Tag Archives: agriculture

More agri start-ups needed in 2021

Farmers’ agitation tells us the common farmer of the country continues to face multiple problems, from lower remuneration for the produce to transportation and not to mention vagaries of nature, including the changing climate. In the age of ‘Digital India’, ‘Start up India’ and ‘Make in India’, the need is for innovative start ups that can actually help the smallest of farmers in remotest of places

Nivedita Khandekar

More than half of India’s population depends on agriculture as its livelihood option and the farmers, especially the small-landholding ones, have continued to face multiple problems.

The ongoing farmers’ agitation and the recent three laws related to agriculture passed by the Modi government notwithstanding, agriculture has been fraught with multitude of problems and the farmer and his family face the brunt directly or indirectly.

There has been a longtime demand to bring about changes in the manner in which a farmer gets paid for his produce. The government has harped on its agenda to double the farmers’ income and claims to be working towards it. Much of the benefits of different government schemes are grabbed inevitably by big land-owning farmers or relatives of the local body office bearers. The real needy, vulnerable farmer is left to fend for himself/herself.

A vital issue is ensuring that the farmer gets fair price for his produce. And on time. The supply chain running without any disturbance is equally important. We saw in 2020 how the pandemic disturbed this supply chain at several places but thanks to ingenuity of the farmers, scores of ‘farm to colony/society gate’ options surfaced across India. If this ‘farmer-to-consumer’ connections could be made during the pandemic induced lockdown, there should be no reason why it cannot work in normal times.

All that the farmers and farm produce need is to be treated as worthy of not just family entrepreneurship but a possible business opportunity that is beneficial in both B2B and B2C cases. There already are a number of start-ups – agri-tech start-ups to be precise – that have been using remote sensing, drones, data analytics, artificial intelligence and various internet of things (IOT) devices and services to help farmers, consumers or even some big companies and retailers.

Agribazaar is one such agri-tech start up which promises ‘creating an efficient and robust agri value chain’ for buyers, seller and agri-preneurs. The company says that a farmer needs to register himself/herself, enter details about his produce where buyers can directly place orders. They decide between themselves and finalise the deal, after
which AgriBazaar picks up the produce from the farmer’s field and sends it to the buyer.

Isn’t this what is troubling most of the farmers? Getting the price that they quote without any middleman/men? Without worrying about logistics for transporting his produce!

Another key field is the immense wastage – some experts believe it is almost around 40% of the fresh, post-harvest produce – due to a variety of reasons – spoilage, low shelf-life, and many a times, over-ripening during transportation. Identifying this gap, a start up searched for and came up with a non-destructive and accurate qualitative grading of fresh food across the supply chain.

The agri-tech startup qZense claims that it aims to transform the Indian fresh food supply chain industry with its IOT based solutions.

qZense aims to empower food businesses and retailers to not only minimize their produce loss but also to determine the optimal margins of freshness. “Its software platform offers two products to ensure an effective and seamless delivery of service.

The Q-Scan is a handheld scanning device for grading the internal quality. The second product Q-Log comprises olfactory loggers responsible for measuring the quality of produce during storage and in logistics,” a statement said.

These are just two of the examples. What is needed in 2021 is proliferation of such ventures and bring peace to the small land holding farmers.

A 2019 NASSCOMM report ‘Agritech in India: Emerging Trends in 2019’ had pointed out how in 2016, more than 350 AgriTech startups had raised USD 300 millions globally and Indian investment accounted for 10 %. Karnataka and Maharashtra accounted for 50% of the Agritech start ups in last five years, the report said.

The two progressive states – Karnataka and Maharashtra – doing well is no news. What needs to be done in 2021 is to expand this across states and make sure that the needy farmer is benefitted.

Things are definitely changing and for better.

According to ‘India’s Agritech Market Landscape Report 2020’, India’s agritech market is expected to boom by the rise in rural internet penetration, rapid digital transformation due to Covid-19 coupled with rising investor interest. It also mentioned that as of 2020, India is home to more than 1000 agritech startups (compared to just 43 in 2013) with
companies witnessing a spike in demand during the lockdown this year.

So, there is hope.

