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January 02, 2019 Wednesday 01:12:29 PM IST

Cultivate New Tech Farm Beckons Gen Next

Rajagiri Round Table

Everyone is a beneficiary of agriculture. Yet very few are concerned about the realities behind cultivation.

People tend to indulge in a culture of relishing good food, without ever thinking of the routes or the roots behind the scenes.

India has often been called a ‘sleeping giant’ in terms of utilisation of its manpower. Perhaps the term is more appropriate to describe the status of the present-day agriculture.

While IT, retail, banking, fashion and a host of other segments attract the young, why is agriculture failing to garner enough attention from a vibrant new generation?        


Are we giving enough food for thought on agriculture that could enable us to keep feeding the present and future generations? Why are the young reluctant to take up the challenges of agriculture and steer us to the forefront in the food and agri business?

The issue was discussed at the 43rd Rajagiri Round Table Conference, organised at Rajagiri School of Engineering & Technology, on December 12. 

The following three subject-experts addressed the conference initially: (1). Dr.Deepa Thomas, Assistant Professor, Rice Research Station, Kerala Agricultural University, Vyttila, Kochi; (2). Mr.Francis Kalathungal, General Convenor, Pokkali Samrakshana Samithi, Kerala; (3). Mr.Nasser M.S., General Secretary, Organic Kerala Charitable Trust, Kochi. It was followed by a discussion by the participants. 

 


Deepa Thomas

(Asst. Professor, Rice Research Station, Kerala Agricultural University)

Efforts have been continuing at various levels to implement different programmes with the aid of modern tools of technology so as to make a transformation in agriculture. Over the years, it has been a journey from a begging bowl to a bread basket. 

Different technologies such as hybridisation, tissue culture and use of fertilisers have led to an increase in agricultural production. All these technologies have been effective tools in fighting against famine.


Mechanisation has set in; tractors, combined harvesters and several other farm equipment have been of much help to farmers. Drip irrigation systems and methods to supply micro nutrients have been adapted by farmers

Several finer applications of technology for precision farming are available. The use of global positioning system (GPS) and use of sensors for identifying soil conditions and application of fertilizers according to the needs are among methods currently employed. 

Today, farm technologies are employed to identify and control weeds. Drones are deployed for identifying pest attack on coconut palms as well as paddy fields. Various kinds of technological support are available in poultry, animal husbandry, aquaculture and other segments.

Such technologies could be adapted for taking up farming within limited area or larger tracts. All such technological advances are meant to attract more people to farming. Today, farming is not a profession for the illiterate, but one for the educated.


Last year, there was a boom in vegetable cultivation in Kerala, not because the area under cultivation had increased; it was the result of a farm initiative in almost every homestead. The practice could be replicated in several other segments, even in the urban areas. Plans could be drawn to take up agriculture at appropriate levels and sustainable technologies are available to suit different conditions.

In fact, we can go for startups in agriculture. But care needs to be taken to ensure that the development of technology should not affect the society adversely, in terms of pollution or other harmful means.

Value addition is one of the ways to improve income from farm produce. Online marketing is a new opportunity. The bar code system is a new useful technology. The system provides information on the origin and method of cultivation of the produce. The technologies taught at engineering colleges could be adopted in agriculture, thus contributing to a positive turn in the agriculture scenario.

As for women’s participation, more than 70 per cent of labour in agriculture are women. More women than men are involved in paddy farming including pokkali cultivation. Women are employed in planting, weed removal and harvesting operations. In agricultural colleges, there are more female students than males. Male students generally prefer streams such as engineering. 


 

Francis Kalathungal

(General Convenor, Pokkali Samrakshana Samithi, Kerala)

We have to produce food for our consumption. Unfortunately, we live in a situation where everything is marketed.  Almost everything is made for marketing; you have to add value; only then can it be marketed.


Humanity distanced itself from animal world due to cultivation. We became a socially producing animal after transforming from a hunting stage to cultivation. Historically, agriculture is not a very productive mechanism compared to industry. The society has to apply its mind and sustain agriculture. The concept of subsidy becomes relevant. The picture evolving now is that the people, who have been feeding us, are forced to commit suicide.

 

The farmer is generally treated as one who has no education or culture, perhaps like a barbarian; this picture of a primitive person is steadily fostered by media also. In many media reports, farmer is depicted as a person wearing a traditional cap. In contrast, in most advanced countries, farming is a respectable profession.

The policies of the government should ensure adequate protection for


the farmers. His labour through which the society at large is fed, should be given

due respect. Crop losses due to natural or other causes should be promptly

compensated.

