India-China Economic and Culture Council (ICEC), New Delhi has created a platform for exchange of ideas and experiences for the benefit of society on both sides of the border. Author was invited to explore the ideas in the field of agriculture and agribusinesses which can help in addressing the challenges of food security.
India and China both are major economics and food security remains the biggest challenge for policy makers to ensure peaceful and equitable economic development at an affordable price by keeping food inflation low. If food inflation is not low, industrial development cannot take place because interest rate for industrial development depends upon cost of capital and food inflation determines the cost of capital. If we supress the food prices without improving productivity it will create serious rural distress and social challenges.
It is important to note that Chinese agriculture is also dominated by small farmers. Around 1960, both countries were at par in agriculture productivity, by the end of century China’s average agriculture productivity was about two to three ties that of India in many crops. It is important to investigate the reasons behind the success of China in both industrial and agriculture performance and why India slipped in keeping the face in both fronts.
Reason for success of China in Agriculture Technology
The success of China’s agriculture is based on technological intervention. China has developed large pool of trained agriculture machines technicians and craftsmen. There is focus on innovation, support for market development and investment promotion. Agriculture machine quality is also by manufactures with all-round guarantee.
The technological support comes from various agencies supported by government investment with accountability. These are:
a. National Enterprises Technical Centres
b. National High-tech Enterprises
c. Government R&D Centres
d. State level Industry-University Research Bases
All industries world in close coordination with technology development centres.
This has resulted in massive success and today China is exporting agriculture machinery worth USD 36 billion every year.
Displayed Agriculture Technologies at Expo
Author had an opportunity to visit 8th international Agriculture Machinery and Technology exhibition in Loudi, Hunan province of China which is hub of many agriculture activities.
We can classify the displayed agriculture technologies and machines in the following heads:
Technologies and Machinery for –
1. Farming and tillage
2. Planting, sowing and transplanting
4. Plant Protection Application
5. Irrigation and Drainage
6. Protected Agriculture
7. Post-harvest Handling and processing
9. Product development and Packaging
Almost all types of equipment were at display but what were the most impressive were machines and technologies which were designed for small farmers mainly for hilly & family farms and some of the were as follows:
1. Miniature Model of large machines
2. Automation including hydraulic machines
3. Application of GPS technologies
4. Application of Remote technology
China has developed multipurpose technologies like Agriculture Tri-cycles and similar small equipment. Which can be used for short distance transportation. The same can be used for pumping trashing, field operations, etc. These are very affordable and easy to maintenance machines. This can easily improve the productivity of the farm worker by 3 to 10 times.
Miniature tillers are designed for hilly areas to improve the ploughing, raking, ridging, trenching, etc. in narrow fields.
There were combined seed and fertilizer drill for field crops.
Other interesting machines were low cost self-propelled miniature rice combine and harvester, hand-held trans-planter, seed laying machines.
Plant protection technologies:
The most notable feature was low cost drones for plant protection chemicals application. These machines can fly at about 10 feet from ground and speed can be controlled as per the need. They were as low as INR 30,000 per drone machine. These drones can be used for spray of agro-chemicals, sprinkle irrigation, spay of sanitizers in public places, and garbage dump yards, etc.
Another notable technology at display was miniature blast spares for fruits farms. Similarly, self-propelled fodder cutting and chapping machines can be of great help of dairy farmers in areas where labour is either expensive or not available.
Post-harvest operation technologies:
There was self-propelled grain collection machines and grain and tea dryers.There were table mounted small rice huller, rice milling machines, corn threshers and pulverisers which can handle about 1.5 tons per hour.
There were miniature machines to extract potato starch, rice flour and dough making machines and noodle making machine.
In India, we have chaff-cutter but many designs are unsafe for operators, in China the miniature models are designed with all safety features.
Innovation at display:
A fully remote controlled self-driven boom sprayer with all controls through remote device was quite impressive. It can run for 7 hours and can operate at speed of 6 to 10 kms per hour and can be changed through mounted solar power panels. This will eliminate the need for trained operators and will also reduce exposure to toxic fumes while spraying in fields.
Success factors behind China’s agriculture productivity
China took agriculture development as national priority and devoted resources with clear accountability in a time bound manner for all stakeholders and with close monitoring of the progress of the assigned projects to them.
Chinese industry realised that it is not possible to run R&D facility without close partnership of universities. They were told to work as team and deliver results.
Innovation is the key motivator for all. One equipment supplier told me that if we don’t innovate or introduce any new concept in our machines and technologies every year we lose our standing with-in our peers and it is like social set-back for us. This forces us to constantly upgrade our machines and this creates a healthy competition which benefits all.
What China knows about Indian Agriculture?
During panel discussion, it was surprising that Chinese experts keep close watch on developments in India. They have virtually all information about Indian agriculture on their fingertips. They have also studied the weakness of Indian agriculture and problems with India’s policy making process. I must appreciate the way them explain the whole situation about India in open forum. As a competitor, they know Indian companies cannot compete with them in world market either on agriculture technologies or on food crops.
Sharing views on emerging technologies & related issues
What is the way forward for India?
Chinese policy makers seriously thinking should they help competitors like India to improve productivity or not. This is a very valid question for them.
India must learn from China how to develop agriculture sector. India has tried to adopt ‘Make in India’ approach but without proper planning and with half-hearted approach. Agriculture productivity is still not a political agenda in democratic India where 30% population lives below poverty line.
India must learn from Chinese experience and take following steps:
1. Chinese agriculture policy needs to be studied in detail. Clear policy about agriculture and allocate resources while planning. Without resource allocation, planning remains a paper document with no political and economic significance.
2. China has given clear mandate to R&D centres. Review the mandate of all agriculture research institutes and agriculture universities. They should be made accountable for the productivity of the farms in their catchment area. There must be productivity targets. There must be benchmarking for all Indian research Institute with similar institutes from China.
3. Like in China, agriculture technology policy and promotion of technology must be given clear direction with clear targets and accountability.
4. We should study China’s agriculture extension system and Indian agriculture extension system should be revived to improve productivity and farmers income.
5. Indian should also develop standards for agriculture machines to improve safety standards and energy efficiency.
It will be useful to study how China has improved the productivity in last 30 years. Practical experience of China will help in revitalization of Indian agriculture. This will help in addressing food security challenges in India and help in reducing the food prices without compromising on farmers income.
If agriculture technology arrangement can be worked out between India and China, this will have lasting impact on friendship between two great nations.
China, with large population and small farms, can act as a good role model for agriculture development in India. Any stakeholder keen to explore the joint initiative or learning experience from China can use the services of India-China Economic and Culture Council (ICEC).