Horticulture 2.0: How technology is revolutionizing India’s growing capabilities

The adoption of modern technologies is transforming the way crops are grown, pests are managed, and produce is sold, writes Dr Anup Karwa, Business Head-Crops, Innoterra

About Author: Dr Anup Karwa, Director-Input Marketplace, Innoterra. Anup is a passionate bio-entrepreneur with 16+ years of product research development and leadership experience in plant breeding, agriculture farming and microbial technology. A serial entrepreneur, Anup has sustainably scaled ventures to profitable growth curve raising US $30 million equity.

According to APEDA, India is the second largest fruit and vegetable producer in the world, with a production of about 295 million metric tons in 2020. Technology is revolutionizing the way horticulture is practiced in India. From precision farming techniques to the use of drones and artificial intelligence, the adoption of modern technologies is transforming the way crops are grown, pests are managed, and produce is sold. In recent years, horticulture has emerged as a key sector in India’s agricultural landscape, with a focus on increasing production, improving quality, and reducing wastage.
The Indian government has implemented several measures to promote the growth of the horticulture sector, including the National Horticulture Mission, which aims to increase productivity and profitability in the sector by empowering crop specific clusters.
Here are the key examples of how technology is changing the face of horticulture clusters in India:
Precision farming: The use of sensors, GPS, soil tests, biologicals like microbials, and other telemetry technologies is helping farmers to optimize their use of resources such as water, fertilizers, and pesticides. This results in increased productivity, reduced costs, and a more sustainable approach to farming. Precision farming also helps in effective pest control without damaging the ecosystem and other plants.
Drones: Drones are being used for a variety of purposes in horticulture, including crop monitoring, pest control, and irrigation management. For example, drones equipped with thermal cameras can identify pests and diseases in crops, while drones equipped with sprayers can apply pesticides and fertilizers more efficiently especially during excessive rains & wet field conditions. Multiple agri-tech start-ups in India are now targeting drone proliferation by helping smallholder farmers deploy them and analyse the gathered data effectively.
Artificial intelligence: AI is being used to analyse data from sensors, drones, and other sources to identify patterns and make recommendations to farmers. For example, AI algorithms can analyse data on weather, soil conditions, and crop health to provide customized recommendations on irrigation, fertilization, and pest control. The progress on applying digital tools to strengthen the quality control supply chain is slow albeit emerging rapidly.
Overall, the adoption of technology in horticulture is helping farmers in India to increase their efficiency, reduce their costs, and improve the quality of their produce. As the use of technology continues to evolve, it is likely that we will see even more exciting developments in the horticulture sector in India – Horticulture 2.0 if you will. To make the most of this revolution, there are certain pragmatic steps that can be taken by the farmers, banks and government agencies.
“As the use of technology continues to evolve, it is likely that we will see even more exciting developments in the horticulture sector in India”
Expanded portfolio of products: Currently, majority of horticulture crops grow in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. India has a diverse range of climatic zones, which enables the cultivation of a wide variety of horticultural crops. However, that variety is not yet reflected in our crops. We need to promote a wider variety of horticultural crops growing in the northern part of India, which has conducive climate and fertile soil. Incentivising farmers of geographically indicated products, such as saffron and walnut farmers from Jammu and Kashmir, to come together and develop value chain ecosystems will go a long way in increasing their footprint.
Access to technology and credit: There is an assumption that Indian horticulture farmers are large-scale, well-to-do bunch, but it is far from the truth. There are still mid-holder and smallholder farmers who contribute greatly to production of fruits and vegetables in India. They still face challenges in access to credit and struggle to build scale and lack correct post-harvest processing processes and infrastructure. Also, apprehension about use of technology holds them back from reaping the benefits of new-age agri-tech tools and practices. Here, farmer collectives can play a constructive role by teaming up with agri-tech platforms. Collectives can help farmers understand the business case of deploying technology and make it easier for them to access credit to buy tech solutions. Excellent example of this thought process is displayed by the Alphonso mango farmer producer organizations. The collectives have convinced farmers to make each mango traceable, thus helping farmers get the right value for their GI-tagged product.
Containing pest and disease outbreaks: Indian farmers still struggle with pest and disease outbreaks that can destroy entire crops. Panama disease (Fusarium, TR4) of Cavendish bananas is an example – until recently, there was no cure for this disease however there are emerging breakthrough technologies under commercial development that need to reach the farmers promptly to avoid damage to crops. Likewise, bacterial blight in pomegranate needs urgent interventions to sustain the farmers income.
Climate-safe agriculture and global market access: Globally, the awareness is increasing about the need for regenerative horticultural practices. Water and other resource-intensive crops need to adapt to the new reality. A country like India, with its varied climate patterns, has a variety of alternative horticultural crops that are a boon to regenerative farming. Our farmers need to take cognizance of this development and market their crops through the right channels to reach international markets.
Way forward
Horticulture contributes about 22% to the total agricultural GDP of India, and employs about 45 million people, making it an important sector of the Indian economy. Technological developments have already changed the face of horticulture and catalyzed income growth for the farmers. We need to consolidate this progress by taking the right steps that will realize the full potential of Horticulture 2.0.

**This article was first published in the January 2023 edition of the BioVoice eMagazine. The views expressed by the author are his own.