Address by Shri M. Venkaiah Naidu, Honourable Vice President at the the inauguration of Agri Tech South 2020 - the 2nd Edition of Exhibition and Conference on Agri-technology & Innovation at Prof. Jayashankar Telangana State Agriculture University.

Hyderabad | February 22, 2020

“I am delighted to participate in this Conference on Agri-technology & Innovation. I am happy to note that the three-day exhibition seeks to create value addition by bringing together farm producers and agro-industry, apart from showcasing new technologies.

As you all are aware, agriculture is the most important sector of the Indian Economy. Most Indians, either directly or indirectly, depend on agriculture. Empowering farmers is essential to strengthen rural economy, reduce poverty and achieve inclusive growth.

I have always held that the agriculture sector needs a great deal of attention because a majority of Indians still rely on agriculture and allied occupations in the rural areas for their livelihood. It must be noted that agriculture is the primary source of livelihood for about 58 percent of India’s population and contributes about16 percent of India's gross domestic product (GDP).

The introduction of high yielding varieties, creation of additional irrigation facilities, input flow through fertilizers including the traditional organic and other innovative fertilizers and pesticides, farm mechanization, credit facilities, buttressed by price support, and other rural infrastructure facilities helped to usher in the green revolution in the country.

Undoubtedly, the country has seen a lot of improvement in agricultural production and productivity after the green revolution. We have a situation today where despite a phenomenal increase in food production, farmers are not able to get adequate returns and as a result agriculture remains an unattractive vocation. We need to change this situation.

Successive governments in India have accorded high priority to agriculture and farmers’ welfare. The allocation of ₹2.83 lakh crore in the recent budget to Agriculture, Irrigation, and Rural Development is also reflective of the importance attached to agriculture and allied areas.

The major challenges confronting Indian agriculture are high input costs, instability in yields, low returns, debts, diminishing natural resources, growing demand for food, fragmented land holdings, and the vagaries of nature.

India today is not only self-sufficient in respect of demand for food but is also a net exporter of agri-products occupying seventh position globally. It is one of the top producers of cereals (wheat & rice), pulses, fruits, vegetables, milk, meat, and marine fish. However, the country faces a deficit of pulses and oilseeds.

One of major challenges for food security in the 21st century is to not only improve productivity but ensure yield stability as well. To achieve these objectives, we need to develop crops that are disease and pest-resistant and are adaptable to climate change. Hence, it is necessary to adopt the latest technologies on all fronts from seeds to post-harvest management to marketing, which will improve our productivity on par with the other leading nations and help in enhancing farmers’ income.

While there is an increase in the availability of fruits, vegetables, milk, meat, and fish, it is equally important to ensure their access at affordable rates to a vast majority. I have been always underlining the importance of home-grown food security to meet the needs of our burgeoning population.

Sisters and brothers,

There is a need to promote climate-smart agriculture as climate change is posing a major challenge. Organic farming in India is also rapidly growing. India holds a unique position among 172 countries practicing organic agriculture. Amongst the regions with the largest areas of organically managed agricultural land, India ranked 9th.

India has about 7 lakh hectares under organic cultivation. With merely 0.4 percent of total agricultural land under organic cultivation, the industry has a long journey ahead. Government is actively promoting organic farming. The conferment of Padma Sri to Shri Chintala Venkat Reddy, an innovative organic farmer, exemplifies the recognition of novel technologies in organic farming and their relevance to the present world.

Organic farming is the need of the hour for mitigating farm crisis and climate change issues. We need more technological tools that can assist organic farmers.

Sisters and brothers,

Though, the government of India has taken several steps for sustainable growth of agriculture. There is a need for collective and concerted efforts to improve agricultural growth, ensure remunerative prices and enhance the income of farmers.

