and cooperatives, can enhance the bargaining power of farmers. These collectives enable bulk procurement of inputs at discounted prices, economies of scale in transportation and warehousing, access to low-cost institutional finance, and farm mechanization. However, many FPOs struggle to access funds due to inadequate capital base, lack of awareness, and non-compliance with guidelines. Addressing these challenges is crucial to harnessing the full potential of collectives in empowering farmers.
Lastly, the development of agri-value chains is vital for sustaining agricultural growth. Customer focus, infrastructure development, technology integration, training, and capacity building are key drivers for these value chains. Notable examples, such as VAPCOL, a multi-state farmer producer company in Maharashtra, demonstrate the benefits of coordinated efforts. By developing agri-export clusters and managing risks associated with the monsoon and market fluctuations, India can enhance its agricultural productivity and tap into international markets.
With these policy options, policymakers aim to transform Indian agriculture into a vibrant and economically sustainable sector. By prioritizing digitalization, adopting sustainable farming practices, promoting climate-smart agriculture, ensuring access to formal credit, leveraging collective efforts, and developing agri-value chains, India can empower its farmers and revitalize the agricultural landscape for a prosperous future.