Skills Shortage Hampering Farm Mechanisation

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    • Recently, the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER) released a white paper on ‘Making India a Global Power House in the Farm Machinery Industry’.

    Farm mechanisation

    • Meaning:
      • Farm mechanisation refers to the development and use of machines that can replace human and animal power in agricultural processes with the end objective of enhancing overall productivity and production with the lowest cost of production.
    • Significance:
      • Farm mechanisation in India may have made strong strides in recent years, with India as the largest tractor market in the world, which has had a significantly positive impact on the use of machinery on farmlands in India including output value, income and return rate of all types of crops.

    Significance of Farming in India

    • Food security:
      • Issues like rapid urbanisation, population explosion and climate change increase the risk of food shortage.
      • These recommendations are crucial to ensure food security for urban as well as rural communities. This benefit has long been highlighted in arguments for urban farming.
    • Fulfilling nutrition demand:
      • 2010 report by M S Swaminathan Research Foundation, Chennai, notes that 50 percent of women and children in urban areas are anaemic due to lack of adequate nutrition. 
      • The study also recommends focussing on agriculture.
    • Poverty alleviation:
      • Globally, in 2020, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization acknowledged that urban and periurban farming can contribute to local food and nutritional needs, enable jobs and reduce poverty.

    Issues & challenges noted by NCEAR:

    • Stark mismatch:
      • The paper reveals a mismatch between what the organised industrial sector is producing, especially in the non-tractors segment, and what the small and marginal Indian farmers want.
      • The farm machinery industry is characterised by both demand and supply-side challenges. 
    • Low mechanisation:
      • Farm mechanisation in India, at 40-45 percent, remains low compared to the rest of the world; in the US it is 95 percent, Brazil 75 percent, and China 57 percent.
      • It is often said that, India is “tractorised”, not “mechanised”
        • Globally, the tractor industry is only 38% of the total industry (tractor + farm machinery)
        • In India it is 80% of the total industry.
    • Skills shortage:
      • Skills shortage is a problem, resulting in a low-equilibrium trap for the industry
        • It is not surprising that village craftsmen, who fall at the bottom of the pyramid in the industry, form the largest group and are the ones who end up largely catering to the Indian farmers in terms of supply, repair, and maintenance of farm machinery.
      • On the supply side, micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) suffer from a lack of skilled personnel. 
        • Fabrication of agricultural tools and machinery is often done by semi-skilled workers without proper equipment. 
        • In the case of small-scale fabricators, there are hardly any qualified supervisors to monitor quality. 
      • Finding qualified personnel for testing machinery is also a challenge.
    • Lack of awareness:
      • There is a lack of adequate information and awareness amongst farmers about the technology and the management of machinery. 
      • Consequently, their selection of machinery is poor, often making it a wasted investment.

    Suggestions

    • Skilling:
      • State agricultural universities, ICAR and other institutes that have tractor training centres, Krishi Vigyan Kendras and industry (through their dealers) should be made responsible for training young farmers/owners/operators on how to select, operate and service farm machinery. 
      • They should also provide information on developments in mechanisation including the availability of new and better farm equipment for different applications.
    • Training on new-generation farm machinery:
      • The programmes of front-line demonstration of farm machinery should be strengthened. 
      • Handheld training to users of new-generation farm machinery may encourage the extension and adoption of farm power.
    • Engaging various institutions:
      • The Agricultural Skills Council of India should work at the district level to address skilling shortages on the demand side; public-private partnerships with Custom Hiring Centres may be especially useful. 
      • ICAR institutes can offer short courses that address skills shortages on the demand side and Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs) can be leveraged to address the skill gaps in repair and maintenance.
    • Setting up of Service centres:
      • Service centres at the regional and State levels may be promoted in the private and industrial sectors. 
      • This will alleviate the need for each farmer to own machinery and learn skills to operate the individual machines. 
      • Each centre can also rent out machines with the associated package of service. Such service enterprises will also create jobs for skilled youth in that region.
    • Addressing demand & supply-side constraints:
      • Extension programmes need to be strengthened to address demand-side issues. 
      • On the supply side, the District Industries Centre should work with local industrial clusters so that ITIs can provide relevant courses with the latest available technical knowledge and skills.
    • Vocational skilling programmes:
      • Dual vocational skilling programmes will greatly benefit industrial clusters located in tier-II and tier-III cities. 
      • MSMEs should also leverage the Apprentices Policy of the Central Government. This may be a win-win situation for the youth.

    Way ahead

    • Mechanisation on farmlands holds the key for sustainable and efficient development of this sector, as well as that of the rural economyDomestic farm machinery prowess, is intrinsic to the idea of Atma Nirbhar Krishi. 
    • The government must prioritise India-made farm machinery for its procurement scheme, while encouraging local production with PLIs.

    Daily Mains Question

    [Q] It is often stated that India is “tractorised”, not “mechanised”. Analyse signifying the need for Farm Mechanisation in India. What are the challenges?