Nivedita Khandekar is an independent journalist based in Delhi. She writes on environmental and developmental issues. She can be reached at nivedita_him@rediffmail.com or follow her on twitter on @nivedita_Him

भारत बन्द से किसानों का भला नही होगा

ललित शास्त्री

हम सभी अपने को कृषि विशेषज्ञ, अर्थशात्री, परमज्ञानी बन तरह-तरह के सुझाव देते रहते हैं, संसद में कानून बनाते रहते हैं और किसानों के हित के लिए झंडा लेकर छत पर चढ़ चीखते रहते हैं । यह सिलसिला स्वाधीनता के बहुत पहले से चला आ रहा है। जरूरत है सभी कृषि से जुड़े मुद्दों पर समग्र दृष्टि से विचार किया जाय। इतिहास से भी सबक लेने की आवश्यकता है। यूरोप में औद्योगीकरण के आरंभिक काल मे किसानों की स्थिति और किस प्रकार लाखों-लाखों किसानों का दो विश्व युद्धों में नरसंहार हुआ। कैसे रूस में किसानों की बलि चढ़ाई गई। अमेरिका में 1930 की महामंदी और कैसे किसानों की परिस्थिति और कृषि के क्षेत्र में वहां सब कुछ बदल गया। चीन का भी उदाहरण सब के सामने है।

यहां मैं एक संस्मरण सुनाना चाहूंगा। इटली में जब पिछले 3-4 दशक पूर्व खेती घाटे का सौदा हो गई तो वहां गाँव से शतप्रतिशत युवा शहरों की ओर पलायन कर गए। एक बार 20 साल पहले जब में उत्तरी इटली के एक गांव में एक सभ्रांत किसान के निवास भोजन के लिए गया तो उन्होंने बताया क्षितिज तक जो लहलहाते खेत दिख रहे है, वे उन्ही के हैं । मैने उनसे पूछा कि रविवार का दिन है सभी भोजन के लिए बैठे हैं तो उनका वयस्क पुत्र कहाँ है, इस पर उन्होंने बताया कि वह तो आज फैक्ट्री ( इटली में छोटे वर्कशेड को भी ‘fattory’ -फैक्ट्री कहते हैं) जो कि घर के पीछे ही है, वहां मोटर की आर्मेचर वाइंडिंग में व्यस्त है। किसी भी तरह आज उसे यह काम पूरा कर ग्राहक को मोटर देनी है। इसपर मैने उनसे पूछा इतने विशाल खेत के आप मालिक हैं तो बेटे को अलग से काम क्यों करना पड़ रहा है, तो उन्होंने जवाब दिया: “हमारे खेत पर काम करने के लिए मेरे दो हाथ ही काफी हैं। मेरे बाद तो सब बेटे का ही है पर अभी तो उसे खेती के अलावा और भी कौशल में निपुण होकर आर्थिक रूप से आत्म-सम्पन्न होने की आवश्यक्ता है”। इसी के साथ मैने देखा इटली में एक महत्वपूर्ण नियम। वहां हर साल चाहे वह गांव ही क्यों ना हो, हर व्यावसायिक केंद्र चाहे वह हॉटेल, रेस्टोरेंट हो या कोई दुकान हो, वहां के कानून अनुसार सभी के लिए आवश्यक है साल में एक बार सारे पर्दे बदलना व भवनों को नए सिरे से रंग करना। इस प्रकार, वहां लगातार, गांव-गांव, अलग-अलग माल की मांग और आपूर्ति होती रहती है, और साथ ही साथ कौशल-केंद्रित कारीगरों को व्यवसाय के साधन भी उपलब्ध रहते हैं। यह सब जब श्री शिवराज सिंह चौहान पहली बार मुख्य मंत्री बने तो मैंने उन्हें बताया था। इस पर उन्होंने हामी भरते हुए कहा था कि गुणवत्ता आधारित शिक्षा, कौशल विकास और आर्थिक ढांचा सुदृढ़ करने की दिशा में प्राथमिकता से पहल की आवश्यकता है। यह बात भाजपा के नेतृत्व में केंद्र में 2014 में NDA शासन आने और उनके द्वारा कौशल विकास की नीति के क्रियान्वन के अनेक वर्ष पूर्व की है।

