While it is true that we need to maximise the use of locally available resources in rural areas, application of new technologies can go a long way in improving the quality of life in rural areas. It is a misconception that rural development does not need high technology inputs.
This was stated by Dr Anil K. Rajvanshi, Director of Nimbkar Agriculture Research Institute (NARI), Phaltan (Maharashtra) while delivering the keynote address in a session on ‘Transforming India through S&T’ at the ongoing India International Science Festival (IISF).
Rural poor should have access to the same facilities as urban India – good lighting, wholesome food, clean drinking water and affordable health services. “Most of the goods for rural poor should be produced locally with local resources but using high technology. This will also save a lot of energy in the transportation of goods. High technology is also needed for rural development so as to maximize efficiency,” Dr Rajvanshi said.
For instance, he said, farming could be modernised through precision agriculture which can increase productivity and make farming attractive. Precision agriculture means precise and timely input to the crops and may include autonomous robots-based farming equipment. He also spoke about how container agriculture for vegetables and fodder can transform farming.
Dr Rajvanshi cited examples of the use of high technology for rural development from the work at NARI such as the Lanstove which not only provides excellent light but also cooks a complete meal for a family. The breeding work in NARI on sheep has resulted in producing twining sheep and helped increase the income of farmers. In the same way, sweet sorghum is being used to produce ethanol and syrup. “All these technologies are the result of excellent S&T done on a shoestring budget in a rural NGO,” he added.
There are many technological challenges yet to be explored – development of cheap drones with camera for disease stress identification; affordable and efficient drip irrigation systems; use of robots for planting, weeding and harvesting; and farm machines to run on farm-derived fuel.
On the way forward, Dr Rajvanshi said, “We need excellent engineers, scientists and managers for rural R&D. Our institutions need to teach and inspire students on high tech rural development. Innovation ecosystem does not exist in Indian education. Our students are bright but the education system is broken. That’s why we need to implant the innovation bug in schools and colleges. Innovative teaching methods needed.”
Dr Rajvanshi suggested that one way to aid innovative thinking could be by way of all ministries putting aside 1% of their budget for rural R&D funding and encouraging public procurement of rural R&D products. He also emphasised on the importance of developing venture funds for rural startups, funding for rural internships in grassroots S&T bodies and promotion of social entrepreneurship.