Baba’s Explainer – Agriculture and Technology

  • IASbaba
  • September 30, 2022
  • 0
Agriculture, Environment & Ecology
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  • GS-3: Agriculture and related issues
  • GS-2: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.

Context: The agricultural sector is expansive and is constantly advancing. Moreover, with climate-resilient technology picking up in developing economies to yield higher productivity under climate variables, the sector is constantly in the churn.

  • In the Indian context, there are immense improvements in irrigation systems and fertilizers, and that is raising the bar in crop cultivation and production.
  • India has received a promising investment of $1.6 billion for agri-tech till 2021.
  • Tech startups in the sector saw a 300% jump in total funding in the last 2 years.
Why is it pertinent today to incorporate technology in agricultural sector?
  • Demand for food is growing at the same time the supply side faces constraints in land and farming inputs.
  • The world’s population is on track to reach 9.7 billion by 2050, requiring a corresponding 70 percent increase in calories available for consumption, even as the cost of the inputs needed to generate those calories is rising.
  • By 2030, the water supply will fall 40 percent short of meeting global water needs, and rising energy, labor, and nutrient costs are already pressuring profit margins.
  • About one-quarter of arable land is degraded and needs significant restoration before it can again sustain crops at scale.
  • And then there are increasing environmental pressures, such as climate change and the economic impact of catastrophic weather events, and social pressures, including the push for more ethical and sustainable farm practices, such as higher standards for farm-animal welfare and reduced use of chemicals and water.
  • The COVID-19 crisis has further intensified other challenges agriculture faces in five areas: efficiency, resilience, digitization, agility, and sustainability. Lower sales volumes have pressured margins, exacerbating the need for farmers to contain costs further.
    • In this global pandemic, heavy reliance on manual labor has further affected farms whose workforces face mobility restrictions.
  • To address these forces poised to further roil the industry, agriculture must embrace latest technologies
How has technology evolved and shaped agriculture over past few decades across globe?

Aided by significant advancements in technology, farming innovation really began to pick up during the second half of the 20th century and into the beginning of the 21st century.

  • 1960s – The Green Revolution: The program was spearheaded by Dr. Norman Borlaug. Using traditional plant breeding methods, Borlaug started a growing process that allowed plants to thrive with new irrigation and crop management techniques. By the 1960s, the benefits of what was nicknamed the “Green Revolution” were apparent when successful new wheat varieties were made available in countries across the globe.
  • 1974 – New Herbicide: A new herbicide using glyphosate as the active ingredient was developed. Glyphosate-based herbicide is used by farmers around the world to control weeds in their crops. These glyphosate-based herbicides also made their way into lawn and garden products, which allow landowners to control weeds along sidewalks, driveways, gardens, and fences.
  • 1975 – Rotary combines are introduced: The first twin-rotor system combine was created by Sperry-New Holland. This allowed crops to be cut and separated in one pass over the field. For corn, it not only separated the husk and ears, but also shelled the kernels and chopped the stalks, saving considerable amounts of time, energy and resources for farmers
  • 1982 – First genetically modified plant cell: Scientists working at Monsanto Company became the first in the world to genetically modify a plant cell. The team used Agrobacterium to introduce a new gene into the petunia plant. Within five years, these researchers planted their first outdoor trials of a genetically modified crop – tomatoes that were resistant to insects, viruses and crop protection solutions.
  • 1994 – Satellite technology advances farming: For the first time, farmers were able to use satellite technology to see their farms from overhead. This new perspective enabled them to collect unprecedented insights to better track their field’s performance and strategically plan for next season based on their farm’s data.
  • 1996 – The first GMO crops become commercially available: After years of testing for safety and performance, the first genetically-modified row crops became available for farmers. In addition to developing cotton that could better protect itself against damaging insects, the newly introduced soy crop was developed alongside crop protection solutions that enabled farmers to specifically target invasive weeds that compete for land, water, sunlight and soil nutrients.
  • 2000s – Software and mobile devices helps farmers have better harvests: Like many people, farmers around the world started carrying mobile devices, which allowed them to stay connected to colleagues while in the field. This also meant they now had access to data while on-the-go.
    • In addition to the unprecedented ability to order seed or fertilizer at any time or in any place, this also allowed smallholder farmers to access crucial agronomic advice and secure fair market pricing to help protect their livelihoods.
    • Through access to real-time data, farmers are making better-informed decisions that allow them to use resources more sustainably.
    • With such detailed insight into their fields, farmers can even track the amount of carbon they store in their soil—a critical step in fighting climate change.
  • 2020 – AI, machine learning and automation: Artificial intelligence, analytics, connected sensors, and other emerging technologies could further increase yields, improve the efficiency of water and other inputs, and build sustainability and resilience across crop cultivation and animal husbandry.
    • While these digital innovations are helping improve plant breeding, the applications of these technologies are endless.
    • For example, by combining data analytics and hybrid breeding processes, short-stature corn was developed to stand at the ideal height to avoid greensnap and pair perfectly with combine equipment during harvest. That’s a huge step forward in preventing food loss in the field.
  • The Future of Indoor Vertical Farms: Around the world, farmers are exploring the potential of indoor growing spaces. In addition to insulating crops from environmental pressures such as pests, disease and extreme weather events, indoor farms allow farmers to grow using considerably less land and far fewer resources. It also changes where humanity can grow food.
    • Similar closed-loop systems are being piloted in the desert (such as our Marana Greenhouse), in local urban areas and even the stratosphere—a fundamental advancement necessary to drive a more sustainable future on Earth as well as deeper explorations into space.
What are some of basic technologies that needs to be adopted by Indian farmers?
  1. Machinery for land preparation
  • Land preparation is a crucial process that ensures the soil bed is well prepared before planting the seeds. This prepares the land for sowing and brings in a high yield.
  • Land machines such as land tillers, levelers, and ploughs reduce the amount of effort a farmer has to invest in the land preparation process.
  • Farmers often face issues toiling on the farms to plough and prepare the land in the scorching heat. In due course, some portion of the land doesn’t get adequately tilled, which affects the sowing process.
  1. Seeding Management
  • While it might seem like an easy task, seeding as a process involves ensuring the soil is nourished and irrigated, reducing any crop residue.
  • These technologies make sure that the fertilization and sowing processes take place simultaneously. Performing multiple functions ensures less manpower and caters to different crops like wheat and maize.
  1. Machines to Manage Crop Residue
  • The sowing process does not end the work of the farmers. There’s still crop residue to sweep off, and many of the machines help in doing so. The residue needs to be cleaned so that the soil bed can be prepared for the next sowing session.
  • These machines claw out the residue, such as straws of wheat and crop remains. This stops the farmers from burning the crop residue, which results in air pollution.
  • Using state-of-the-art technology can help farmers yield better produce while raising their incomes. This can especially help small-scale farmers with their productivity.
What are some of the challenges in adoption of technologies by farmers?

While technology proves to be very beneficial for challenges faced in this sector, there’s a long way to go.

  • Something that runs in this arena is not accessible and affordable very easily especially for small and marginal farmers.
  • Moreover, the uncertainty that rests with the amalgamation of technology with traditional practices can cause reluctance.
  • Also, infrastructure or networks are not easily available, especially in rural areas. So, the first interventions and strategies to introduce new technologies should focus on these issues too.
  • While the future seems bright with the use of agricultural technology, it’s wise to tread the waters slowly and carefully. Education can go a long way toward ensuring farmers’ security.

Main Practice Question: Why is it pertinent today to incorporate technology in today’s agriculture? Elaborate with few examples.

Note: Write answers to this question in the comment section.

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