Sunday, 29 January, 2023

Nepal Holds Potential For Precision Farming

Monika Parajuli


With a rising demand for food production in Nepal, it is logical for the country to go for more advanced agricultural technology. It needs no mention that agriculture is still a mainstay of the national economy, with around 66 per cent of the total population engaged in this sector (MoALD, 2019). It contributed about 26.5 per cent to the country's gross domestic product (GDP) in 2018/2019. Its contribution to the GDP stood at 33 per cent in 2015. This suggests that the contribution of agriculture to our economy has been decreasing gradually. The main reason behind this would be the primitive way of farming by most of the population involved in agriculture which is simply not enough to meet the growing food demand. Despite being known world-wide as an agrarian country, Nepal ranked 73rd among 117 eligible countries in the 2019 Global Hunger Index (GHI).

Domestic needs
The traditional subsistence farming system in the country is barely sufficient to meet the increasing domestic needs. Overpopulation, global climate change and decreased agricultural lands have further aggravated the food insecurity in Nepal. So, the answer to the current need of revolutionising the agriculture system of the country could be the precision agriculture. Also known as satellite farming or site specific crop management, the precision agriculture is a concept of farming management. This model is based on observation, measurement and response to inter and intra-field variability in crops for boosting the crop productivity, profitability, sustainability and quality of the products while lowering the levels of traditional inputs needed to grow crops.
Precision farming may help resolve the most critical problems associated with agriculture such as waste of resources, high cost and destructive environmental impact. It is a site-specific farming system of doing the right thing at the right place, at the right time, in the right amount, and in the right way to minimise the loss and increase productivity. In other words, farmers adopting this farming practice are using less to grow more. The economic and environmental benefits of farming could be boosted through the precise application of inputs. The entire field can be managed as per site-specific differences over the hypothetical average which may not exist everywhere in the field. It allows site-specific management decisions on small areas within larger fields to optimise production efficiency and quality.
Furthermore, it improves the farming operating system, eases farm supervisions and helps in increasing food security by maintaining food safety and sustainability while resulting in higher yield. Precision agriculture uses many tools, including tractors, planters, diggers and combines, which are all considered auto-guidance systems. Some of the major tools used in this farming model include GPS (global positioning system), remote sensing, GIS (geographical information system), grid sampling, mapping, yield monitors, drones and smart phone applications. The small device installed on the equipment that uses GIS makes precision agriculture unique.
It consists of a computer software database system used to input, store, retrieve, analyse and display, in map like form, spatially referenced geographical information. GPS is the main concept of the precision agriculture which includes a set of satellites that identify dimensional location data (latitude, longitude, and elevation) with accuracy between 0.01m to 100m at any time, in any weather. Variable-rate technologies have ability to apply the precise and variable amount of inputs in the right place and at the right time according to the exact variation in the plant growth, soil type and nutrient status. And yield monitors are the devices installed on harvesting machines for measuring the crop yield which include a combination of different sensors.
In agricultural terms, remote science helps farmers view crop from overhead without coming into contact, recording what is viewed and displaying the image and provide the map to pinpoint the field problems earlier in a more effective manner. Nowadays, drones are used to observe soil and crop, their growth, texture, condition of diseases, and pests. Proximate sensors measure crop properties and soil parameters. Smartphones have come up with many useful applications, including the camera, microphone, GPS, and accelerometer. They are dedicated to various agriculture applications such as field mapping, tracking animals, obtaining weather and crop information, and more.

At present, only a limited number of private companies are applying the model of the precision agriculture in Nepal as it requires strong technological monitoring and high initial cost. The most important pre-requisites for execution and adoption of the precision agriculture practices in the country include initial high cost, large funding, technical expertise, research expertise, large land holdings and homogeneity in cropping pattern and system. Most of these pre-requisites are not fulfilled by the local agriculture farms of the country. So, it is difficult to implement the precision agriculture.
Most of the farmers in Nepal have small size land holdings. About 56.6 per cent farmers have less than 0.5 hectare land holding and 40 per cent farmers have more than 0.5 and less than 3 hectare land holdings. Commercial farms and other farms with large land area are more inclined to have wider scope in the precision agriculture for more output. However, the local and semi-commercial farms are using internet facilities, mobile devices and crowdsourcing for farm management.

Some local farmers are found using different mobile applications like 'Geokrishi' to solve their agricultural problems. Smart phones are becoming increasingly useful to the precision agriculture as they are easily portable and affordable. Drip irrigation system, temperature control system and greenhouses have become fairly common. Some renowned commercial farms of Nepal use drones for monitoring their farms. Anyway, there is a great scope for the development of precision agriculture in Nepal. It can be easily adopted by the farmers through right guidance, knowledge and technical support. The government's assistance in the implementation of this form of farming would be a great step towards bringing a new era to the country's agriculture sector.

(Monika is a student of Bachelors in Agriculture at the Institute of Agriculture and Animal Sciences in Paklihawa in Rupandehi.