One of the world’s lingering challenges is to end hunger and poverty. From my experience working on farms, I can confidently say that the only way to do this is by making farming profitable for the smallholder farmer.

There are some basic problems, however, at the production level. The biggest problem is the lack of advisory services. Extension services are required to first test the soil on every plot. Only after that can farmers be advised of the nutrient application requirement of the farm, without which there is tendency to apply more of the wrong kind of fertilizer to the soil. This excess application is not only destroying the soil, but also making farming unviable.

Advisory services are also needed to increase farmer awareness so that they can make informed choices of which crops to grow and on judicious use of inputs like water and pesticides. There is a need to reduce the gap between the best and the worst yield in the village. Later reduce yield difference between the best farm in the village and the yield at the research centre. This should solve some of the problems.

Two other developments on the Indian farm need to be addressed. First, as farm sizes are being reduced due to fragmentation of landholding, the number of landholdings is increasing but the number of operating sizes of farms has started decreasing. Second, farm labour is becoming expensive, thus arises the need for farm mechanization. For the smallholder producer, it just does not make sense to purchase any equipment of their own because there is not enough work for any size of machinery on any one farm. The solution is to have equipment that can be hired on an hourly basis by the farming community. This is being facilitated by IFFCO, the leading cooperative in India.

How else can we support smallholder farmers? Start by doubling funding for agriculture research. Train the trainers. Allocate five times more funds to transfer knowledge to the farmer.  Formulate policies to accelerate and incentivize research, and incorporate technology as a resource-liberating tool to help the farmer. Unfortunately, as production increases, price of produce falls for which we need better post-harvest marketing solutions.

Available resources per citizen in the developing world are extremely low. In the future, we face a scarcity due to inaccessibility of cheap resources. On a macro level, a temporary measure many countries are scrambling to secure required stocks worldwide and failing. In the long term, there is absolutely no choice but to use technology to optimize use of inputs and maximize yield.

Author: Ajay Vir Jakhar is Chairman of Bharat Krishak Samaj (BKS), India. He is attending the World Economic Forum on India 2012.

Image: A farmer walks through a mustard field at Ghaduwan village REUTERS/Ajay Verma