Prof. Arup Dasgupta
It is said that with growing population, the world will need to produce more food in the next fifty years than it has in the past ten centuries to meet rising demand. Climate change, water shortage and limited availability of new land are challenges to realising a long term sustainable food supply. In the past, brute force methods have resulted in short term solutions, followed by disasters as these solutions were not sustainable and led to degradation in land and water quality. Conflicting demands on scarce land and water also pose enormous challenges. Bumper agricultural output poses huge problems of transportation, storage and distribution.
Technological inputs to agriculture hold the key to sustainable food production. Geospatial technology is fast becoming one of the most important players in agriculture. GIS and GPS provide solutions for precision farming, which enables the application of the right amount of correct inputs at the right time. This reduces the cost of production, avoids waste of scarce resources and enhances sustainability. Geospatial technology also finds application in many other aspects of agriculture.
Crop production forecasting is perhaps one of the earliest applications as exemplified by the Landsat LACIE experiment of the 1970s. Other applications include the early detection of wheat rust disease and the development of agro-meteorological crop yield models. Studies by Booze-Allen and RAND have shown that such early warning and pre-harvest estimations can reduce price fluctuations that affect both farmers and consumers. In post-harvest situations, geospatial technology is being used to plan location of storage sites, movement of stocks and distribution. Geospatial technology is also being used in soil mapping, land capability and suitability analysis, grass land management, watershed management, erosion prevention, water resources planning and management, ground water exploration and last but not the least disaster management and mitigation. Agricultural insurance companies, fertiliser companies and manufacturers of pesticides also depend on geospatial technology for locational information.
Technology can do much but it cannot solve all problems. The tragedy is that there are pockets in the world where people are dying of hunger or are at war over food, water and land while in other prosperous areas, bumper crops, grown under huge subsidies, are destroyed to ensure that prices remain high. Traditional measures like public distribution of food are at best very creaky and often very leaky as well. Alternatives like cash subsidies are being considered instead of subsidised prices. Can geospatial technology provide another solution?