Editorial Articles

Volume 48

Agricultural Mechanization
Need of the Hour for Enhanced Productivity

Arun Khurana

Agricultural Mechanization” or “Farm Mechanization” refers to the development and use of machines that can take the place of human and animal power in agricultural processes. The mechanization of agriculture that took place during the 20th century led to major changes in how farmers plant, irrigate and harvest crops. Combines, tractors, harvesters and other machinery have enabled farmers to increase their production while relying less upon an extended labor force. In other words, agricultural mechanization is the process whereby equipments, machineries and implements are utilized to boost agricultural and food production. It is the application of machineries, equipments and implements in the day to day farm activities to increase marginal output in food production and poverty eradication. Agricultural mechanization reduces drudgery which hitherto makes it difficult for large scale food production and which has also been making it difficult for nations who have to meet their food requirements for the teeming population. In order to solve the problem of drudgery and other problems associated with food production, various measures has been introduced to combat these problems through mechanization. Agricultural mechanization involves the design, manufacture, distribution, use and servicing of all types of agricultural tools, equipment and machines. It includes three main power sources: human, animal and mechanical with special emphasis on mechanical (tractive power).

In other words, “Agricultural Mechanization” helps in increasing production, productivity and profitability in agriculture by achieving timeliness in farm operations, bringing precision in metering and placement of inputs, reducing available input losses, increasing utilization efficiency of costly inputs (seed, chemical, fertilizer, irrigation, water etc.), reducing unit cost of produce, enhancing profitability and competitiveness in the cost of operation. It also helps in the conservation of the produce and by products from qualitative and quantitative damages; enables value addition and establishment of agro processing enterprises for additional income and employment generation from farm produce. It is one of the important inputs to usher in all round development in the rural India. The efficiency of mechanization can be judged from the fact that modern plough is about 200 to 300 % efficient than indigenous plough, efficient machinery helps in increasing productivity by about 30% besides, enabling the farmers to raise a second crop or multi crop making the Indian agriculture attractive and a way of life by becoming commercial instead of subsistence. There is a need to double the food production by 2020. This will call for raising more crops in a year thus limiting the turnaround time. Increased production will require more use of agricultural inputs and protection of crops from biotic and abiotic stresses. This will call for greater engineering inputs which will require development and introduction of high capacity, precision, reliable and energy efficient equipment. Earlier, it was considered that mechanization creates unemployment. The myth has been broken and it has been observed that, agricultural mechanization besides increasing production and productivity, also generates income and employment opportunities. Several studies conducted in different parts of India have shown that mechanization has helped in increasing production, productivity, generation of income and employment.

The importance of Agro-service Centres has been recognized and the Government of India has given emphasis to make it a success. The scheme aims at supporting 5000 ventures annually for individuals or on joint group basis. The present model scheme includes almost all the basic equipment necessary for crop production right from tillage upto bringing the produce to farmer’s house/ market place, such as, Tractor, Trailer and Implements; Power Tiller/ Small Tractor; Pump Set with Accessories; Power Thresher; Winnower; Self-Propelled Reaper; Sprayers; Tools for Repairing of Machines; Insurance; Workshop Shed; etc.

India’s agricultural exports have grown almost eight times in the last decade, from around $5 billion in 2003 to over $39 billion in 2013, and the momentum is likely to continue this year. One of the drivers behind India’s export growth has been the dramatic growth in government support provided to agriculture, particular for wheat and rice (the Minimum Support Prices for the two commodities have by 40% and 75% respectively over the past six years). This helps improve production and keep prices competitive.

The government’s total support for agriculture has grown from $68 billion in 2009-10 to $85 billion in 2013-14 and is likely to reach a record high in 2014-15. This has helped India become an important player in the global market, especially for rice, cotton, sugar, and carabeef (buffalo meat). India is now the world’s second largest cotton exporter (after USA), the second largest exporter of carabeef in the world (after Brazil), and the largest exporter of rice. Meanwhile, India’s agricultural products export matrix has also changed significantly, tilting more and more towards developing and least-developed countries (LDCs) which now account for around 80% of India’s agricultural exports. In 2013, India exported agricultural products worth $5.2 billion to LDCs, which is almost $1 billion more than the second largest supplier EU and more than three times than USAs exports to LDCs last year.

The agriculture sector in India is expected to generate better momentum in the next few years due to increased investments in agricultural infrastructure such as irrigation facilities, warehousing and cold storage. Factors such as reduced transaction costs and time, improved port gate management and better fiscal incentives would contribute to the sector’s growth. Furthermore, the growing use of genetically modified crops will likely improve the yield for Indian farmers. According to the National Institution for Transforming India Aayog (NITI Aayog), India’s agriculture sector is expected to grow 6 per cent in FY 2016-17 in case of normal monsoon during the June-September period. The 12th Five-Year Plan estimates the foodgrain storage capacity to expand to 35 MT. Also, a 4 per cent growth would help restructure the agriculture sector in India in the next few years.