Towards reducing the cost of cultivation, the government is promoting the soil health card and micro-irrigation initiatives. Studies have shown that farmers who followed the expert advice given on the basis of soil health cards were benefited in terms of higher productivity and lower cost of cultivation. It is estimated that fertilizer usage was reduced by 10 percent, while productivity increased by 6 percent.

Dear sisters and brothers,

The phases of post harvest management to marketing are a key to mitigating farm crisis. Here the role of food processing becomes so vital. The food processing sector can play a pivotal role in raising farm incomes, reducing wastages, ensuring value addition, promoting crop diversification and generating employment opportunities as well as export earnings. This sector is among the few that serve as a vital link between the agriculture and industrial segments of the economy.

I urge all entrepreneurs in consultation with scientific community and with farmers’ inputs to evolve effective models in food processing sector.

The Indian food industry is poised for huge growth and has the potential to increase its contribution to world food trade every year. However, the need of the hour is to promote value addition, particularly within the food processing industry. The Indian food and grocery market is the world’s sixth-largest, with retail contributing 70 percent of the sales. We need to put concerted efforts to realise the untapped potential.

The time also has come for use of Digital Technology in Agriculture to improve the farmers’ income, enhance productivity and provide the last-mile connectivity.

Digital technologies can also help counter many of the inherent vagaries in farming and optimise upon the resources that are deployed. Given, that there is increasing concern from climate change, land depletion, water shortage and wasteful use of agro-chemicals, making sure that farms remain environmentally relevant and sustainable will require more use of digital devices and the associated analytics in agriculture.

In India, about 85 per cent of farmers are small and marginal with landholding of fewer than 2 hectares. Linking the small farmers with the market is a major challenge and needs to be addressed in a scientific manner. To enhance the farmers’ income, it is necessary to link them with markets, traders and exporters.

There is a need to ensure proper regulation of markets across the country, monitoring of price fluctuations, and ensuring minimum support prices to farmers. The electronic-National Agriculture Market (eNAM) scheme is a step in the right direction to help the farmers.

Most agricultural commodities often have inefficient supply chain linkages with a host of intermediaries. However, the era of online marketing is leading to innovative business models that can create a win-win situation for farmers and consumers. This is an innovation space that is evolving quickly and we need to actively promote the new models.

Emerging start-ups can bridge the gaps in facilitating outreach of technology to the farmers and create the right ecosystem for Agri-Entrepreneurship in India.

Livestock is an integral component of India’s agricultural farming since time immemorial. Livestock contributes about 16% to the income of small farm households. In fact, livestock provides livelihood to two-third of the rural community and act as a fallback option during crop failures.

Improving bovine varieties for enhanced milk production would aid in enhancing incomes for those depend on livestock. India is also the world’s largest milk producer, and it is emerging as a major exporter now.

Best practices in the area of Apiculture, sericulture, Aquaculture and Pisciculture to be shared with rural community to enhance their incomes.

In regard to harnessing the benefits of scale in supply chains, cooperation and collective action through Farmer Producer Organizations (FPOs) is needed. Past experiences in milk cooperative societies points to the success of FPOs. Hence, in a country like India, with over six lakh villages, FPOs are the need of the hour to empower the farmers to drive the democratization of markets and to realize their full economic potential.

I am indeed delighted to see the coming together of Universities, farmers, agripreneurs and the Industry on a common platform to discuss the challenges and possible solutions for sustainable and smart agriculture.

However, I would like the industry to shoulder more social responsibility and foster closer cooperation with research organizations in helping farmers move towards a more sustainable and profitable crop production system that depends little on external inputs.

There is a need to focus on demand-driven innovation to help farmers to market their produce efficiently and earn profits.

I hope the discussions and deliberations by the experts in this conference will address some of the key aspects of Agriculture and bring some solutions to the pressing issues faced by the farming community.

I also hope that the farmers present here will adopt some of the solutions and successful models presented during the conference.

I appreciate Management of Prof Jayashankar Agriculture University and CII for organising the Agri-tech conference.

I wish the programme all the success.