Use of ICTs in Indian Agriculture

Cross-posted from the FSP India website written by Jaspreet Aulakh

Source:Bioversity International
Source:Bioversity International

India currently has several public and private active information and communication technology (ICT) initiatives with objectives to support and provide assistance to farmers, but analysis on how ICT is helping farmers to enhance productivity, better cope with the weather variability, and att

ain better prices for their produce is limited. Information on how small farmers and women engaged in agriculture are being helped by agricultural information dissemination via ICT is limited as well.

A workshop on October 16 in Hyderabad on the use and role of ICTs in Indian agriculture mapped the landscape and functionality of these initiatives. Participants agreed this was the first conference held at this scale on this topic, and it helped introduce different partners concurrently working on this common cause.  The main expectations from this workshop were to better understand the ICT landscape in India, the contribution of ICT, and the challenges faced in promoting the use of ICTs. It looked into how public policies can address some of these challenges, and will hopefully serve as a jumping off point for the development of new research that can generate evidence on the use of ICTs in achieving food security.

The extensive availability and coupling of ICTs in the recent decade-- television, mobile phones, computers, digital networks-- has led to unparalleled capacity for dissemination of knowledge and information to the farmer population. Some commonly used ICT applications or tools deployed to promote agricultural related information include: tele-centers, web portals, call centers, mobile phones, community radio, video, digital photography, GIS, e-mail, audio and video conferencing, and social media applications such as Facebook and WhatsApp. In addition to these, traditional ICTs such as radio, television, and print media are also used to share information about agricultural technologies, weather updates, and market price information. The one limitation to these older mediums is their comparatively unidirectional flow of information and lack of interaction and exchange between parties.

The gathering shared experiences from a number of initiatives, including mKisan[1], a SMS based farm advisory portal run by government of India; the Green Sim, a private initiative by India’s largest cell phone provider, Airtel; Kisan Call Centre under the government’s Department of Agriculture and Cooperation; and iKisan, an online informational resource for farmers by another private sector entity, Nagarjuna Fertilizers and Chemicals Ltd (NFCL).

mKisan was launched in 2013 and gives information, services, and advisories to farmers by SMS; farmers can indicate their preferred language and specify relevant agricultural practices and data specific to their location.  mKisan has sent millions of messages throughout the length and breadth of India.

Kisan Call Centers were launched in 2004 over the entire country to deliver extension services to the farming community. Farmers can call and make queries related to crops, seeds, fertilizers, agricultural commodity prices, pesticides, horticulture, veterinary issues and so on, free of charge.

Green Sim, another private national initiative, is a joint venture by IFFCO (Indian Farmers Fertilizer Cooperative) and Airtel, fulfilling their individual objectives of both the telecom provider and cooperative by providing information directly to farmers, delivering location- and time-sensitive information, and important alerts without adding economic strain to farmers. Green Sim comes with a flat cost of 86 rupees and can get the IFFCO services free of charge with proactive messaging services which target at updating of new information in the market, weather and cropping patterns, and reactive messaging services which are need-based.

iKisan was established in 2000 as part of Nagarjuna Group’s vision of rural prosperity through enhanced knowledge, with technology making Indian farmers globally competitive. iKisan is an agricultural portal which provides online, detailed content on crops, crop management techniques, fertilizers, and pesticides and a lot of other agriculture-related material. Other initiatives by private sectors entities discussed included mKrishi, a mobile agro-advisory system by Tata Consultancy Services (TCS);

Other forms of online portals were also discussed, such as the eSagu personalized agro-advisory system, the use of Facebook by Kerala’s Department of Agriculture, and SasyaSree. eSagu is an IT-based scalable system to disseminate location-specific best agricultural practices to all farmers; an agricultural scientist provides expert advice using digital photographs of the crop. Facebook is being widely used by the Department of Agriculture, Kerala in state’s local language as a channel to disseminate useful information to farmers and facilitate communication among the famers. SasyaSree, managed by Centre for Good Governance (CGG), is another local language portal (this one in Telugu) which promotes the use of existing technologies as means to improve productivity and farmer incomes. It is currently available in eight districts of the state, providing informative videos based on local conditions and local cropping patterns.

