By Sudhanshu Kumar: Nayanagar, Samastipur District, Bihar, India
Access to technology has made me a better farmer—and my decades-long experience with it has changed how I think about growing food.
I’ve learned that there are almost no limits to how technology can improve food production, except for the ones that we impose on ourselves. The only boundaries are those that we place in our own minds.
When I became a farmer, my mind was also full of these self-imposed barriers. Here in Bihar, India, farmers like me did everything in the traditional manner. The system we followed was time wasting and inefficient with little difference from the methods that our parents and grandparents had used.
Yet they weren’t good enough. We toiled away in the fields. We repeated the same tasks, over and over. Most concerning, we didn’t grow enough food: Despite our hard work, we didn’t receive a good return on our investments of time and resources.
The commercialization of farming was the need of the hour.
So, around 1991, I decided to invest in a change of the entire system. We needed to embrace new technologies so that our farm could flourish as we planted and harvested a variety of crops, including grains such as corn and wheat, as well as fruits such as bananas, guavas, mangoes, and litchi.
The first step, however, involved a new mindset. We had to approach everything scientifically, from the management of our calendar and the scheduling of our farm work to the way we calculated profits and losses.
Next came a commitment to mechanization and irrigation.
Automation made a big difference. Mechanization made us more efficient as we introduced combined harvesters, straw reapers, tractor-mounted sprayers, seed drills, and more. As our labor and input costs dropped, we could invest more in these tools, always striving to do better.
Our adoption of new irrigation technologies helped even more. The most dramatic effect was with micro irrigation. This was a silver bullet for me. This single technology literally tripled my fruit yields and thus my profits. The efficiency of the delivery of water and fertilizer to the plants at the right time and interval was a magic wand for further advancement of productivity and profit.
Many people fail to connect agriculture with technology. This is especially true in India, where many of my countrymen subsist on small farms, struggling to provide for themselves and their families.
There are many reasons for this and some of them are difficult to solve—but at the root of it all is the same problem of mindset that had held me back in my early days as a farmer.
That’s why I do everything I can to share the information, my experience, and the message of life-changing technology. In the last two years, more than 1,600 farmers have visited my farm. I show them what we grow and how our technology works. They can see it with their own eyes and imagine how to take advantage of similar tools on their own farms.
Our guests always have lots of questions, and I like to think that they go home with real knowledge about how to improve agriculture. Many have concerns that the technology will be too expensive for them to use and that very thought becomes daunting for small farmers. My reply is that technology is available in all formats; top end, semi-automatic and manual. If farmers form a group and share technology, then the cost becomes very economical and real results can be realized.
These personal visits are the best way to share information, but they’re not the only way. I also take part in videos, webinars, and virtual tours. Even columns help, and that’s why I’m writing this one: If it encourages even one farmer to take up a new technology and improve his life, then it’s worthwhile.
I know how much I rely on others to help me farm, including my local agricultural university, exchange programs, and conferences—not to mention the Global Farmer Network, which unites farmers around the world. And I’m pleased to participate with all of these groups and initiatives and to serve as a resource for others.
Our striving never stops. I’d love to have access to GM technology, for example. Unfortunately, India doesn’t permit them except in the case of cotton. Even though I don’t grow cotton, I have witnessed how this technology improvement has helped India’s cotton farmers enjoy new levels of success. Access to GM technology would be the next profitability enhancement tool I would like access to because it will further reduce my input costs and thus increase my profitability.
That’s what I mean when I say the boundary is the mind. We need to break free of defeating mindsets that limit our ability to thrive and gain access to liberating farm technologies. The scope of technology in agriculture has no boundaries.
Sudhanshu Kumar grows maize, wheat, litchi, mangoes, bananas, and guava on 175 acres in Bihar State, India. Sudhanshu has incorporated micro irrigation, mechanization, solar powered cold storage and more on his farm, noted as the most technology advanced farmer in the state of Bihar. Sudhanshu Kumar is a member of the Global Farmer Network. This column originates at www.globalfarmernetwork.org