On Kisan Divas, Tracking A New Trend In Agriculture: Rise Of The Techno-Farmer


The agricultural sector is the main source of livelihood for four out of 10 Indians and contributes nearly 20 per cent to the national gross domestic product or GDP, according to the latest numbers available for 2021.

On a global plane, India’s agricultural business — farming (crops and horticulture) livestock (milk, eggs, meat), forestry and fisheries — it is second only to China in size, contributes 11.9 per cent to the world’s agricultural gross value added or GVA of over $3,000 billion and accounts for 12 per cent of Indian exports.

Yet, unlike most national agricultural activity, India seems to believe that famous 1970s mantra of Oxford economist E F Schumacher: ‘Small is Beautiful’.

An overwhelming number of India’s farmers — 86 per cent — operate small farm tracts of two hectares or less.

This makes for less efficiency, higher production cost, reduced access to credit and poor market access, and makes it difficult for them to compete with bigger players. Till now.

In recent years, a new leveller has come which may even be the odds for the small agriculturist: technology.

Artificial Intelligence, Internet of Things, robotics, drones have become both ubiquitous and affordable holding out new hope for the Indian agriculturist — and in the process bringing in a new player into the khet: the non-traditional, non-hereditary ‘techno farmer’.

Today, 23 December, is Kisan Divas or National Farmers Day, celebrated on the birth anniversary of India’s first farmer-prime minister Chaudhary Charan Singh. Has a technology-driven point of inflection in agriculture been reached?

 In a comprehensive overview of the Indian agriculture sector in March 2022, India Briefing concludes: “India stands well equipped to adapt to changing methodologies in agriculture and transition from conventional business models to various innovative business models propelled by agritech.”

Let’s do an India-focussed agri-tech reality check.

Twin Forces Driving Agritech

The new hava that is blowing across farms and fields of India is driven by two forces:

One is the explosion in agricultural startups — estimated by India Briefing to be over 1,300 — who harness AI, automation and other cutting-edge tools to assist the traditional farmer in growing produce more efficiently and finding markets more easily.

Two is the very recent phenomenon of city-bound professionals, who have discovered a new interest in farming, who aspire to own a small farm, away from their normal work, and who are keen to deploy their own learnings in information yechnology to grow food albeit in a small, organic way. They are the new breed of techno farmers.

The annual Krishi Mela organised by Karnataka’s University of Agricultural Sciences, at the Gandhi Krishi Vigyan Kendra (GKVK) in Bengaluru, last month — the first after a two-year Covid-induced hiatus — was an event unlike anything seen in earlier years. 

An overwhelming majority of the exhibitors were startups — and a record 7 lakh visitors turned up over the three-day period, with a very new and interesting demographic mix. 

While traditional farmers still formed the majority — for them this was an annual outing to get sound advice and practical assistance from experts at the university — a significant proportion were professionals from India’s Silicon City checking out farming options.

The scene is being repeated at agricultural expos across the country. 

For a list of upcoming krishi melas in India check this compilation by Kisan Helpline.

Agricultural Startups

Here are some startups which have been drawing attention at such events.

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