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IT based Transformations in Indian Agriculture and Food

India represents almost 17.31% of the world’s population which makes it the second most populous country in the world with 1.22 billion people. With the population growth rate at 1.58%, India is expected to be the most populous country by 2030 with 1.53 billion people. This rapid increase in population adds significantly to the demand on food production, which increases the pressure on agriculture and its prerequisites. Two thirds of the Indian population lives in rural areas and depends on agriculture for living. The Green Revolution has significantly increased food production in India in the last 60 years (grain production increased from 51 million tons in 1951-52 to 250 million tons in 2012). In recent years, India has accomplished White Revolution (milk production), Yellow Revolution (Pulses), and Blue Revolution (Fish and aquatic productions).

Agriculture is thus an integral part of Indian economy. Agriculture in India employs 53 percent of the total workforce, making it a vital element of inclusive growth of the Indian economy. The share of agriculture and allied sectors in the gross domestic product (GDP) has declined steadily from 38.8 percent in 1980-81 to 14.2 percent in 2010-11. There is a growing divergence between overall economic growth and agricultural growth, which might have serious implications. In addition, 27 percent of farmers are not satisfied with farming as a source of livelihood as it is not always profitable and 40 percent would quit farming if they had a choice.

A critical question is whether the agricultural productivity in India can keep up with the rate of population growth- to feed the additional 310 million people expected to be in the population by 2030. This is a serious challenge not only to the policy makers but also to agricultural producers, scientists, economists and social media. The goal of the 12th five-year plan is to attain more inclusive, faster and sustainable growth. It is not possible to attain such a goal without focusing on growth in the agriculture sector. Even in some of the progressive states like Punjab and Gujarat, farmers are facing problems as water tables are receding and cultivable land is becoming less productive. A different but major set of problems that needs to be addressed is related to climate change/global warming (unpredictable cold waves, heat waves, floods, and exceptionally intense downpours), which is increasing in severity and predicted to cause a major impact on agricultural production systems. Farmers need improved enabling technologies to combat as well as cope with the risks associated with climate change. The government is planning to pass the Right to Food Act, which would serve as a viable safety net for the poor and the vulnerable sections among whom malnutrition has been particularly high. Good nutrition requires a balanced diet through multiple food sources.   With economic growth and changing dietary habits, the demand for fruits and vegetables, milk and milk products, and meat and fish is also steadily increasing.  Diversification of agriculture to improve the productivity of non-cereal crops like pulses, fruits, vegetables, milk and meat is a major challenge. The factors that further compound these problems include: limited or diminishing additional land available for crop production, limited and degraded natural resources (soil and water), decreasing trend to opt for farm labor and the energy crisis.

The efficiency of agricultural and allied production systems thus needs to be improved to meet the growing food and nutrition demands. A greater focus is needed to increase the agricultural production, while making sustainable use of natural resources and improving conservation practices.  More emphasis is needed on improving land management, efficient irrigation and water management, improving agricultural trade and markets, and new agricultural technologies to combat production losses due to crop diseases, draughts, nutrient deficiencies, and other factors. As information and communication technologies are vital to the development, management and success of businesses and economy, they may be viewed as an integral part of agriculture – production, planning, marketing, management and other social agenda items.  Given the vast nature of agricultural production systems in India, information technology (IT) can facilitate improvements in efficiency and productivity of agriculture and related activities, timely and quality information inputs to decision making, marketing, and bringing about an overall qualitative improvement in rural life.

A joint 2 day Strategy Formulation Meeting (SFM) on was organized by ITRA & ICAR on 15-16 March, 2013 at NASC Complex, New Delhi. The event will be inaugurated by Shri J. Satyanarayana, Secretary, DeitY, and presided over by Dr. S. Ayyappan, Director General, ICAR. This SFM was attended by 80+ National and International IT, Agriculture and food experts.

The SFM participants were welcomed by Dr. G.V. Ramaraju, MD&CEO, Media Lab Asia. Prof. Narendra Ahuja, ITRA gave an overview of ITRA. It was followed by Dr. M. M. Pandey, DDG (Engg), ICAR giving an overview of ICAR. Shri J. Satyanarayana, Secretary, DeitY informed about the IT initiatives on agriculture taken by Govt. of India and its requirement and impact. Dr. S. Ayyappan, Secretary DARE and DG, ICAR gave an insight how and why IT can help agriculture sector in India. Finally, Vote of Thanks was given by Dr. Rameshwar Singh, Project Director, DKMA, ICAR.

In the following sessions it was discussed how ICT&E can help in Agriculture & Food Areas viz. Crop Production; Soil, Water and Weather; Agriculture Education / Extension; Marketing and Agri- business; and Livestock. The experts also discussed how ‘IT in Agriculture & Food’ initiative of ITRA can improve the quality and quantity of Research & Development (R&D); Curricular options; Program for Societal Sensitivity for problem spotting & solving; Entrepreneurial Activity.

The SFM was concluded by final remarks of Dr R. Chidambaram, Principal Scientific Advisor to Govt. of India.

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Click here => SFM Report to open/download SFM report.

The Request For Proposal (RFP) on ITRA-Agri&Food has been floated on Nov 12, 2014.

Click here => RFP to download RFP.