Tech-Driven Zero Waste Approach Can Help Enhance India’s Agricultural Production

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India’s socio-economic condition depends mainly on the quantity and quality of agricultural production and its proper utilisation, because nearly 70% of people in the country depend on agriculture.

With the implementation of the Five Year Plans by the government of independent India, food production including animal husbandry has started increasing considerably with the application of modern agricultural practices and increasing irrigation facilities. For example, in 2000-2001, India started producing about 700 million tons (MT) of food grains including various types of oilseeds, fruits, vegetables, sugarcane, milk, eggs, meat, fish, tea, coffee, fiber crops etc. 

With the planning and implementation of various developmental programmes, it has been possible for India to become the second-largest agriculture-producing country in the world. However, due to poor post-harvest management, the losses in agricultural produce in India have been assessed to be very high. In addition to this, the losses of perishable agricultural produce like vegetables, fruits, dairy products, etc. are also very high, particularly due to want of sufficient cold storage facilities.

More than 30% of produce from the fields is lost due to poor post-harvesting facilities and a lack of sufficient cold storage infrastructure. In addition to this, about 20% of food grains that India produces annually, are eaten by rodents. Though India is the second-largest producer of fruits and vegetables in the world, the wastage is nearly 50% worth of all the produce. 

As per the traders’ survey, the waste generated at their level in fruits ranges from 2.6% to as high as 11.4% and wastage in vegetables ranges from 3.15% to 12.6%. This waste is disposed in the form of garbage along with other municipal waste, mostly for land fillings. Similarly, though India is the largest producer of milk in the world, the losses are very high and it is estimated to be nearly equal to the amount of total milk produced in the European Union. In this way, the entire volume of food waste in India is very high resulting in a lowering of the living standard, particularly of the farmers.

It may not be proper to blame only the agricultural producers in India for such colossal waste as the total system of production, storing, distributing, transporting, and utilising agricultural products is highly defective and inefficient. The government and stakeholders are supposed to play their respective roles effectively, but they fail to do so. The stakeholders include farmers, central and state governments, food retailers, agricultural contractors, waste management companies, distributors, agricultural engineers, agro-based products manufacturers, etc. 

Taking into consideration the practices adopted by different countries for managing agricultural waste and the present practices followed in India, the following recommendations are made for adopting these in India. The 3R programmes –  Reduce, Reuse, and Recover, which are practiced in most of the countries should also be adopted properly in India.

  1. Measures for reduction of waste – Although India has an agro-based economy, the efforts towards modernising agricultural practices and waste reduction and its management have been very unsatisfactory. The management starting from production to distribution through storing and a chain of distribution systems involves a lot of old technology, insufficient infrastructural facility, and lack of coordination and proper involvement of the stakeholders. As a result, huge amounts of agro products are being wasted. There is a need for improvement in almost all sectors of agriculture including packaging, storing, and supply chain. 
  2. i) Storing and packaging – There should be sufficient infrastructural facilities for storage and packaging the agricultural produce. In this process, the large amount of food grains can be protected from moisture to prevent premature rotting and also can be kept out of pests, birds, and rats. Grain bags for storing should be regularly supplied to the farmers through the farm retailers at a cheaper rate. This would considerably prevent storage and transportation losses. 
  3. ii) There is a need for all-size low-cost storage facilities made preferably out of local materials. These storage centres should provide enough protection from rain and pests. At the same time, there should be provision for cold storage at certain central places for perishable goods like fruits and vegetables. Such centers can be built and operated preferably by the Food Corporation of India by suitably involving communities, private investors, or through public-private partnership systems. The farmers, particularly the small ones, should be educated and encouraged to make the best use of such facilities with nominal cost so that they would gain maximum and lose least. 

iii) food processing through contract farming and direct marketing should be encouraged. In this, the food wastage can be minimised and the farmers should have direct contact with food processing units. In this way, the processing food producers can get the required fresh raw materials timely and the farmers can get a reasonable price for their produce. In this regard, the government should encourage food processing units for using appropriate post-harvest technology. These food processing units should be given suitable incentives and also be provided with technology and necessary facilities for producing quality products, thus facilitating the availability of domestic and foreign markets. 