The growing demand-supply gap in agricultural sector will be a key driver for market growth. Population growth is one of the major drivers of the food demand in India. The population of India has increased from 930 million in 1996 to about 1.29 billion in 2015. The real value of agri-food demand in India will rise by 136% in 2009-2050. The demand for food has increased with the increase in population. However, the area of arable land has not increased in proportion to the rise in the demand for food. So, farmers are trying to increase efficiency and accelerate production by adopting advanced agricultural machinery and efficient farm cultivation techniques to meet the increased demand for food.

The trend has already begun in some ways, with those who remain in farming turning to newer methods of optimizing the output on their farms, including adopting newer technologies to save cost and time. The use of tractors and tillers increasing five-fold in the last four decades is a testimony to this fact. According to the Department of Agriculture, the share of agriculture workers and draught animals (farm power sources in agriculture) has come down from 63.5 per cent in 1971-72 to 13.67 per cent in 2009-10, whereas the share of tractors, power tillers, and motors has gone up from 36.51 per cent to 86.33 per cent during the same period. The Ministry of Agriculture is giving a major thrust to farm mechanization through its various schemes. A dedicated Sub-Mission on Agricultural Mechanization has been proposed for the Twelfth Plan, which includes custom-hiring facilities for agricultural machinery as one of its major components. Its focus is on increasing the reach of farm mechanization to small and marginal farmers and to the regions where availability of farm power is low. In order to attain the projected demand of 280 MT of food grains by 2020-21, farm power availability in the country has to be scaled up to at least 2.0 Kw/ha by the end of the Twelfth Plan. For achieving this, farm mechanization has to be given primacy.

The Government has implemented various farm mechanization programmes in the country through schemes such as Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojna (RKVY), Mission for Integrated Development of Horticulture (MIDH), National Mission on Oilseeds and Oil Palm (NMOOP) and National Food Security Mission (NFSM). In addition to development of such schemes, the government has also implemented the National Mission on Agricultural Extension and Technology (NMAET) to strengthen the extension machinery and utilize the same for synergizing the interventions under these schemes.

Innovation in farm machinery sector will drive the next phase of agricultural growth in the country,with focus on spreading farm mechanization to small and marginal farmers and regions that have low farm power availability. As a result, Indian farmer is fast adapting farm mechanization than ever before. The agriculture equipment market in India is presently valued at 6.5 billion USD and has enormous potential for further growth. The tractor market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 8-9 % in next five years. The joint efforts made by Government and farm equipment industry in the country have led to such progress in mechanization over the years.

Research and development efforts and approaches in agricultural mechanization in India have been directed towards finding cost-effective solutions to location-specific problems of agriculture. Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), New Delhi is the apex body which primarily looks after the need of research and development activities, need based region specific technologies and specific-problem related issues. The engineering division of ICAR comprises 5 research institutes, 6 All India Coordinated Research Projects (AICRPs), 1 network project/outreach programme and a National Initiative on Climate Resilient Agriculture project. 4 Coordinating Cells of AICRPs with their centres are operating from the Central Institute of Agricultural Engineering, Bhopal, which caters to the engineering needs emphasizing on sustainable agricultural mechanization of the country. These are:i) Farm Implements and Machinery (24 centres), ii) Ergonomics and Safety in Agriculture (10 centres), iii) Renewable Energy Sources (18 centres), and iv) Utilization of Animal Energy (13 centres).

It is understood that a proposal is afoot to establish a Farm Mechanization Institute under the auspices of the Ministry of Agriculture and Co-operation. This institute will intensify research on different aspects of Farm Mechanization including techno-socio-economic aspects with a view to develop a long range Farm Mechanization Policy. A Draft Agricultural Mechanization Policy has already been evolved and it awaits approval of the government.

To sum up, it may be concluded that farm mechanization is a dynamic technology development process. With diversification of agriculture and adoption of frontier technologies with a view to have eco-friendly sustainable agriculture with globally competitive outputs, cutting edge farm mechanization technologies will need to be developed and introduced expeditiously. Reduction in cost and up-gradation of quality are the twin goals to be achieved. Farm mechanization technology being capital intensive, all farm mechanization R&D projects must be demand-driven and reverse engineering approach must be followed. Up-gradation of manufacturing capabilities, use of computer-aided design and close co-operation with industry through joint projects will help improve the quality and reliability of farm equipment. Conformance to global standards and norms will be necessary. In coming years, higher horse power tractors and high capacity machinery will be required to meet the needs of export oriented agriculture, corporate farming, custom hiring and multi-farm use. Human engineering applications to ensure safety, comfort and compatibility in respect of noise levels and exhaust emissions will be necessary. The future of farm mechanization in India is bright. However, we will have to intensify research funding and efforts in frontier areas.