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Access to all of the conference presentations:

Extension System Reforms in South Asia

Extension experts at the workshop, New Delhi
Extension experts at the workshop, New Delhi

Konark Sikka is an intern with IFPRI- South Asia office

Investments in agricultural research are necessary, but not sufficient to translate that research into productivity gains in farmers’ fields. Instead, agricultural transformation requires all aspects of the agricultural sector to change in order to achieve better productivity.

Agricultural extension systems in South Asia have been undergoing several reforms over the last 10 years. However, it is not clear how these reforms have worked and what challenges they face in their implementation. Research on implementation of such reforms is needed to connect policy research to the final impact on human welfare.

In this context, and mindful of the challenges and issues faced by extension systems in South Asian countries, the International Food Policy Research Institute convened a workshop titled “Agricultural Extension Reforms in South Asia – Status, Challenges and Policy Options” at the National Agriculture Science Centre Complex in New Delhi on February 17 and 18.

In the Indian context, building up the current Agricultural Technology Management Agency (ATMA) system of extension was discussed, including how to make it more adaptable to different states and to climate smart agriculture. Dr. Rita Sharma, former Member of National Advisory Council, stated that the bureaucratic set-up is currently based ”in silos” and urged investigation in mega programs that governments have and re-direct energies in  them toward agriculture.

Participants discussed the necessity of forming Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) to fill in the gaps that exist in extension systems. The concept of agri-tourism was highlighted, in which using local produce to establish food outlets was seen as a good way to attract the youth to the agricultural sector.

The importance of information and its use by farmers was also considered. Dr. Mruthyunjaya, former national Director National Agriculture Innovative Project (NAIP), focused on improving the efficiency of Krishi Vigyan Kendra(KVK). These include developing them using marketing, soft skills and packaging and processing skills, strengthening communication and cooperation with line ministries, and sharing positive developments between KVKs.  He also emphasized that KVKs should specialize in one area in order to improve efficiency.

The participants took away from the workshop a sense that feasible, solid reforms are possible, including a focus on improving KVKs, decentralizing and making flexible the bureaucratic set-up, and developing and maintaining government and private sector partnerships. A belief in using ICT was also seen as something that could be used to increase coverage and, potentially, attract youth, which has increasingly turned away from the agricultural sector.

Dr. Suresh Babu, an IFPRI Senior Research Fellow, concluded the workshop by stating that the event intended to take stock of issues with the extension system and come up with policy briefs for relevant countries in the South Asia region. He added that promoting academic studies of extension reforms are necessary so that researchers can serve as a solid foundation for future work.

For more workshop Presentations: 

Extending Information to Farmers: Case Studies in India

Understanding how farmers adopt new information is vital to successful extension programs. Yet delivery of local information to farmers in a reliable, timely manner remains a challenge. Any attempt to reform agricultural extension systems needs to start with a full understanding of farmers' information needs, as well as how that need is currently being met by extension and advisory services.

Farmers meeting
Focus group discussions with farmers. Source: Dr. Suresh Babu, IFPRI
To help guide extension and other farmer education programs, Farmers’ Information Needs and Search Behaviorsa case study of rice farmers in the southern Indian state of Tamil Naduaddresses these key questions:

  • What information do farmers in this district need?
  • How and where do they search for information?
  • What factors determine their search behavior?
  • How much are they willing to pay for information?

A second discussion paper, The Relevance of Content in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Initiatives in Indian Agriculture, looks at how these six ICT projects deliver information to farmers:

  • Reuters Market Light (RML)
  • IFFCO (Indian Farmers Fertilizer Co-operative Limited) Kisan Sanchar Limited (IKSL)
  • Lifelines
  • Digital Green
  • e-Sagu
  • aAqua (Almost All Questions Answered)

These projects have all made an effort to reduce the expert-farmer gap by making content relevant, accessible, and reliable using local experts and farmers’ preferred communication channels. However, further improvements could be made through increasing user feedback, direct involvement of farmers, and ensuring open access to information stored within databases.

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