When Technology Enters into Agriculture

About 25 years ago if we told our parents we are going quit our jobs and start farming, they would’ve surely given us a piece of their mind and that wouldn’t be a pleasant experience at all. However, in recent times, especially in the last ten years or so, people quitting their high profile corporate jobs to start their own ventures has become commonplace. Anything from an egg eatery to a tea-selling business to a wellness business venture or an upscale restaurant — the entrepreneurial spirit has opened up tons of possibilities.

Although India still remains a largely agrarian economy, the agricultural sector has had its share of some very difficult challenges. However, at the same time, the boom in the Indian IT industry and entrepreneurial ecosystem is proving to be a boon for the agrarian sector. The migration of IT professionals to the Indian agricultural sector is giving the latter a much-needed boost and makeover. 

Traditional Farmers VS IT Professionals

Farmers are generally vulnerable to phenomenons such as price inflations, natural disasters such as drought and floods, and socioeconomic factors like low literacy rates and the poverty trap. With an infusion of professionals from the IT sector, the agriculture sector is seeing several benefits and improvements. 

Working traditional Farmer

Due to better education and wider social exposure, IT professionals are equipped with the right knowledge and judgement. They are able to distinguish between sustainable such as permaculture and unsustainable agricultural practices such as GMO and fertilizer-driven agriculture. The steady influx of professionals into agriculture is a classic example of grabbing the bull by its horns. Professionals unhappy about farming practices have become farmers or associate themselves with the sector to make a difference.  In other words, becoming the change they wish to see.

Professionals Turn Agripreneurs

In Perambalur district, Tamil Nadu, M.Gokul a software engineer is sowing the seeds of organic farming starting with rice. Gokul sticks to sustainable and organic farming materials such as green manure or Panchagavya. Panchagavya is a concoction of cow dung, cow urine, milk, curd and ghee. In addition to these ingredients derived from the cow, Panchagavya also contains jaggery, banana, tender coconut and water. This combination acts as a natural fertilizer for the soil. In addition, he also uses neem oil as a pest repellent. Thus no harmful pesticides and artificial fertilizers are used in M. Gokul’s self-sustainable method of farming. Moreover, he educates fellow farmers about this method and the importance of continuing organic agriculture.

In Maharashtra, Gaytri Bhatia switched lanes drastically. Gaytri quit her corporate job in the United States to adopt a sustainable lifestyle on her family farm in Wada. Bhatia noticed that GMO seeds and harmful pesticides were flooding the Indian market and farmers who do not have an understanding or awareness about the harmful effects of these substances were purchasing them at large. She took it on herself to educate farmers and communities dependent on agriculture in her ancestral village about the hazards of using artificial methods that are harmful to the sustainability of agriculture and the environment at large. She grows organic fruits, vegetables and flowers to meet commercial demand of value-added products such as teas and jams. 

In 2016, Rahul Sharma ended his 18-year IT career in Bengaluru to settle down in Chandigarh so he could start farming full-time in Mustafabad, his ancestral village in Kapurthala district, a few hours from Chandigarh. At the onset, Sharma observed that his land which was leased to a particular individual was infested with chemicals. Immediately, Sharma got to work by reviving the soil through sustainable and organic methods such as rice intensification and green manuring. Rice intensification is a method of cultivation of rice that uses far less water. Sharma ended up growing a variety of crops on his land like pulses, rice, maize, seeds such as sesame, cotton, mustard to procure oil etc. 

He also started working with Kheti Virasat Mission, an NGO for farmers and the Chandigarh Organic Farmers Market. In addition, Sharma lectures on farming in schools and colleges and offers consulting services to agro-based startups.

Going the Extra Mile

The arrival of mostly IT and software professionals as well as others is gradually bridging the knowledge gap between sustainable agricultural practices and farmers. Also with their skills in number crunching and ICTs, IT professionals are bringing a new skill set to the agriculture sector and industry.

Professionals-turned-farmers also provide value-added services such as advising farmers, building networks, including farmers in the Information Communication Technology (ICT) mainstream through IVRS for example. Overall, professionals-turned-farmers are a valuable asset to the land they own, the communities they serve and Indian agriculture as a whole.

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