Last week, at a Rotary event, I heard Kavita Misra speak. She is a woman-farmer-entrepreneur from the backward district of Raichur, Karnataka. A diploma and PG in Computer Applications, she was married into a traditional family. Though offered a lucrative job in an IT major 20 years ago, she did not take up the offer as her family was not happy to have her take a job. Her husband threw her the challenge to stay in the village and do something. He gave her an acre of land—which was rocky, barren and water-less. Because that was all that was available there. From there to becoming the millionaire famer-entrepreneur she is today was a long and hard journey.
The most important lesson to me was the role her technical education and training have played in her success. Her actively seeking new and better methods of farming, and quick adoption of innovations has been at the heart of her achievements. And it brought to me that if we want a paradigm shift in the way farmers do agriculture, they need to be more comfortable with technology, in sync with scientific developments and more technically savvy.
To give an example, Kavita is one of the most successful sandalwood growers in the country, and has sandalwood nurseries which sell sandalwood saplings all over India. Sandalwood is one of the very high value trees, and farmers who cultivate it can earn in crores. The tree fetches about Rs. 1 crore per tonne. A 15-year old tree yields about 15 kg of heartwood (though waiting 20-25 years gives more yields), and one acre can support about 300 trees.
One of the biggest challenges in sandalwood cultivation is theft. Given the high value of the wood, thieves and smugglers are constantly looking for ways to get into plantations and make away with trees. Farmers usually deploy guards and guard dogs, apart from physical and electrical fences.
Recently, Institute of Wood Science and Technology (IWST), has developed a microchip which can be inserted into the growing sandalwood trees, and linked to a smart phone. And you can monitor your tree from anywhere in the world! Alerts go to the farmer as well as the nearest police station if any movement of the wood is detected.
This has been developed, field tested and improved over two years by IWST and Hitachi India Pvt. Ltd. There were many problems to overcome..from the battery size which was too big for the tree trunks to bear, to need for increasing battery life, to the sensitivity of the chip to wear and tear and exposure to the elements.
Even though it is expensive, progressive farmers like Kavita have been able to see the potential and have quickly come forward to adopt the technology and popularize it among others. It is this mind-set and appreciation of the benefits of technology which will be game-changers in agriculture.