With farmers being on the top of the priority list of the government, innovative agriculture is fast acquiring greater space in public talk. The way robots and drones are replacing traditional farm operations such as picking fruits, killing weeds, spraying water and fertilizer on crops, with imagery from drones and satellites coupled with GPS technology providing a high-resolution and location-specific view of the field, the definition of agriculture is getting new meaning and dimensions. This is what innovative agriculture is.
Thanks to the innovative technical interventions pushed in by the government in recent years, India has become one of the most prominent countries in the field of agriculture globally. It is also a major producer of paddy, wheat, pulses and other agricultural produces. It ranks second in paddy and wheat production and 1st in pulses production in the world.
To give a big boost to innovative agriculture, India has developed one of the world’s largest Agricultural Research System like- National Agricultural Research System (NARS) including ICAR institutes and State Agriculture Universities (SAUs). The NARS has contributed immensely to make India self-sufficient in food production and serves the agricultural technology and information needs of the country.
The government has been implementing a programme called Innovation and Agri-Entrepreneurship Development under Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana (RKVY-RAFTAAR) since 2018-19 with an objective to promote innovation and agri-entrepreneurship by providing financial and technical support for nurturing agri startups including agritech startups using digital techniques. Five Knowledge Partners (KPs) as Center of Excellence and twenty four RKVY-RAFTAAR Agribusiness Incubators (R-ABIs) have been appointed from across the country for implementation of this programme.
Under the Innovation and Agri-Entrepreneurship Development programme, a total of 799 start-ups in the field of agriculture and allied sectors including agritech startups have been provided technical and financial support. Besides, the Indian Council of Agriculture Research (ICAR) has been supporting Agri-based startups including agritech startups using digital techniques under the project called National Agriculture Innovation Fund (NAIF) initiated in the year 2016-2017. It has two components – I. Innovation Fund and 2 Incubation Fund and National Coordinating Unit (NCU).
ICAR Agribusiness Incubators (ABIs) provide technical backstopping and other incubation services to startups /entrepreneurs including agritech startups. ICAR through its ABIs in 50 institutes has supported a total of 818 startups including agritech startups. Under the Innovation and Agri-Entrepreneurship programme of RKVY, funds are released to KPs and R-ABIs and not state-wise. One R-ABI has been established in Chaudhary Charan Singh University (CCSU), Hisar for supporting startups in agriculture & allied sector in Haryana.
Selected agritech startups using digital techniques may take technical and financial support at the incubation centre established in CCSU, Hisar, Haryana under the programme for benefitting farmers including from Karnal. Under NAIF programme of ICAR, one Agri-Business Incubation (ABI) Center has been established in National Dairy Research Institute (NDRI), Karnal. Selected agritech startups using digital techniques in Karnal may take technical support at the above incubation centre. These startups benefit farmers by solving problems related to the farm economy and enhance profitability & efficiency of the farm sector.
173 women startups/entrepreneurs have been supported under the “Innovation and Agri-Entrepreneurship Development” programme. As per the Census 2011 conducted by the Registrar General of India, the total number of women farmers as cultivators are 3.60 crore and agricultural labourers are 6.15 crore in the country. The Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare has launched a component called “Innovation and AgriEntrepreneurship Development” under Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana (RKVY-RAFTAAR) in 2018-19 with an objective to promote innovation and agri-entrepreneurship by providing financial support and nurturing the incubation ecosystem.
Giving this reformative process a further impetus, NITI Aayog, as a part of Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav celebrations, organized a National Level Workshop on “Innovative Agriculture” in Vigyan Bhawan, New Delhi, where top brains discussed the innovative agriculture in details and suggested various ways and means for its strengthening.
NITI Aayog cited the need to understand the science, fundamentals, and processes behind the practice of natural farming also, hoping that the knowledge, research experience, and expertise of the international experts attending the workshop will aid in building capacities of the Indian scientists, researchers, policymakers towards promotion of natural farming in the country.
NITI Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant, during his address, said “Natural farming is the need of the hour and it is important to identify scientific ways so farmers can be assured direct benefits from natural farming and higher incomes.” Prof. Ramesh Chand, Member, NITI Aayog said “We can give a chance to such alternatives because there is no serious threat to food security since we are food surplus.” However, he called for step wise adoption of natural farming.
Union Minister of Fisheries, Animal Husbandry and Dairying, Parushottam Rupala pointed out that the awareness about nutritious food, good health and immunity has increased during the pandemic, highlighting the role of natural farming in providing nutritious food and stressing the importance of cattle and livestock in ensuring better nutrition.
Union Minister of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, Narendra Singh Tomar mentioned that the Government has been encouraging agricultural practices that work in harmony with nature, reduce the cost of production, and ensure good-quality produce and profits to farmers. He also emphasized the importance of science and technology in natural farming.
Experts mentioned as to how shifting to natural farming has led to significant reduction in cost of cultivation, improvement in soil health, and enhancement in yield. Adopting natural farming is going to help optimise the work of farmers and benefit the environment at large, especially when it comes to the use of water. There is undeniably a huge scope for bringing in innovations in agriculture sector through natural farming.
During the conference, Yogi Adityanath, Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, joined the workshop virtually, and highlighted the importance and traditional aspects of cow based natural farming which helps sequester carbon and improve soil health. Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh mentioned about the state’s plan to promote natural farming on both the sides of the banks of the river Narmada, and 5,200 villages. Y. S. Jagan Mohan Reddy, Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh stressed on the need to enhance research on natural farming, and stated the need of support from Centre for natural agriculture in the ratio of 90:10. The Chief Minister of Uttarakhand, Pushkar Singh Dhami spoke about the current status, progress and challenges in natural farming in Uttarakhand.