पाठशाला जाते इस बालक का यह चित्र मध्यप्रदेश की राजधानी भोपाल के समीप एक गांव के बाहर लिया गया था। चित्र © ललित शास्त्री

इस परिप्रेक्ष में देखिए, भारत मे पीढ़ी दर पीढ़ी जोतने वाली भूमि, अर्थात खेत, विभाजित होते जा रहे हैं, और किसानों की बहुत बड़ी आबादी (जो तेजी से बढ़ रही है) ऐसी है जहां कृषक परिवारों की औसत खेतिहर भूमि का आकार सिमटता जा रहा है और उनके (marginal farmers) लिए खेती जीवन निर्वहन का अब माध्यम हो ही नही सकती – फायदे का सौदा तो बहुत दूर की बात है।

इन सभी बातों और इसके अलावा भी हर जुड़े विषय एवं दूरगामी परिणाम को ध्यान में रख, राजनीति से ऊपर उठकर, कृषि नीति बनाने कि और उसे अन्य क्षेत्रों (सेक्टर्स) के साथ एकीकृत करते हुए क्रियान्वयन की आवश्यकता है। मुझे पूरा भरोसा है नरेन्द्र मोदी सरकार इसी दिशा में आगे बढ़ रही है।

CM’s announcement: Retirement age of Madhya Pradesh Government employees raised from 60 to 62 years

Lalit Shastri

Bhopal: Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan today announced the decision to raise the retirement age of State government officers and employees from 60 years to 62 years.

The announcement to raise the retirement age was made by the Chief Minister at a Meet the Press programme organised by the Central Press Club in the State capital. Chauhan was asked whether or not he was concerned about the plight of the State Government officers and employees who were are retiring without promotion due to a case pending in the Supreme Court of India. The case relates to the State Government’s policy to continue with reservation in promotion for SC/ST employees despite a Madhya Pradesh High Court order declaring this provision as unconstitutional. The case arises from an appeal by the State Government against the High Court order.

The Chief Minister said he hopes in next two years the Supreme Court verdict will be there and in this period those in service will be assured of promotion as the retirement age is being raised.

Today’s interaction between the Chief Minister and the media-persons has special significance as journalists were present in full strength to explore the focus and strategies of a leader, who doesn’t see any anti-incumbency sentiments among the people and is confident of their continuous support in the coming battle of the ballot. Wherever he goes in the State, the people rally around him and everyone calls him Mama (mother’s brother), he said adding he also doesn’t know who is going to challenge him (from the main opposition Congress side) in the coming election. Chouhan said, when he goes to the Gwalior region, they (the Congressmen) say Jyotiraditya Scindia will form the next government, In Jhabua- they talk of Bhuria (former Union Minister Kantilal Bhuria) while in Chhindwara, they were looking up at Kamal Nath.

Chouhan has won two successive elections as Chief Minister and was aiming for hat trick in the general election to the State Assembly later this year.

The journalists tried to grill the chief minister on the prevailing law and order situation in the State and wanted to know the Government’s stand on the proposal to introduce the Police Commissioner system. It is being examined, he stated and dispelled apprehensions that once this system gets introduced the Police will have over-riding powers, including powers to enter anybody’s for inspection. The Chief Minister said that the objective requirements relating to the State will be taken into consideration before implementing the police commissioner system.

The Chief Minister, responding to a pointed query, said that State Ministers would be given ticket for contesting the coming Assembly elections based on their popularity among the voters and performance.

Noting that the crisis of malnutrition in Madhya Pradesh can be traced back in history and admitting that the situation, particuilarly with regard to the Sahariya tribe, continues to pose a huge challenge, the chief minister said that a lot has been done under his regime and the situation is improving.

The Chief Minister told media-persons that currently, the irrigation area of the state is about 40 lakh hectare; the goal is to bring about 84 lakh hectare area under irrigation; and there is an investment proposal for Rs. 1.10 trillion till 2025.

