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History of scientific farming in India

precision farming
The rich history of scientific farming has paved way to prcision farming. Use of geospatial technology can further help in boosting crop production.

Agriculture has always been a lifeline for India. Even though with age, India has made a mark in various spheres and has progressed in the manufacturing sector by leaps and bounds, but agriculture still remains one of the key drivers of the economy. Worldwide, India ranks second in farm output and accounts for about 50% of the country’s workforce. But this isn’t a new phenomenon.

From ancient times, agriculture has played a vital role in India’s growth and can be traced back to Indus Valley Civilization. Rich fertile land, plenty of water for irrigation, and domestication of crops and animals were some of the key factors for its success. Other areas where agriculture was a predominant force for rise and fall of many kingdoms were the Gangetic Plain and the Deccan Peninsula area. Even then, the constant evolution of science and technology helped agriculture immensely.

Since then Indian agriculture has witnessed many phases. However, the real success of scientific farming and use of various technologies in agriculture can be attributed to the Green Revolution. In 1960s when India was grappling with frequent droughts, Green Revolution came as a God’s blessing.

Green Revolution

Scientific farming
the real success of scientific farming and use of various technologies in agriculture can be attributed to the Green Revolution.

The golden period in the agriculture sector, facilitated in increasing crop yields by manifolds. Improved agronomic technology allowed India to overcome poor agricultural productivity.

A crucial aspect to the success of the Green Revolution in India was the various scientific technologies developed to facilitate more yields. New farming irrigation methods such as drip irrigation, stronger and more resistant pesticides, more efficient fertilizers, and newly developed seeds helped in proficient crop growth. As a result of such new improvements in agricultural methods, India experienced drastic increases in crop production. This eventually led to the country becoming more self-sufficient and avoiding mass famine and starvation.

The term “evergreen revolution”, coined by agricultural scientist Dr. M. S. Swaminathan, kept India away from large scale import of food. At that time, technology, basically digital in character, like Remote Sensing, Geographical Information Systems (GIS), Global Positioning System (GPS) and Geo-infomatics were not available. In fact, in 1966, it was only with the help of the late Dr. Vikram Sarabhai, Dr Swaminathan conducted the first remote sensing study in India about coconut root wilt in Kerala with the help of NASA to get equipment.

A new era of scientific farming

While 1980s can be termed as a transition time, where reforms under the guidance of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had just started steering its way to economic stability, it was only in 1991 during the time of “Liberalization”, India saw some major reforms that gave impetus to the economy. It was during this time that ISRO was also trying its best to launch remote sensing in India. In 1988 the space agency launched Indian Remote Sensing (IRS) satellite – IRA-1A through a Russian rocket. Then in 1991 it launched second operational remote sensing satellite IRS-1B. After this a series of launches were seen. The space agency went aggressive to put India on the radar of global space giants.

With the country developing the indigenous Indian Remote Sensing (IRS) satellite program, the technology started to support the national economy in the areas of agriculture, water resources, forestry and ecology, geology, watersheds, marine fisheries and coastal management.

Remote sensing since then has played a major role in the scientific advancements of the Indian agriculture sector. Dr. M. S. Swaminathan in an interview with the Geospatial World said, “Since then we have developed enormous capacities in the area of remote sensing and today we are one of the finest. We have used it for a number of purposes including land management and agriculture.”

scientific farming
With India develop the indigenous Indian Remote Sensing (IRS) satellite program, the technology started to support the national economy in the areas of agriculture, water resources, forestry and ecology, etc.

G-tech to propel economy’s growth trajectory

Agricultural scientists believed that remote sensing could help solve many issues, but this ideology took some time to evolve in India. The era of 2000 was a period where a lot of innovations, new Bills and reforms were introduced. One of the major milestones in the country’s journey towards becoming a key player in the knowledge economy was the “Computer Revolution” that started with the 5th Century Indian mathematician Aryabhata I’s introduction of the concept of zero, the basis of all programming.

