Seeds for Growth
Syllabus: GS3/ Agriculture
- The Indian government is promoting technology-enabled sustainable farming, including natural, regenerative and organic systems, during its G20 presidency.
Agriculture in India
- Agriculture and allied sectors are central to the Indian economy.
- India is one of the major players in the agriculture sector worldwide and it is the primary source of livelihood for ~55% of India’s population.
- Has the world’s largest cattle herd (buffaloes),
- Has largest area planted to wheat, rice, and cotton, and
- Is the largest producer of milk, pulses, and spices in the world.
- It is the second-largest producer of fruit, vegetables, tea, farmed fish, cotton, sugarcane, wheat, rice, cotton, and sugar.
- Agriculture sector in India holds the record for second-largest agricultural land in the world generating employment for about half of the country’s population.
- Demand & affordability: Though India has achieved food security with the production of food grains reaching 330 MT, the demand for coarse cereals, pulses, oilseeds and vegetables is not fully met.
- In addition, they are not affordable for a large part of the population, leading to a high proportion of the under/malnourished population, with a sizable percentage of child wasting (19.3 percent).
- Crop productivity: India is much lower than other advanced and emerging market economies due to various factors, like fragmented landholdings, lower farm mechanization and lower public and private investment in agriculture.
- Irrigation: Although India is the second largest irrigated country of the world after China, only one-third of the cropped area is under irrigation. Irrigation is the most important agricultural input in a tropical monsoon country like India.
- Conventional method of cultivation: In spite of the large scale mechanization of agriculture in some parts of the country most of the agricultural operations in larger parts are carried on by human hand using simple and conventional tools and implements like wooden plough, sickle, etc.
- Significant challenges: Depleting natural resources, a burgeoning population, extreme weather conditions and natural disasters because of climate change pose bigger challenges to Indian and regional agriculture, dominated by smallholder farmers.
- India’s performance in achieving the SDGs, especially goals one, two and three, ones linked to agriculture, are yet to reach desired levels.
What is needed in India’s agriculture?
- Alongside fulfilling its goal of increasing profitability in agriculture and its share of export in the world market, India needs to close the gap between:
- potential and achievable productivity in most grain crops and vegetables,
- reduce the cost of production,
- promote cultivation and consumption of nutritionally-rich crops like millets, and
- focus on the quality of the agricultural produce.
- Availability of seeds: It is imperative that focus be given to ensuring the availability of quality seeds and maximising the performance value of every seed — the most critical input in agriculture.
- The advancements made in seed technology can maximise the availability and quality of seeds and help them perform well under a wide range of conditions.
- Utilising available technology: To ensure that we meet the targets for food and nutrition security, and the population’s well-being in a sustainable manner, it’s crucial to effectively utilise every available technology including traditional knowledge in agriculture.
- Millet production: Being nutrient-rich, hardy and grown in a short cycle, millets are recognised as well-suited for sustainable agriculture. India is the global leader in millet production.
- By producing quality-assured seeds of improved varieties of millets, especially minor millets, it has the potential to capture the global seed market.
- Seed technology: While crop variety development will become faster and more precise in the coming years by using molecular technologies, speed breeding and gene-editing tools, applied seed technologies would ensure good performance even under less favourable, unpredictable, and harsh environments.
- Hence, seed technology today must combine genetic advancement with applied technologies.
- These must ensure to provide quality-enhanced seeds of improved varieties having higher productivity, high input use efficiency and the ability to withstand a range of biotic and abiotic stressors.
- Role of public and private sectors: The R&D efforts of the public and private sectors can complement each other in developing environment-friendly, better-performing seeds at affordable costs.
Availability of the seed technologies
- These technologies would comprise: Genetic manipulation in variety development, subject to regulatory compliances;
- Priming or physiological advancement protocols;
- Film coating, pelleting with or without active formulations;
- Seed treatments with biologicals, or chemical pesticides having contact or systemic mode of action;
- Bio-stimulants and nutrients for higher germination and faster seedling establishment;
- Incorporation of AI responsive sensors/substances in seed to help modulate plant responses to external stimuli; and
- Production of “clean and green” planting materials in horticultural crops.
- Availability: Most of these technologies are in commercial use globally, and some have been introduced in India
- Emerging technologies: Priming and enhancement technologies are emerging as an essential package of practices to ensure that seeds perform well under a wide range of growing conditions.
- These are especially beneficial in agro-eco-regions that frequently experience moisture, temperature, and other abiotic stressors, or are prone to diseases and pest damages.
- “Clean Green Mission”: A robust regulatory mechanism covering quality seedlings and planting materials is needed under the newly proposed “Clean Green Mission” by the Government of India as part of its G20 commitment to “Green Development”.
- “Next Gen” technologies: “Next Gen” technologies may also introduce AI-based responses from seeds under specific external conditions (for example, moisture, temperature); or incorporate such molecules or metabolites that act as metabolic cues in biological pathways, which will require appropriate guidelines for application.
- Thus, new seed technologies supported by scientific validation and enabling regulatory mechanisms offer significant advantages for sustainable agriculture at little additional cost.
Daily Mains Question
[Q] Examine the significance of the Indian government promoting technology-enabled sustainable farming during its G20 presidency. What should “Next Gen” seed technologies include?