Implementation of the Sub-Mission on Agricultural Mechanization (SMAM) program by the Ministry of Agriculture is a positive step towards increasing farm productivity across the country. The program will be a catalyst for inclusive growth of agricultural mechanization in India by ensuring last mile reach of farm mechanization to small and marginal   farmers. The concept of custom hiring has potential provided there is integration of all operations viz. provision of agri inputs like seeds, fertilizers and equipment, through partnerships with various partners in the ecosystem.  With appropriate policy support for adoption, development and promotion of farm mechanization technologies through training, demonstration and use of Information Communication Technology (ICT), the true potential of custom hiring can be harnessed. As the small/marginal holdings constitute 80% of total land holdings in India, the potential for CHCs, which will cater to the farm machinery requirement of such a vast area, is quite huge. Government of India, in recognition of this potential had envisaged increase of farm power availability from the present level of 0.93 kW/ha to 2 kW/ha during the 12th plan period (2012-2017). States governments of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Punjab have been promoting Custom Hiring on Public Private Partnership (PPP) basis through training, demonstration and financial incentives.

Finally, “Agricultural Mechanization” will be a key factor to achieving our Total Factor Productivity (TFP) goals and feeding a growing planet. Looking ahead, agricultural machines will become data-rich sensing and monitoring systems that can map the performance of both machines and the environment they work on with precision resolution and accuracy, and this capability will unlock levels of information about production agriculture that were heretofore unavailable.

Above all, “Agricultural Mechanization” industry in India is expected to grow at a rapid pace owing to the government efforts to bridge the supply and demand gap of agriculture through R & D and technology efforts in next five year plan (2013-2017). Shrinking farm holdings also demands the need for mechanization so that the agricultural yield can be maximized with optimal efforts through mechanization. Agricultural equipment sector in India has been witnessing robust demand and stands to gain maximum due to the need to use technologically advanced equipment in the farms in the future. Key growth drivers for Indian agricultural equipment industry include:

*100 percent Foreign Direct Investment allowance in the Space
*Increase in Investment for R & D.
*Funding through World Bank, Indian Public and Private Entities
*Improved availability of credit to the farmers
*Shortage of skilled labour supply
*Government subsidies on farming equipment
Government has thrust on agricultural mechanization to increase productivity and provides farm machinery at subsidized rates to encourage farmers to use agriculture machinery for operations. Some of the measures which Government has taken to support mechanization are listed below:
*Bharat Nirman & Flagship Prog-rammes to support rural infrastructure through increasing rural water supply, irrigation, rural housing, rural electrification, rural telecommunication, etc.
*Minimum Support Price (MSP) to support farmers in selling their produce and minimize risk
*Subsidy on agriculture machinery so that farmers could afford machinery and lower their total cost of ownership
*Rural Infrastructure Development Fund (RIDF) to finance rural infrastructure through of channelizing of funds through banks.

Strategies and programmes have been directed towards replacement of traditional and inefficient implements by improved ones, enabling the farmers to own tractors, power tillers, harvesters and other machines, availability of custom hire services, support services of human resource development, testing, evaluation and research & development. A huge industrial base for manufacturing of the agricultural machines has also been developed. Introduction of technologically advanced equipments through extension and demonstration besides institutional credit has also been taken up. Equipments for resource conservation have also been adopted by the farmers. Under various government sponsored schemes, like Macro Management of Agriculture; Technology Mission for Oilseeds, Pulses and Maize; Technology Mission on Horticulture; Technology Mission on Cotton; and National Food Security Mission; financial assistance is provided to the farmers for the purchase of identified agricultural implements and machines. Currently in agriculture sector of India, the production costs are rapidly increasing while eroding the profit margin of farmers. Hence there is a need of farm mechanization to reduce costs, enhance productivity and efficiency. The farm mechanization market in India is to grow at a CAGR of 7.53% during the period 2016-2020. The market is divided into the following segments based on product, such as, Harvester; Laser Land Leveler; Power Tiller; Rice Transplanter; Tractor; etc.Also, the term rural mechanization, rather than agricultural mechanization, should be used because it is only rarely that one can separate agricultural mechanization from other rural economic activities.

(The author is Founder/Director, Social Responsibility Council, New Delhi E-mail: khurana@arunkhurana.com)  Image: Courtesy Google