Sustainability: The Future of the Agricultural Industry in India

It is stated that Food production must double by 2050 to match the country's population and income growth. There is a need to focus on cost-effective technologies with environmental protection.

India has long been associated with agriculture and farming & the agricultural industry continues to contribute significantly to our country’s GDP (20.19% in 2022).

In fact, agriculture is a way of life & livelihood for most Indians & our history is deeply intertwined with celebrating agriculture & harvesting.

As the first of the harvest festivals roll in, we briefly look at its origin.

A brief history of harvest festivals in India:

Harvest festivals in India are celebrated to mark the end of a crop cycle and the beginning of a new one. They are a way to honour the hardworking farmers for their labour and dedication to the land.

The harvest festivals take place around the time of the main harvest of a particular region based on their climate and crops starting in Jan with Makar Sankranti, Pongal, Uttarayana, Lohri, and Magh Bihu or Bhogali Bihu, Holi in February–March, Baisakhi in April and Onam in August–September.

There are numerous other harvest festivals in India like Basant Panchami, Bhogali Bihu, Wangala, Nuakhai, Gudi Padwa, Nabanna, Ugadi etc with each region celebrating in its own unique way.

For farmers in India, these festivals provide an opportunity for them to sell their produce and make a profit.

Although harvest festivals of India are celebrated with great vigour, sustainable sourcing still remains a huge cause of concern in the country.

Sustainable Sourcing in India:

In India, sustainable sourcing practices include the use of organic farming methods, integrated pest management, crop rotation, and conservation of natural resources such as water and soil. These methods help to reduce the use of harmful chemicals and pesticides, improve soil health, and increase crop yields, which in turn benefits farmers and the environment. 

But, these practices of sustainable sourcing have been tough to scale up, especially since India has a large population

2022 was an especially challenging year for the global food system that exposed the structural weaknesses when faced with challenges such as extreme weather conditions, supply-chain disruptions, geo-political tensions, international conflicts and food wastage in the face of the pandemic COVID-19.

India ranked 107 out of 121 countries in the Global Hunger Index 2022 thus making not just hunger and food security a huge focal point for 2023 but also shining the spotlight on the urgent need to scale more sustainable practices in the sector. 

Before we proceed, let us look at the current challenges in terms of sustainable sourcing & sustainable agricultural practices, starting with agricultural supply chain disruptions

Agricultural supply-chain disruptions refer to the interruptions in the flow of agricultural goods from the producer to the consumer. These disruptions can occur due to a variety of factors such as natural disasters, transportation disruptions, labour shortages, and changes in consumer demand.

Other major causes of agricultural supply-chain disruptions in India include

  • Lack of proper infrastructure and logistics. Rural areas in India still lack proper roads, storage facilities, and transportation networks, which can make it difficult to get products to market leading to delays resulting in spoilage of produce. 
  • Lack of coordination and communication between different actors in the supply chain. This can lead to mismatches between supply and demand, resulting in a surplus or shortage of products. Additionally, the lack of transparency and traceability in the supply chain can make it difficult to identify and address problems.
  • Pollution and extreme weather events like droughts, floods and landslides can damage crops thus affecting transportation and logistics, ultimately resulting in supply-chain disruptions.

To understand the landscape of sustainability in farming better, we spoke to Ajit Narra, founder of  FarmChakra, India's first crop investment product for sustainable farming.

FarmChakra Team in a farm

Q1: What are the top polluters or distorters in the Indian agricultural sector in 2023?

A1: The Indian agricultural sector is a major contributor to pollution and environmental degradation, with several key sources of pollution or distortion. Some of the top polluters or distorters include

  • Soil degradation due to excessive fertilizer use and not practising regenerative farming to conserve the soil i.e. Monoculture cropping, the practice of growing a single crop year after year in the same field can lead to soil degradation and reduced crop yields.
  • Crop stubble burning: A practice in which farmers burn the leftover straw and stalks of crops (stubble) after harvest. This practice is common in states across India. It has a number of negative impacts such as
    • Air pollution
    • Soil degradation
    • Greenhouse gas emissions
    • Loss of biodiversity
    • Reduced soil moisture
    • Reduced soil fertility etc. 
  • Post-harvest loss due to lack of common processing facilities: Some of the key ways that lack of processing facilities can lead to post-harvest loss include:
    • Lack of storage facilities: Many farmers in India lack access to proper storage facilities, which can lead to the spoilage of crops due to exposure to heat and moisture.
    • Lack of transportation infrastructure: Poor transportation infrastructure can make it difficult for farmers to get their produce to market in a timely manner, leading to spoilage and loss.
    • Lack of value-added processing: Many farmers in India lack access to value-added processing facilities such as canning, freezing, or packaging, which can lead to reduced income from their crops.

These polluters and distorters have a significant negative impact on the environment, and addressing them will be important to ensure sustainable agricultural practices in India. 

Q2: What are the top scalable solutions to ensure sustainability? 

A2: The top scalable solutions to ensure sustainable farming practices include: 

  1. Provision of post-harvest management solutions: Mitigation of wastage, and ensuring the safety of the produce until the last-mile delivery, has become important and Agritech is at an evolution stage
  2. Risk management solutions for farmers

FarmChakra provides a unique solution for risk management

  1. Crop stubble value creation: What needs to go right for us to drop burning from 30% to 10%?
  • Suitable equipment: We need equipment to lift bales that can work at scale without labour involvement. We also need seeders that work in clayey soils etc. 
  • Expertise in growing a variety of crops: As our expertise in growing increases we will be able to target crops that have suitable planting windows that buy us time to deal with the stubble. At our current scale, we don’t have market linkage challenges and are not limited by crops that sell in local markets. 
  • No last-minute weather surprises: Field moisture conditions need to be carefully monitored before harvest to ensure that there is enough moisture for the decomposers to work properly.

Q3: What is Farmchakra’s vision & how do you plan to scale in the future? 

A3: With a planet-first, and people-centric approach, Farm Chakra enables modern sustainable farming for a better world. We are building a portfolio of farms that practice eco-friendly farming and grow residue-free produce. 

Our farms use sustainable practices to nourish the soil, lower water consumption, reduce excessive use of inputs and ensure efficient production of high-quality produce. 

Using the best of science and on-ground farming experience, we increase the value per acre by enhancing yields and growing premium produce.

Farming is rewarding – mentally, spiritually, and financially. But it is not without risk: it requires serious investment, crisp execution, and systematic experimentation. We are confident that over time we will be able to create value for our crop investors and the community.

We appreciate the insights shared by Ajith & the team at FarmChakra - learn more about them by visiting: https://farmchakra.com

In 2023 we can expect some significant movement in agri-food industry trends:

  • Agri-financing and sustainability investments will accelerate
  • There will be a huge and rapid shift towards digitization of agriculture for maximising the visibility, sustainability & transparency of food systems 
  • There will be improved access to the resources and technologies needed to implement sustainable practices such as irrigation systems and equipment for conservation agriculture. 
  • Better coordination and communication between different players in the supply chain.
  • Nations will build self-reliance and self-sufficiency in food production.

 

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