Leveraging innovation to promote sustainable agri-practices

Leveraging innovation to promote sustainable agri-practices

Photo - Dan-Cristian Pădureț on Unsplash

Farming, in many ways, is the noblest of all pursuits as it turns the earth into life sustenance, bridging the divide between nutrition, health, food security and economic development. India, at its heart, is an agrarian country aside from the post-independence industrialization movement during which we made remarkable progress on the agricultural front. The Green Revolution was followed by a multi-color revolution and the Rainbow Revolution. Through carbon sequestration, recent, specialized farming approaches improve our essential air quality. Now, it is time we move towards (Agri) Industrialisation 4.0 – taking technological innovation to the grassroots.

Innovation is one of the main tools to overcome challenges in the agriculture system at the global and hemispheric levels. It is also one of the core pillars to help achieve Industrialisation 4.0. R&D and innovative approaches such as molecular breeding and gene editing are examples of the next-generation tools that will improve productivity, efficacy, and the social, economic, and environmental impact of the agri-food sector.

In addition, United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) promotes agricultural innovation as essential for society and the economy. Terming it as fundamental for the global goals of increasing efficacy, competitiveness and resilience in the face of a crisis or environmental sustainability. Thus, helping achieve food and nutritional security, economic development and the sustainable management of natural resources.

Among the factors that affect agricultural development are technological advances and institutional transformations and the state's role, the private sector, and civil society. Innovative technology contributes to bridging the gap between developing and more advanced regions and the productive sectors, allowing challenged areas to become more competitive and efficient.

The growing demand for food relies upon innovation to obtain more and better food and produce it sustainably.

Headway towards sustainability

The goal of sustainable agriculture is to meet food demands in the present. And while in the past, the focus was on boosting agriculture to augment production, what we need today is to address the root causes of hunger and malnutrition, which can be dealt with through metamorphic changes to our food systems. We need to rethink and re-engineer how we produce, process, distribute and consume our food today.

Furthermore, bringing about sustainability through agricultural innovation can become a key factor for mitigating and reversing the effects of climate change. It is one of humanity's greatest challenges and one in which agriculture has a predominant role.

Practitioners of sustainable agriculture seek to integrate three main objectives into their work: a healthy environment, economic profitability, and social and economic equity. Every person involved in the food system — growers, food processors, distributors, retailers, consumers, and waste managers — can play a crucial role in ensuring a sustainable agricultural system. Research enables us to understand the challenges better and provide evidence on which solutions and technologies can harness the potential of agricultural innovations.

Unlocking potential

Its success primarily hinges on understanding and keenly implementing the right innovation drivers and processes critical to unlocking the promise of innovation and triggering a transformative change in the agricultural sector. Major technology innovations in this field have often focused on indoor vertical farming, automation and robotics, livestock technology, modern greenhouse practices, precision agriculture and artificial intelligence.

For example, controlled crop production in greenhouses combined with drip irrigation has been globally successful as a means for intensifying cropping and increasing water use efficiency in water-scarce environments. Indoor vertical farming can increase crop yields, overcome limited land area, and even reduce farming's impact on the environment by cutting down the distance traveled in the supply chain.

The other aspect of technology is digitalization in agriculture. It is transforming innovation and already provoking a shift in farming and food production. As a result, market dynamics, structure, and distribution continuously evolve and adapt.

Given this transformation, changes to innovation policy are required in the digital age. Undoubtedly, agricultural research and development translate into an increase in productivity, and the application of sustainable technologies and productive practices also leads to more sustainable use of natural resources.

The way forward: Building on the momentum

Connecting the drivers that influence innovation uptake is key. Innovation Labs at the country level will enable open, flexible and inclusive spaces for catalyzing experimentation, prototyping, and developing innovative projects. Governments and other key stakeholders – including civil society, farmer producer organizations, research institutions and the private sector – all have a role to play in fostering an environment that enables innovation in agriculture to flourish and generate solutions. The goal is to further develop policy options for strengthening inclusive agricultural innovation systems to understand that smallholder farmers and producers are protagonists of the innovation processes.

Author - Dr Richard Lobo, head - Innovation and CQH (Business Excellence) - Tata Chemicals

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