In order to develop a rice-transplanting machine, I will have to understand how it is traditionally done. There are many methods to increase the yields of rice crops, however, if we come up with a disruptive technology, the farmers won’t adopt it.
A local student from Amrita University is also working on the rice-planting machine project, and has been in the village to understand how the woman plant rice in this particular village.
Challenges in rice planting include food security, poverty alleviation, climate change and gender equality.
Importance of rice cultivation in India
50% of India’s population work in agriculture. However, this industry only accounts for 16% of the country’s GDP. Rice is the staple food in the country, where the population growth makes the demand for rice on the rise. At the same time, people are moving out of agricultural work and into urban lifestyle, meaning the available labour is decreasing. Additionally, when there is migration, it is often the male who will move to the cities, leaving most of the farming tasks to the female family members. Most available agricultural machines are too expensive for small farmers, which rely on exhausting manual work for rice cultivation.
India has the largest rice area in the world with 43 million hectares (more than a quarter of the global rice area) and contributes a little less than a quarter of global production.
Despite some impressive production growth in the past five decades and the growing status as one of the largest rice-exporting regions in the world, South Asia was still home to 295 million undernourished and hungry people in 2011-13—nearly 35% of the 842 million hungry people in the world. In 2011-13, 16.8% of the people in South Asia were hungry. This is the highest percentage among other Asian regions and is second highest behind Africa, but this is much lower than the 25% hungry people South Asia had in 1990-92.
India’s Food Subsidy Program
In 2013, India launched a food subsidiary program to provide cheap food grains to a large number of undernourished inhabitants. By stockpiling rice and wheat, the government is able to provide subsidised grains to two thirds of its population according to the the Food Security Act.
According to the Act, beneficiaries are able to purchase 5 kilograms per eligible person per month of cereals i.e, rice at Rs 3 per kg while wheat at Rs 2 per kg. Source OneIndia 2014
India is a good example where the government has rolled out an elaborate food subsidy program to provide highly subsidized food grains (rice and wheat) for 65 million below-poverty-line households, including nearly free food grains to 20 million Antyodaya Anna Yojana households, the poorest of the poor households. Each of the 65 million households receives 35 kilograms of grain every month at 74–86% below the procurement cost.
About two-thirds of India’s 1.2 billion people live on less than $2 a day, according to the World Bank. The country is a major rice and wheat producer, but it is also home to one-fourth of the world’s hungry poor, according to the World Food Program. An independent survey in 2011 found that four out of 10 Indian children were severely malnourished.
India’s Green Revolution
The “Green Revolution” in India is the name given to a period between 1967 and 1978. With the goal of become self-sufficient in food grains, the agricultural practises were transformed by using high yield seeds, double-cropping (2 cropping seasons a year instead of 1), improved irrigation and the use of synthetic fertilisers and pesticides. From a starving country, India became a major exporter.
However, the use of synthetic fertilisers has depleted the soil of its nutritients. Because of the new agricultural methods relying on machines and synthetics compounds, the energy input per crop has increased, making the industry more reliant on fossil fuels as a consequence. The extended use and consumption of chemicals also increased cancer incidences. As the Green Revolution promoted the farming of rice and wheat over pules, there has been a shift it dietary habits among the farmers bringing them to a more unbalanced diet. The farmers also had to buy their seeds instead of producing them themselves, which made them dependant on seed industries and credit institutions.
Gender and Equity
AMMACHI Labs, which hosts my project, focuses on empowering women in rural communities. In India, 60-80% of the rice production is made by women. Thus, it is important to understand how they work and what is better for them while developing a rice-transplanting machine.
Moreover, if the women can repair and maintain (ev. build) the machines themselves and not be reliant on external people, they will be empowered by being independent and holding the technical knowledge about their tools.
Thelma Paris on gender considerations in rice farming
The participation of women in crop and natural resource management increases with poverty and environmental stresses.
Despite women’s important contributions in farming and livelihoods, women have less access than men to knowledge and skills, productive assets, including agricultural inputs, improved seeds, land, credit, agricultural extension services, and small equipment/light machinery. Similarly, in the world of national and international agricultural research, women continue to be underrepresented and their contributions are not fully tapped.
Because women play large and crucial but often unrecognized roles across the rice sector, extra efforts are needed to ensure they have the same opportunity as men to access new technologies. The challenge is to ensure that gender issues are identified through rigorous gender analysis […], as well as in capacity enhancement programs, with a view to enhancing productivity and incomes, and empowering women farmers to remove gender inequities.
Economic development and technological response options affect women in different ways, depending on whether they are paid or unpaid laborers. Migration of men to work in urban areas often means that women are left behind to do the drudgery of working in the rice fields. […] If they are unpaid laborers, the shift will remove the drudgery and back-breaking burden of transplanting. But if they are paid laborers, it will deprive them of a source of income.