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Precision farming and FPO model will facilitate sustainability in Agriculture.

Dr.T.P.Sethumadhavan

 
          Agriculture sector in India is facing lot of challenges including increasing cost of production, decreasing production and productivity, constraints in value addition and marketing and climatic variation. Govt of India during the 2015-16 budget announced that farmer’s income will be doubled and organic farming will be promoted by 2022. But per capita income during the period according to NSSO was Rs 89500.If this has to reach 183000 by 2022, the sector has to exhibit a minimum growth of 10 4 percent per annum. But during the last 4 years annual growth was only 1.85 percent.  To achieve the target, growth should be above 13 percent. So it is clear that the budget announcement cannot be fulfilled easily.
Agriculture is the largest private sector in India. Recent findings by Confederation of Indian industry reveals that 70 percent of farming operations are running under loss. 15 percent with marginal income just above the breakeven price and 14-15 percent of farming are really profitable.
In order to increase the income from agriculture, substantial changes in the farming practices through precision farming with the use of innovations and technologies are needed. Recently held workshop on precision agriculture technologies held at Chennai as part of Agricon 2018 highlighted the need for using this technology to augment production from agriculture in India. In India precision farming is limited mostly to precision irrigation and selected crops. Precision farming use local specific data of soil, water, weather and vegetation. Itshould take in to account spatial and temperature variability, environmental impact, use of information and communication technology including Agri analytics. Agencies like ICRISAT, Hyderabad, MS Swaminathan Foundation, Microsoft, Tech Mahindra and Cab international are effectively using these technologies. Village knowledge centres of MD Swaminathan Foundation use social media, SMS, mobile apps and internet to provide real time data on temperature, humidity, wind speed, wind direction, rain gauge, soil, water condition, etc. Soil world software will provide use of fertilizers appropriate to soil based on crop and management practiced. Basic objective of countries which are intensively practicing precision farming is to double production and reduce cost of production by half. The Netherlands is using precision faming to increase production and productivity. For example average productivity of tomato per square metre over 9 months is 20 kg whereasin Netherlandsproductivity is around 70 kg per square metre.
There is a tendency among policy makers to promote agriculture in barren lands. But most of them argue for paddy cultivation. But paddy cultivation requires seven times more water than other crops. So selection of appropriate crops require more emphasis.Precision farming use sensors, satellite images, drones, internet of things for soil analysis, monitoring, irrigation, etc. with innovative farm management with appropriate extension network.
In order to make agriculture as one of the viable ventures it requires precision farming with end to end crop specific solutions. Value addition, market led extension and production need to be promoted to increase farmer’s income.
Use of precision farming required three sets of imperatives. It must address the immediate challenges like price realisation, transparency and storage. It must enable and adapt technology solutions which includes comprehensive data base, infrastructure facilities and use of precision farming tools. Moreover it requires integrated solutions for using customised, crop specific end to end solutions.
Promotion of Agri entrepreneurship model will enhance production. Lot of start-ups are emerging in agriculture. But income through agriculture can be increased through market led value addition programmes. Food processing will facilitate to get more income through agriculture. It has been predicted that by 2022, of the total retail market 70 percent will be food market. Access to credit, water and market will facilitate to increase production. Moreover it requires better storage and post-harvest technologies. 
Precision farming will provide early warning signals and develop prediction models based on weather, pest, drones, diseases and yield.  Basically it is a type of smart agriculture using innovations and smart technologies. Organic farming can be promoted with strict regulatory measures including residue monitoring. Govt of India envisages to promote organic farming on a large scale. But it must take in to account appropriate certification including residue monitoring. The need of the hour is to promote the concept of safe to eat products with pesticide, chemical or heavy metal residues with less than permissible limits which won't affect the production. Moreover agriculture research must focus on developing more of farmer friendly technologies and appropriate technology transfer among the potential stake holders. Fragmentation Agri based universities need to be minimised in order to promote interdisciplinary research. The term agriculture must include all crops including animal agriculture and fisheries. Then only envisaged growth can be achieved.