In May 2000, India’s lower house of Parliament, the Lok Sabha (House of the People), passed the Information Technology Bill to boost e-commerce and Internet-related business in the country. The Bill provided a legal framework for e-commerce, legalized digital documents, and created a police task force to deal with the unsavory fallout of India’s computer revolution — cyber-crime.

It was this revolution that paved the way to the concept of e-farming or e-agriculture also referred as ICT in agriculture. E-agriculture focused on the enhancement of agricultural and rural development through improved information and communication processes. This involved conceptualizing, designing, developing, evaluating and application of innovative ways to use information and communication technologies (ICTs) in the rural domain, with a primary focus on agriculture. It has helped in enhancing agriculture productivity by manifolds. “Information is there in the verticals and we need horizontal exchanges of information. Time is now to integrate all this and GIS is known to be a great integrator and enabler of information,” said Dr Vandana Sharma, Deputy Director, National Informatics Centre (NIC).

During this time India had also started to realise the worth of geospatial technology in boosting its economic growth by using the technology in various fields. “Geospatial technology plays a crucial role in improving governance through better planning, decision making, effective and timely implementation and real-time analysis,” said Kaushik Chakraborty, Vice President, Hexagon India. Understanding this trend, several states had initiated setting up state spatial data infrastructures.

Response towards geospatial technology

Recognising the importance of spatial data, the XI Plan (2007-12) had laid a great emphasis on this. While provisioning for around Rs 66 billion in the use of various types of technologies under different ministries, it had also mandated the use of geospatial applications in some of the mission mode projects such as the National Land Records Management Programme (NLRMP), Restructured Accelerated Power Development and Reform Programme (RAPDRP), Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM), National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA), while actually acknowledging that “location-specific planning using geographical information system … helps in planning for sustainable development”.

However, as we entered the XII Five Year Plan in 2013, a realistic stocktaking would reveal that the progress and implementation have been far from operational and sporadic, to say the least.

scientific farmingAfter the euphoria of the XI Plan, the XII Plan draft showed a sluggish approach towards g-tech. Other than Rs 25 billion provisioned for setting up of the National GIS and mapping of the entire country at 1:10k, there was very little mention of its use and allocation.

Meanwhile, following the 2008 global food price crisis, many developing countries have adopted new food security policies and have made significant investments in their agricultural systems. Global hunger is also back on top of the international agenda. However, the question is not only how much is done, but also how it is done — and what kinds of food systems are now being rebuilt.

Agriculture is the backbone of Indian economy and to give an impetus to this sector the country one of the few countries in the world has started using space technology and land-based observations for generating regular updates on crop production statistics and providing inputs to achieve sustainable agriculture. While new advancements are taking place in the field of agriculture, the concept of precision-farming is relatively new to India and holds an enormous scope to explore

What is precision farming and what is its scope?

After nearly four decades into the post green revolution period, the country still grapples with crisis each year in trying to meet the increasing demand for food by its people. As the result of information technology application in agriculture, precision farming is a feasible approach for sustainable agriculture.

According to a report by Department of Agronomy, University of Agricultural Sciences, Dharwad, Karnataka, farming makes use of remote sensing to macro-control of GPS to locate precisely ground position and of GIS to store ground information. It precisely establishes various operations, such as the best tillage, application of fertilizer, sowing, irrigation, harvesting etc., and turns traditional extensive production to intensive production according to space variable data.  Precision farming not only may utilize full resources, but also reduce investment, decrease pollution of the environment and get the most of social and economic efficiency, but also makes farm products, the same as industry, become controllable, and be produced in standards and batches.

However, precision farming has been confined to developed countries. Land tenure system, smaller farm size, and crop diversity have limited the scope of precision farming in India.

It is apparent that there is a tremendous scope for precision farming in India as well and it is necessary to develop database of agriculture resources, which will act as decision support system at the farm level.

Also read: Dr. M S Swaminathan speaks on the use of spatial technologies in agriculture 

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