Unfortunately, in our present social milieu, status is inextricably linked up


with remuneration and the income of the average farmer is very meagre.

The beneficial effects of paddy cultivation to the environment should be

sensitized to the population in general and the students and youth in particular.

Studies by the Kerala Agricultural University have established that an acre of paddy field will assimilate into the ground nearly three lakh litres of water per year. It is an important mechanism for replenishing ground water sources, especially in the coastal


lands lying between the brackish Vembanad lake and the Arabian sea, where

the salt-tolerant pokkali paddy is cultivated. While assessing the aggregate

economic contribution of paddy cultivation to the society, the value of the fresh

water stored by the paddy fields is also to be factored in.


Recognizing the fact that agriculture is inherently labour intensive and has

low productivity, the government, as the accredited representative of the

organized society, should accord full protection to farmers in all stages of

farming activities right from land preparation to marketing of the produce.


The remuneration and the social security which a profession confer are primary factors which attract bright minds to any sector. Farmers who toil for their entire working age to feed the society should be assured of a decent pension for a dignified existence in the evening of their life.

 

Nasser M.S.

(General Secretary, Organic Kerala Charitable Trust)


Soil is an indispensable part of human existence. The elements that constitute the soil are present in the human body. If the soil is destroyed, human relations with Nature will be dead.

Agriculture has been facing increased failures due to environmental factors. Global warming has been going up at alarming levels.

 

On an analysis of fundamentals of agriculture, it could be termed as something essential for human sustenance. Without agriculture, generation of oxygen and water would be in jeopardy, leading to an imbalance in Nature, causing catastrophes such as flood and drought.


Earlier, organic carbon used to accumulate in the soil; now hydrocarbon is removed.  

We need not bring organic products from foreign countries; we should make organic produce by using natural material. Soil should be revived by converting biomass to organic carbon and not by the use of fertilizers.

The recent floods in Kerala saw the water level going up by 4 metres, but after the floods, the water levels went below normal levels, which meant that the soil had lost its water retaining capacity. The situation could be reverted only if the organic carbon content is sufficient in the soil. Plants could be protected without pesticides if the soil has enough resistance to pest attack.

 


Dr.V.Job Kuruvilla

(Educationist)

Though 60 per cent of the population depends on farming, only 15 per cent of GDP is coming from agriculture. Thus, the main issue in respect of agriculture should revolve around the economy of a nation with 120 crore people. It should not be narrowed down to the question of organic or inorganic. Nutritional quality is important.

It is to be noted that there is a big disparity in the income of the farmer in India and China.  Precision farming technologies available in Israel has made good impact in terms of productivity there.


The market price of farm produce is way above the price that the farmer gets. Distress sale of farm produce by farmers is a serious matter to be dealt with. Use of pesticides in excess of the requirement is one of the key problems faced in the farming sector. Aerial spraying of the pesticide Endosulfan had caused harm to human beings a few years ago, in one of the worst cases of misuse of pesticides in Kerala. Such an application was uncalled for. 

 

Anitha Varghese

(Asst. Professor, Rajagiri School of Engineering & Technology)


Women have an important role to play in cultivation. There are certain segments such as floriculture suited for women entrepreneurs. There are people who are doing well in such enterprises. Women belonging to Kudumbashree are also engaged in various kinds of farming. The authorities need to consider whether special subsidy packages could be offered to women to encourage them in agri-business.

 

 

Dr.J.J.Varghese


(Chairman, Steag Energy Services)

A lot of technologies are available today for those who intend to launch an enterprise in farming.

The recent floods had sent a warning sign to the people that they shouldn’t build houses near paddy fields. Government should not allow construction that come in the way of nature.

The government should have a plan to retain the agriculture land.


As regards subsidy to farmers; there is a case for subsidy, funded by green levy on tourism because tourism is sustained by green environment.

There is a good market for farm tourism; It is the natural environment that facilitates the operation of farm houses. If we are unable to sustain agriculture in Kerala, it will affect the very nature of the State. 

Today’s younger generation is tech savvy. A lot of technologies could be employed to improve productivity. Taking up an agri enterprise doesn’t mean that you have to be in a slushy environment. There are modern farming practices which are done under highly controlled environment. Many farmers are ready to share their knowledge to technology development institutes which can work on them. Development of rubber tapping machine is a case in point.

One of the notable aspects in organic farming is that the entire State of Sikkim has been undertaking farm operations without artificial fertilizers or pesticides. This could be emulated in Kerala. In fact, there is a necessity to turn to organic form of agriculture in the backdrop of the rise in the number of cancer cases, apparently due to consumption of food having toxicity.