FPO/ FPC model will facilitate sustainability in Agriculture.
Even though India is the 7thlargest agricultural exporter in the World, farmers remain in frequent distress. Small farmers account for 83 percent of total holding. Kerala tops the list of being the State with highest number of small and marginal farmers while in Nagaland, holdings are larger than average size in other states.
Sustainability in agriculture can only be achieved through market centred approach. Farmer producer organisations (FPO) and farmer producer companies (FPC) play a key role in this sector.  FPO is an association, society, cooperative, union, federation or a firm that has been established to promote the interests of the farmers. It envisages to provide servicesthat support producers or farmers in their cultivation and post-harvest activities. Producer companies came in to existence for more commercial sustainable able operations of FPOs with amendment of section 581 of the Companies act 1956 in 2003. Currently the country has more than 2000 farmer producer companies. Moreover thousands of Farmer producer organisations are existing in the country.  Recent study reveals that during the last seven years FPC’s numbers were increased by more than 14 fold in the country. In India FPCs were initially promoted and supported by State Government in Madhya Pradesh under World Bank poverty reduction project since 2005 and thereafter since 2011 similar projects in states like Maharashtra and Himachal Pradesh. Lot of FPCs and FPOs are functioning the country with the financial support from NABARD.  In India where 85 percent of producers are holding less than 1.33 hectare of land, there is an apparent need for aggregation of producers and their produce.  A producer company needs a minimum of five Directors, 10 primary producer members or two producer institution members. Each member has only one vote irrespective of the number of shares held. Shares can be transferred to primary producers on price consideration.
Farmer producer companies offer the farmers advantages that come from higher scales of operation at various stages of the agricultural value chain system. But the progress has been slow and needs to be accelerated by creating incentives and supporting facilitator’s platforms such as Agri business promotion facility. If the farmer is encouraged to become a member of FPC/FPO and integrated efficiently with value chain plat form the farmers will get real benefit. At a time Government of India is trying to double farmer’s income by 2022, mobilising the farmers and their produce for imparting efficiency and effectiveness to agriculture sectors operations at all stages through FPCs and FPOs will try to achieve sustainability in agriculture. 
FPCs are working based on principles like voluntary and open membership, democratic management by farmer members, farmer member participation and co-operation, autonomy and independence, education, training and information on market and technology and concern for the community. FPCs must have a minimum paid-up authorised capital of Rs 10000.  Maximum numbers can exceed 50. It shall never become a public limited company and members’ equity cannot be traded but can be transferred. The registered producer company should be treated as a private limited company with significant difference that only two persons cannot get it registered, liability is limited to share. There areof of portals and mobile apps for members of FPCs under digital India initiatives which include web portals, mobile applications, Kissan suvidha mobile app, Pusa krishi app, etc.
NABARD supported FPOs are emerging in the country. Kerala has nearly 107 NABARD supported FPOs. Moreover State Kudumbasree Mission and NGOs are supporting FPOs and FPCs in the State.FPCs development approach include cluster identification, diagnostic study, feasibility analysis and mobilisation of Farmer members, business planning, resource mobilisation and business operation. Networking of agriculture sector with mobilisation of farmers through FPOs or FPCs will facilitate to make agriculture as a viable business Enterprise in the country where on 33 percent of the farming operations ate running under profit. There are immense opportunities for agriculture and allied sectors including dairying, poultry production, meat production, bee keeping, value addition, food processing to maintain sustainability through incorporation of FPOs or FPCs.
(Dr.T.P.Sethumadhavan, Former Director of Entrepreneurship, KVASU, Visiting Research fellow, University of Reading, UK and currently working as Director, UL Education, UL Cyber Park, Kozhikode. E mail tpsethu2000@gmail.com)
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