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The future of agriculture will be aided by a whole new host of technology related tools, and the sector will continue to boost India’s economy.

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Since Independence and over major part of India’s developmental period, the country’s agriculture was mainly strategised as a response to sustain food supply to a growing population.

Agriculture today feeds seven times as many mouths that do not grow their own food. The urban population today accounts for 33 per cent of the total demography. The country is now secure in its food production, has become a net exporter of agricultural produce, and generates more than 1.1 billion tonnes of a cafeteria of produce from farms.

However, over all these decades, agriculture has been viewed largely as a controlled public sector activity, neglecting its essential character of being a private enterprise. The nation having moved away from a situation of deficit to one of surpluses, warrants a new approach to agricultural management, based more on liberalisation of both factors of production and market led output management.

As in other arenas, the technologies that go into agriculture have also changed. From a time when farmers only carted their produce to markets, the rural landscape is populated with motorised carriers and tractors. Instead of word-of-mouth homilies on rainfall patterns, there is satellite imagery and geo-informatics that focus on weather changes.ICT has changed the way information is shared and the world’s largest extension services network operates in the country.

With the rapidly changing pace of technology and dominance of youth, who are more adept at adopting technology and change management, agriculture sector over the next decades will metamorphose into a true enterprise.It shall no longer remain an activity limited to cultivating and harvesting, but shall be viewed as a value system that encompasses the entire supply chain, from farms to end-users. The paradigm shift will mean producing more of everything from less, including the number of manpower engaged.

Since 2005-06, there are signs of population shift out of agriculture for their livelihood. This momentum is expected to continue. Assuming the present rate of decline in number of people self-employed in agriculture at 1.8 per cent per year, approximately 80 million families would be self-employed in agriculture in the centenary year, as against 120 million families today. The corollary is, the existence of a robustly growing manufacturing and service sectors to gainfully absorb the shifting population.

The demand for food will continue to increase. However, the nature of demand will vary. There will be increased demand for nutri-rich food items, and proportionately lower demand for carbohydrates. Simultaneously, agriculture sector will be expected to shift from pure food products to generation of renewable resources to feed into fuel and other industrial activities. As the land available for agriculture would shrink on account of competing demands from urbanisation, industry and infrastructure, capacity to produce more per unit of land, water, animal and bird would become a sine qua non and made possible by adopting new science and technology.

By 2047-50, the farm size will decline and agriculture will be dominated by landholdings of less than 1.0 hectare. While this will warrant developing a new package of appropriate technologies and farm management practices, future agriculture will require a policy environment that will impart greater liquidity to the basic assets like land and product movement, such that market forces can operate more efficiently to the advantage of the farmers.

There is now a consensus that climate change is a certainty and the 21st century will witness rising temperatures and varying precipitation patterns. Science will be called upon to address the consequential demands from the need for changes in cropping systems and patterns. There already exist subtle transitions in the country’s agro-ecological and agro-climate zones. The transition will weigh more heavily on the resource-poor, small and marginal farmers, who will therefore, require greater support.

Genetic enhancement in crops and livestock will have to be considered as an option to enhance productivity and meet the new challenges of higher demand for food, nutrition and industrial raw material. Application of biotechnology, physiology, space science, IT and other emerging technologies will necessarily have to guide the future of agriculture. Agriculture, by and in 2047, will operate on the fulcrum of ‘precision technology’, whereby both inputs and outputs are customised — former based on the need for resource use efficiency, and the latter with a view to banishing malnourishment, besides catering to specific tastes and preferences.

The crop cafeteria will come to be prescribed by bio-fortified crops. Simultaneously, science would be opening up new vistas, where soil-less media like hydroponics, aquaponics, aeroponics, etc., will enable industry-like production of various crops, aided by new breeding techniques like gene editing.

By 2047, India’s centenarian year, one can foretell that agriculture will be driven with well-defined market intelligence and a supply chain system that will interconnect with the world. Agriculture will no longer be the domain of foodgrains to ward of hunger but will have changed to cater to the nutritional needs of the discerning population and industrial raw material. Agriculture will be fundamental to abating and controlling climate change implications and not be its victim. India will have broken the global mindset that economic development means a downshift for agriculture. India has the intelligence and capability of chartering its own growth model, where agriculture is an integral and substantive contributor to the nation’s economy. The year 2047 for India’s agriculture shall not be a ‘future shock’, a la Alvin Toffler, but positioned it on its rightful pedestal marking the sector’s moment of pride. 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Dr Ashok Dalwai

The author is CEO, National Rainfed Area Authority (NRAA), Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare, Government of India

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