Is India spending enough on agricultural innovations?

New Delhi, Oct  6: Water usage per acre for most crops is sky high using the traditional method called flood irrigation. Drip irrigation is an innovation that has started to change the picture, albeit very slowly. Burning of crop waste was the easiest thing farmers chose to do but a harvester machine takes care of it effectively without adding to the air pollution.

These and other innovations in agriculture have been improving things for small and big farmers and yet a latest report shows how even when India spends $3 billion annually on agricultural innovation, only four per cent has explicit environment and social sustainability objectives.

Given the population size and the expected increase in decades to come, experts have estimated that the country will need to nearly double its food production keeping in mind both the growing population and demand for higher quality food.

All the more reason for India to improve on agriculture methods with innovations and bringing in sustainability in agriculture production that can ensure minimum damage to the environment.

The latest study has analysed investments in agriculture innovation and sustainable agriculture for India and recommended significantly larger budgets for sustainable agriculture in India.

The new innovation investment study by the Commission on Sustainable Agriculture Intensification (CoSAI) carried out on behalf of it by Dalberg Advisors shows that it will require significant investments in sustainable agriculture systems in India.

It also requires an urgent switch to more sustainable practices that are good for the environment, farming communities and end-users in terms of nutritional outcomes.

“Budgetary outlays are a good leading indicator of things to come and at present, only nearly four per cent of India’s agricultural innovation spending has clearly defined sustainability intentions and goals,” the study said.

This is one of its kind comprehensive studies aimed at understanding current patterns of funding in innovation in agriculture for the Global South (the geographical areas across Asia and Africa along with tropical areas from the American continent), including estimating how much of this investment promotes sustainable agricultural intensification (SAI).

The report deep dives into funding by the public and private sector, philanthropic and development donors, as well as venture capitalists and private equity players across the last decade (2010-2019) for the Global South.

The study also provides evidence of shortfalls in funding for sustainable agriculture in the world and for India.

Among the India-specific findings of the innovation investment study are:

India spends over $3 billion annually ($25 billion for the period 2010-2018) on agricultural innovation, including investments by the government, development partners and the private sector. While this is substantial, the per capita spending on agricultural innovation here is less than $2.5 per person per year.

Furthermore, only nearly 4-5 per cent of this funding has clearly defined sustainability outcomes (measured as a combination of environmental, social and human outcomes) and is estimated to be $120 million annually, most of it driven by the government.

Nearly all public investment is directed to research institutes (50 per cent) or government agencies (50 per cent).

Areas that are underinvested for sustainable agriculture intensification include natural resource management (soil health, sustainable water, biodiversity) as well as investments in knowledge management and financing for sustainable agriculture.

“Keeping in mind the environmental challenges of growing more food in India, substantially more innovation investments for sustainable agriculture are needed. Mandating frequent reporting of sustainable agriculture investments by different players in a format that is transparent, consistent, and verifiable would be the first step towards ensuring that we meet our climate and food security goals in parallel,” said Partner at Dalberg Advisors, Nirat Bhatnagar.

The CoSAI brings together 21 Commissioners to influence public and private support to innovation in order to rapidly scale up SAI in the Global South. CoSAI is facilitated by a Secretariat under the mandate of the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) headquarters in Colombo, Sri Lanka.