In certain countries, heavy taxes are imposed if food is moved to long distances. The movement is not allowed beyond a limit. This is done with a view to encouraging priority treatment to food produced locally and providing self-sufficiency in production of food. 

 

Dr.S.Anand

(Asst. Professor, Rajagiri School of Engineering & Technology)


I own a few acres of farm land in Kanyakumari district of Tamil Nadu, where multi-crops are cultivated. As an engineer I am able to introduce technical knowhow at various stages of farming, but the real problem lies in the lack of adequate government support.

There is obviously a double standard in the authorities’ approach towards industry and agriculture. While monetary assistance extended to the industry is termed incentive, it is called subsidy in the case of agriculture.

One of the major problems faced by the farm sector is the steep hike in cost of inputs including labour whereas the returns are grossly inadequate for sustenance. 

The prices of agricultural produce have not at all been proportional to the input costs.


I want to buy a tractor, but the interest rates are higher than that applicable for the purchase of a car.

The government and the society should seriously consider the returns to the farmer who has to face odds every day. Organic farming does not seem to be viable under the present circumstances for the category of small farmers.

Nabard (National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development) has a scheme to extend support to farmer- producer companies; it is a good scheme, but most farmers are not aware of it. Several smart technologies being employed in India have been brought from foreign countries and hence costly. We should be able to develop our own technologies to suit Indian farm conditions.

 


Dr.Varghese Panthalookaran

(Professor of Engineering and Director of Rajagiri Media)

Value addition could be one of the solutions to the problems faced by the farming sector. Technology comes into play in value addition. Online marketing facilities could be utilised for wider reach. Proper branding and packaging are among other key factors for marketing.

Erratic climate is one of the problems confronted by farmers. If polyhouses are found unsuccessful, research needs to be focused to find a solution. There is a need for the education sector to contribute to the farming sector through technological solutions. Involvement of engineers would be desirable to develop new machinery to suit the needs of farmers.


 

Philip Daniel

(Managing Director, Best Talents Consultants)

It should be a serious matter of concern that farmers have been committing suicide. Why would someone commit suicide? It is obviously because the person has given up.


It is the small holdings that come in the way of sustainable farming. If we continue with the practice of farming in small holdings, we are looking for disaster. Farming has to be taken up on a bigger scale in larger tracts. Countries such as China had faced the problem of fragmented farm lands, but that country overcame the issue by doing away with small holdings. The governments should come forward and initiate processes for collective farming. The approach to farming has to be changed. Revolutionary changes have to be brought and long-term goals should be set. It is necessary for a turnaround. The focus should be on sustainable farming.

 

Dr.Varghese Paul

(Professor, Rajagiri School of Engineering & Technology)


Information and communication technology tools need to be inducted into the farming arena on a wider scale. Smart technologies and mechanisation have the potential to transform agriculture and enable the next generation to take up initiatives in farming. Weather forecasting and database management are already being employed and similar technologies should be applied in a variety of farming operations.

 

Abraham Thomas

(PG Professor, Rajagiri School of Engineering & Technology)


Farming, if undertaken by cooperative societies, would be a better alternative to the present form of fragmented farming. The cooperative societies would be able to purchase farm implements and machinery, thus bringing down the individual spending on farming.

 

Mathews Abraham

(Asst. Professor, Rajagiri School of Engineering & Technology)


Smart technology could be employed to get appropriate information on weather conditions; Financial support from authorities would go a long way in ensuring sustainable farming.

 

L . Unnikrishnan

(Asst. Professor, Rajagiri School of Engineering & Technology)


 

It’s time that we embraced collective farming. Farming has to be a profitable occupation. Soil conditions have degenerated over the years. Precision farming and other modern methods would have to be followed.

 

Abinson Paul.N.


(Asst.Professor, Rajagiri School of Engineering & Technology)

While the farmer who toils in the field fails to get remunerative prices for his produce, middlemen make a fast buck. The authorities should be able to curb such unhealthy practices.

 

Sohan K.J.


(former Mayor, Kochi Corporation)

Our children should get exposure to modern agriculture as it is the future. Most of the fancied job sectors are going to vanish before our own eyes. Technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, Electric Vehicle, Robotics and driverless vehicles are going to be game changers. The future is in agriculture, food processing and marketing. We can emulate countries such as Japan and Netherlands in this arena.  We have to evolve ways to introduce manual labour to students as is done in several schools in the country, including Doon School. 


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