Transforming Indian Agriculture: Embracing Innovation for a Sustainable Future

By Rajesh Aggarwal


India’s journey to achieving food security and economic growth hinges on transforming our agricultural sector through innovation and smart technologies. With the climate crisis threatening our food supply, it’s essential to adopt technologies that offer resilience, precision, and foresight. These advancements will help us better prepare for and navigate both present challenges and future uncertainties.

With a market size of roughly $400 billion, the country is currently the world’s largest producer of pulses, milk, and spices, and second-largest producer of tea, fruits, vegetables, cotton, sugarcane, rice, sugar, and wheat, etc., per IBEF reports. What is clear is that India is a global player and major exporter of grains, spices, and other agricultural products.


However, the country is yet to fully attain the level of agricultural prosperity that will drive food security, empowerment for local farmers and communities, and overall economic development. The country is addressing challenges such as low yield per hectare for major crops, often caused by insect pests and diseases, inefficient practices, and the gradual adoption of agritech and innovation. As these issues are tackled, India’s agricultural sector is poised for even greater achievements.


Driving innovation across India’s farms

Rising awareness about emerging agricultural technologies is pushing farmers and agricultural players to adopt strategies and tools that enhance efficiency and productivity on farms. This revolution is supported by governments at all levels, which have taken steps to bolster innovation in the sector. Beyond the adoption of artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and unmanned aerial drones, farmers are embracing simpler innovations to boost their productivity.


In Mangaluru, for instance, an easy-to-use tree scooter has been developed to help farmers harvest areca palms, allowing them to harvest up to 300 palms per day. This reduces dependence on human labour, cuts down labor costs, and triples the volume harvested compared to conventional methods. Such automation is breaking barriers and bolstering the efforts of farmers, particularly in rural agrarian communities.


Other innovations support desert farming, post-harvest storage, shelf-life enhancement, and irrigation. For example, equipment that measures crop water requirements is becoming more common. Emerging technologies embedded in the internet of things (IoT) are also making a significant impact. Farmers can now track crop health, soil moisture, temperature, and livestock health in real time, allowing for quicker responses and better decision-making.


The digital revolution is another significant aspect of India’s agricultural makeover. Various agri-tech startups are developing platforms that connect farmers directly with markets, reducing the role of intermediaries and ensuring better prices for their produce. Mobile apps provide farmers with critical information on weather forecasts, crop advisory services, and real-time market prices. The use of blockchain technology is also being explored to enhance transparency in the supply chain. By recording every transaction in an immutable ledger, blockchain ensures traceability of produce from farm to fork, boosting consumer confidence in the quality and safety of agricultural products.


Advanced crop protection solutions and agri-drone revolution

India’s agricultural transformation relies heavily on crop protection products, essential for maintaining crop health and maximising yields. Insecticides and fungicides manage harmful pests and diseases, with modern formulations targeting pests while minimising environmental damage. Advanced insecticides spare beneficial insects, preserving ecological balance. Biological crop protection products, like Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) and Trichoderma, offer safer alternatives, with Bt targeting specific insects and Trichoderma combating soil-borne diseases while enhancing plant growth. Integrated Pest Management (IPM) combines chemical, biological, and cultural methods, reducing pesticide use, costs, and environmental impact. Practices such as crop rotation, intercropping, and using resistant crop varieties promote long-term sustainability.


Investments in agri-drone adoption are skyrocketing in India, as drones become a common sight in agriculture. They serve multiple purposes, including farm area monitoring, weather forecasting, crop photography, fertilisation, and products application. With a potential value of $32 billion, agriculture ranks second only to manufacturing for drone solutions. Projections indicate that agri-drone usage in India will soar at a CAGR of 38.5% to reach $121.43 million by 2030. This growth is fuelled by collaborative efforts between the government and private sector.


The Kisan Drone Initiative, launched in February 2022, exemplifies the government’s push for drone adoption in agriculture. Under this scheme, institutions can access agricultural drones fully funded by the government, up to Rs. 10 lakhs. Additionally, graduates setting up hiring centers receive a 50% subsidy (up to Rs. 5 lakhs), while drones for demonstration purposes enjoy a 75% subsidy.


Towards a prosperous future

India’s agricultural transformation is a comprehensive endeavour that combines technology, sustainability, policy support, and digital innovations. Despite obstacles, these efforts aim to make agriculture more productive and sustainable. Beyond food security, it empowers farmers, conserves the environment, and builds resilience. As these practices become more widespread, they hold the potential to not only enhance food security and farmer incomes but also ensure the long-term health of the environment.


(The author is Rajesh Aggarwal, Managing Director, Insecticides (India) Limited, and the views expressed in this article are his own)