About the Conference
Indian agriculture is facing the two most crucial challenges today. If the shrinking resources of land and water are one, the other more serious concern is the availability of human resources. The future of agriculture is dependent on penetration of scale-neutral technologies. The trend has already begun in some ways, with those who remain in farming turning to newer methods of optimizing the output on their farms, including adopting newer technologies to save cost and time. The use of tractors and tillers increasing five-fold in the last four decades is a testimony to this fact.
Farm power increases in India have led to substantial improvements in grain production. Farm power in India has reached a level of 1.5 kW/ha, whilst in sub-Saharan Africa the figure is less than 0.2kW/ha. Increasing farm power availability, especially for smallholder farmers is a vital ingredient for improved productivity in the agricultural sector.
Improved production practices are also required. In India, 80% of food is produced by the smallholder sector and it is here that sustainable crop production intensification efforts will be most fruitful. At the risk of over-simplifying, we are at the moment too frequently confronted by a situation of poor and declining crop yields, limited capacity to expand the agricultural frontier, the negative impact of climate change, degrading natural capital (especially soils), poor water use efficiency, increasing population pressure and poverty, and rural-urban migration.
The solution to improving this situation lies in the development and adoption of ecosystems approaches which increase production whilst conserving natural resources. Conservation agriculture (CA) (direct seeding, maintenance of organic soil cover and rotations of crops and cover crops) can make a huge contribution to improving the present situation; but this requires modification and application of concepts and machines for smallholder CA. A notable example would be locally adapted and manufactured direct planters and seed drills for placing seed and fertilizer at the correct depth in a soil covered with organic mulch.
Local manufacture involves complex interactions between the manufacturers themselves and other key stakeholders such as: providers of knowledge and innovative ideas such as technical and testing institutions; financial institutions for short and medium term finance; dealer networks; hire service providers, technical and business skills training institutions; mechanical workshop services and, of paramount importance, the farm families themselves.
The governments have encouraged farmers to use agricultural machinery by means of development programmes and incentive measures. Unfortunately, in spite of some progress, the role of agricultural mechanization is still below the level expected. There are several reasons for this, particularly the manner in which structural adjustment programmes were implemented in the 1980s when the respective roles of the public and private sectors were not clearly defined. Since this period agricultural mechanization entered into a vicious circle whereby farm low incomes mean low savings capacity. This leads to low demand for mechanization services which results in low farm productivity which in turn explains the low farm income achieved. A second vicious circle results from this as low demand for mechanization services will result in low supply, high unit costs and so even less use by farmers.
The present situation needs to be converted into a virtuous circle whereby the supply of mechanization services at reasonable cost is increased to farmers who will then increase their demand. This will result in improved productivity, incomes and savings resulting in turn in increased demand for services. National mechanization strategies are designed to improve the supply of mechanization services to smallholder farmers to achieve the increased productivity that the sector so desperately needs.
Sustainable crop production intensification necessarily means increased output and this needs to be stored and processed to reduce wastage and add value. Adding value to agricultural produce is becoming increasingly attractive for farmers and other rural sector entrepreneurs. Value addition through crop processing will usually involve the application of engineering solutions in such areas as crop storage and transport, vegetable processing, milling, dairy and meat product manufacture, and so forth.
Food losses are the result of management decisions taken along the production chain from the field to the table and they can dramatically affect the shelf life and quality of the product. Losses are usually around 50 percent and comprise on-farm losses before, at and after harvest; post-harvest losses in storage and transport; processing and distribution losses; and finally losses at the point of consumption. The application of agricultural and food engineering to farm mechanization and post-harvest technology can have a dramatic impact both on sustainably enhancing agricultural production, and reducing harvest and post-harvest losses, and on adding value to agricultural produce along the post-harvest processing chain.
It is now well recognized that increase in agricultural production would have to come mainly from enhancement in farm productivity in the existing cultivated area. We can only grow more food from less land, using fewer resources, by providing farmers with the innovation and the knowledge to use natural resources more efficiently.
The design of agricultural machinery must evolve in parallel with the roll out of Sustainable Crop Production Intensification. That means fewer chemicals, more efficient use of water, and more efficient use of machines. Farm machinery needs to be intelligent, lean, precise and efficient in order to minimize the impact on the soil and the landscape. The agricultural machinery industry must align their R& D efforts to suit smallholder farmers with equipment designs and models that better suit the needs of smallholder farmers and service providers.
It is hence that we have conceived this conference with a Research and Development in farm engineering and equipment in mind and focusing on addressing new concerns includes methods of agricultural, farm equipment & machinery, and the preservation of natural resources and landscape by applying modern engineering concepts.