The agro-based products, either through drying, curing, juicing, packaging, or other food processing techniques and selling them in the market, should not only help the farmers and producers but also other local people, thus providing enough employment opportunities. 

  1. iv) It is suggested that, through processing and proper storage, it would be possible to export or sell the products only when prices are favourable, otherwise the farmers will be at a great loss. The preserved food grains should be suitably sold through proper commissioning agents and traders ensuring maximum benefits to the farmers. 

(b) Timely Management of Information and Planning

The farmers should be advised to grow various types of crops, vegetables, and fruits in time, depending on the demand of domestic and foreign markets so that they can concentrate on those and get maximum returns. The farmers in different regions should have constant communication with the authorities and market so that they undertake the right steps at right time for producing the required crops and vegetables. They should receive proper training in modern farming techniques so that they learn to use the best type of seeds, the right type of fertilisers and apply modern irrigation and harvesting techniques.

The information technology for growing the right type of crops using scientific methods, storing the agricultural produce, and marketing in time will go a long way in increasing food production with minimum wastage and improving the socio-economic conditions of the farmers. To avoid excess expenditures and pollution problems, farmers should be advised to utilise organic compost and organic pesticides rather than artificial fertilisers and pesticides, which are not suitable from an environmental point of view. 

(c) Need for Proper Waste Management 

  1. i) Due to various drawbacks in post-harvest processing, storage, transportation, and timely sailing, nearly 30- 40% of perishable commodities like vegetables and fruits are wasted in India. This affects considerably the farmers, consumers as well as the country’s economy. Therefore, all possible measures should be taken to minimise this. 
  2. ii) At present, in most of the agricultural product markets, the waste is disposed as garbage which is generally used for earth filling in low-lying areas. This waste should be utilised to make compost and biogas through anaerobic digestion. Whenever biogas is generated in large quantity, the gas can be used for producing electricity. In this regard, the state, as well as the central governments should provide appropriate technology, various incentives, and subsidies, so that the waste can be converted into valuable byproducts instead of creating unhygienic conditions in surrounding areas.

iii) In addition to this, some of the agricultural waste like bagasse, sawdust, rice husk, etc. can be used to produce more valuable materials like paper, particle boards, packaging containers, etc. 

  1. The government should have clear-cut policies and programmes so that, the agro-industry products can be properly utilised with minimum wastage. The export and import policy should be congenial, particularly to small producers. The Food Corporation of India should streamline its management infrastructure in government purchasing and distribution programmes with transparency and accountability at every stage. It is the responsibility of the government to provide necessary information to farmers at the time of producing crops and their storage and marketing. This would help considerably to reduce wastage and at the same time, the farmers and agro-based industries can get maximum benefits. 
  2. v) The government should streamline the role of large private sectors, distribution of the products, provide financial independence to farmers and small agro-industries and also simplify the agricultural transport regulations. This will help them in smoothly selling their products in time with good price without any exploitation by middlemen.

In India, unscientific farming and harvesting, inadequate storage and transport facilities, lack of proper communication and coordination between farmers, governments, and other stakeholders, have resulted in a considerable amount of wastage in different sectors of agriculture including animal husbandry. It is, therefore, essential to use modern technologies and develop sufficient infrastructural facilities to increase agricultural production, storing, and transportation facilities as well as develop agro-based industries, mostly involving farmers and their family members with a zero-waste approach.

It is also suggested that, necessary steps should be taken to adopt the 3R management system in waste management. Instead of using organic wastes in landfilling, it would be advisable if various schemes are made throughout India where organic waste through anaerobic digestion is utilised for producing organic manure and fuel gas for cooking and other agricultural activities including fulfilling the energy requirements of the farmers and agro-industries. The implementation of these programmes will go a long way in improving agricultural production in a clean environment with zero waste.

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