The Chief Minister, spoke about his commitment to the cause of the farmers and said that the Bhavantar Yojana (scheme for payment of price difference for the farmer’s produce) which was started as a pilot project will now gain momentum with the Centre contributing its share to carry forward this scheme.

When the Chief Minister’s attention was drawn towards the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices and its composition, especially the fact that the two posts of non-official members in this important body, which gives recommendations to the Central government regarding the support price for farm produce, are lying vacant even after the Cabinet Secretary had interviewed farmers shortlisted for appointment as members in the year 2016, and he was asked whether he would intervene in this matter and ask the Central authorities to fill these posts with farmers’ representatives without wasting more time keeping in view the interest of the farmers, the chief minister said that he was not aware of this and gave the assurance that he would act after checking up the facts.

Chouhan rebutted queries pointing to dismal performance in terms of industrial growth and investment and said that there has been a 9 per cent growth in the industrial sector and investments also have been coming across a wide spectrum, including the automobile and textile sector.

The press meet began with everyone present standing in silence for two minutes to honour and remember the Bhind journalist Sandeep Sharma, who was run over by a dumper and killed last Monday after he had written to the police stating that there was threat to his life and had sought protection. He had been reporting about illegal sand-mining mafia. The Chief Minister later announced relief of Rs. 200,000 for his family. When intervened, he said that this amount would be raised.

Soil bacteria, Bt, has a life beyond GM crops

Sarah Iqbal

Aligarh: Soil bacteria, Bacillus thuringiensis or Bt, became famous for its connection with genetically modified crops like Bt cotton and Bt brinjal. But it has its use in agriculture beyond GM crops. A group of Indian scientists have found new strains of Bt which they say can be used to develop biopesticides in future.

Researchers from Aligarh Muslim University and New Delhi-based National Research Centre on Plant Biotechnology have identified new strains of Bt from soil samples collected in Northwestern Himalayas.

Bt is an important soil organism which produces protein crystals toxic to many insects.These proteins become active in the gut of pests under alkaline conditions and form pores in their cell lining. Subsequently, insects lose their cellular constituents, stop feeding and ultimately die. GM crops exploit these traits by incorporating such bacterial genes. However, over a period of time pests become resistant to toxic genes. Crystal proteins of Bt can be added directly to soil instead of chemical pesticides, but in this case too their prolonged use may allow pest to develop resistance.

Therefore, scientists are on a lookout for different strains of bacteria that contain unique insecticidal genes. In their search for a novel strain of Bt, researchers focused on Northwestern Himalayas. They gathered 207 soil samples from ten different locations and cultured the bacteria in lab. The crystal proteins produced were then tested for toxicity against cotton bollworm.

Two proteins – Cry and Cyt- have the strongest insecticidal action against this moth. So, scientists checked bacterial DNA for the presence of seven different classes of Cry genes and two classes of Cyt genes. Almost two-thirds of the Bt strains tested positive for either gene.

Researchers then isolated bacterial proteins and fed them to the cotton bollworm larva. Eating leaves coated with these proteins stopped larval feeding in 30% of cases. Scientists noticed that strains most successful in this endeavour expressed both Cry and Cyt genes.

Based on these results, four potential strains that can be used to develop broad range biopesticides have been identified. One that particularly stands out is Bacillus thuringiensis JK 12 which is required in the least quantity to stop larval feeding.“In future, all these four potentially toxic strains shall be tested against other lepidopteran pests and we will determine their applicability as broad-host- range biopesticides”, Showkat Ahmad Lone, the lead author of the study, told India Science Wire.

However, Dr. Raj K Bhatnagar, Professor Emeritus at International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, who is not connected with the study, pointed out that such studies fall short on characterising the gene or the protein. “In the present study, there is no comparison of toxicity with known strains,” he added.

Because these proteins are non-toxic to humans and do not affect soil productivity they offer several advantages over conventional pesticides, Dr Bhatnaghar felt. The research team included Showkat Ahmad Lone (Aligarh Muslim University), Abdul Malik
(Aligarh Muslim University) and Jasdeep Chatrath Padaria (National Research Centre on Plant Biotechnology). The study has been published recently in journal Biotechnology Reports. (India Science Wire)