In the last 6 months of meeting several stakeholders from the agriculture industry, one question which has stayed in mind as we head to 2018, is do we really know our farmer? We know who our banker is, we know who our lawyer is, we are very picky when it comes to choosing our doctor and where our medicines come from, but do we really care who our farmer is? The food we consume much more than anything else in the day, at-least 90% of us really don’t know where the food comes from… Isn’t that surprising considering most of the issues which we face or talk about today in terms of health, fitness, diseases everything has a deep rooted connection with the food we consume… As this question started bothering me further, I started to dig deep on why we are not in a position to find out where our food comes from ….
Every industry has a very systematic process when it comes to moving its produce from raw material to finished goods. Technology like batch numbering, exists from ages in the manufacturing industry, even the smallest of industry today has a clear register on inward raw material, what goes into production and what comes out as finished goods. A complete trace from finished product to the source of raw material can be established… But the majority of our farmers have not been educated on this system, this is where our first problem starts… Even if farmers know the source of where they buy the seeds from, they do not track where and how much they put the seeds in the farm, they hardly keep a track of a systematic way of using fertilizers and pesticides… Many have soil health cards but don’t know what to do with them post receiving them. Result you end up with crops and food which contain chemicals, pests which should not get into a food system and then the repercussions of this are staring at us. 600 million+ deaths as per WHO was due to food borne diseases and I am sure the number is just increasing…
Many organisations are working towards addressing this, but they are all having a piecemeal approach… What is needed is a systematic approach to growing and distributing our produce… Here are a couple of my thoughts on how this problem can be addressed…
I would have interacted with thousands of farmers in the last few years, when I ask them where they learnt farming from, I get very funny answers, for somebody who is producing tons of cash crops, fruits or vegetables only 5-8% have formal education on farming… The common answer is, “We have been doing farming for ages. What is there to learn?” For all other professions there are many systematic approaches to become an expert in their respective professions however for farming there is none, and all our agri courses today in colleges seem outdated, I face that daily when I try recruiting some of them for my organisation needs.. While a formal education system change will take far more time, an immediate approach could be provide a technology platform which will educate the farmer on best practices on farming, education on various diseases which exists for what he grows, how to counter them and interact with other peers to learn from their success and failures to ensure more and more awareness is spread. Education on what nutrition and pest management solutions to adopt is the key to success… When our child grows every parent learns how and what to give our child at what stage of growth, but why not a similar approach for our plants who have to be taken care the same way.
Today one of the reasons the world is moving at a fast pace is due to adoption of technology. Digitization has a massive impact on the way we lead our lives today. We can reach far more people, interact and get feedback on any product or service much faster than it used to be. However, even today technology adoption is the poorest in agriculture. Isn’t it ironic that the highest consuming product is food on this planet and the system which helps us grow food has lowest technology adoption? But this definitely is set to change and with technology like Artificial Intelligence, IoT we will soon be seeing a newer way not only to farm but also help farmers in much more ways than we can even imagine. If a farmer knows what to grow, how to grow and can track the progress and can report issues and find solutions all on a single agtech platform it will contribute to the food security problem in multiple ways.
Apart from technology adoption in helping to grow, there are now different mechanisms available today as alternate ways to contribute to sustainable agriculture. Plant factory (Indoor farming) is a concept which is soon spreading its wings across the globe, and you will soon see that into mainstream agriculture though today it is niche. The focus here is indoor farming, by utilizing large warehouses, containers, closed buildings and playhouses where you are not dependent on soil, weather and sunlight… Sounds too far-fetched today, but we are already growing 30+ tons which are soil-less and indoor in India and I know of many organisations across the world who are doing it with the help of Hydroponics, Aquaponics and Aeroponics. You will hear these terms more and more as climate change has its impact and weather and other conditions become non conducive for farming..
While you might hear a lot of gloom surrounding agriculture in India and across, I see the exact opposite, everything surrounding agriculture has plenty of opportunities both for business houses and farmers. It is just that there needs to be a cohesive effort to have technology adoption which will increase transparency to know where your food comes from as well as how you should optimize your growing through precision farming as at the end of the day our entire approach is what can enable us to grow more with less.
Finally, optimism also drives utility, as tomorrow when you are hungry and you have a mobile phone/laptop in front of you and food what will you consume more that’s where probably your answer lies.
Isn’t that food for thought?