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Digitalisation, The Next Big Leap

After the green revolution, digitization will be the next watershed moment for the agricultural sector. This will help farmers in enhancing both the quality and quantity of agricultural products, bring in transparency in buying and selling of products, fetch better price for the farmers as also reduce the burden on the customers. Digitization according to Dr J P Sharma and Dr Reshma Gills will usher in brighter days for Indian agriculture.


Agriculture sector has been the launching pads of many a revolution in this country. Beginning with the Green Revolution which made India a food surplus nation, it gave birth to white revolution (milk), blue revolution (fishery), pink revolution (meat production) and eventually to rainbow revolution. And right now, agricultural sector in India is now going through another revolution known as Digital Revolution.


Considering fact that 68% of India’s population is rural and agriculture is the main source of livelihood for 58% of the population, digitization of this sector assumes enormous significance. Digitalization in Agriculture can be defined as use of information and communication technology and data science to support the developmental activities in agriculture with timely, target specific delivery of information and services to the farming community to make farming a profitable and sustainable venture.


Digitalization is a key to providing low cost relevant data and giving access to information and knowledge to the rural youth and farmers. Considering the huge variability in the soil types, moisture and nutrient level in the farmers’ field, rainfall inconsistency and timing of key operations like planting and harvesting, and market price volatility, agriculture is a data-intense sector. Now here arises a question: Who will supply information to farmers? When it comes to the farmers’ field level information delivery, the sole responsibility is with the extension workers. But the extension system is facing major challenges like absence or limited presence of expert consultation in rural vicinities due to less number of extension persons per farmers (1:5000), problem of upgrading knowledge base of extension agents and availability of limited tools to collect real time information from the farmers’ field and reaching back to them with timely and efficient decision. To meet these challenges and making agriculture to e-agri form or digitalized form extension system need to be empowered and integrated with ICT approaches like m-Power (mobile power) and e-power (electronic power).


Potential areas for digitalisation in agricultural extension

  1. Delivery of location specific crop production technologies: It is very important to give tailored recommendations to farmers based on location, crop, planting date, variety sown, real time and observed weather for the better productivity and profitability. Digitalisation can help in timely availability of standard quality inputs like seeds, fertilizers, pesticides farm equipment, sprinklers, drippers, among others, along with costs.
  2. Timely weather data to minimise impact of climatic fluctuations and climate change on agriculture: Any changes in the climatic and weather conditions adversely affect the production and profitability. Majority of the crop losses takes place through biological ways like pest and disease attack and through abiotic stress like drought, flood etc.
  3. Economics of agriculture and allied farming and real-time market information for better prices and reduced marketing risks: Price fluctuations and marketing risk is a very common phenomena in the agricultural sector due the perishable nature of the agricultural commodity, demand spread is less on production site and huge special difference between production and consumption sites. ICTs and different digital form in the information dissemination can increase farmers’ ability to cope with fluctuating market prices agricultural commodities. By increasing farmers access to market information and market intelligence, digital technologies can help farmers make more informed decisions regarding when to sell, which produce to sell and where to sell.
  4. Post-harvest services and value chain development for enhanced farmer’s income and consumer satisfaction: Agricultural value chains are very complex as multiple players are involved and there is information irregularity between the farmer, middlemen, aggregator and the final consumers. This may lead to distress sale of the framers produces which ultimately leads to loses to the farmers due to reduced prices and burden on the consumers due to increased purchasing price.
  5. Information delivery to the farmers about government policies and schemes: Government is very proactive in the field of agriculture schemes and policies development. But unfortunately majority of the farmers are not able to avail or access benefits of these schemes due to lack of knowledge.


Government Initiatives:


  1. National Agriculture Market (e-NAM): National Agriculture Market (e-NAM) is all India electronic trading portal which aims at to form a unified national market for agricultural products by linking markets related to the existing Agricultural Product Marketing Committee (APMC). National Agriculture Market helps farmers transport the agricultural product from one market to another in a smooth way, saving the producers from a number of market duties and providing agricultural product to the consumers on a fair price. At present the farmers sell their products through the Mandis or Bazar Committees which levy a number of duties on their products. Under e-NAM, there is only one license for the whole State and duty is levied only at one point. Farmer can conduct electronic auction to know about the prices. It facilitates in converting the whole state to one market where farmers have more alternative to sell their products.


  1. Farmers portal: Farmers’ Portal is an endeavor to create one stop shop for meeting all informational needs relating to agriculture, animal husbandry and fisheries sectors production, sale/storage of an Indian farmer. This saves the farmers from going through a maze of websites created for specific purposes. Once in the Farmers’ Portal, a farmer can get all relevant information on specific subjects around his village/ block /district or state. He can also get detailed information on farmers’ insurance, agricultural storage, crops, extension activities, seeds, pesticides, farm machineries, fertilizers, market prices, package and practices, programmes, welfare schemes etc. Block level details related to soil fertility, storage, insurance, training, etc. are also available. These information can be delivered in the form of text, SMS, email and audio/ video in the language farmer understands. Farmers can ask specific queries as well as give valuable feedback through the Feedback module specially developed for the purpose.


  1. Kisan Suvidha: It is an omnibus mobile app developed to help farmers by providing relevant information to them quickly. With click of a button, they can get the information on weather of current day and next 5 days, dealers, market prices, agro advisories, plant protection, IPM Practices etc. Unique features like extreme weather alerts and market prices of commodity in nearest area and the maximum price in state as well as India have been added to empower farmers in the best possible manner.


  1. mkisan Application: Mobile telephony (with or without internet) is the most potent and omnipresent tool of agricultural extension. It enables farmers and all other stakeholders to obtain advisories and information from experts and government officials at different levels through mkisan portal without registering on the portal.


  1. Community radio: Community radio is a type of participatory radio service that caters to the interests of a certain area, broadcasting contents which are popular to a local audience but which may often be overlooked by commercial or mass-media broadcasters. This form of participatory communication has proved to be very successful as a tool for social and economic development at grass root level.


  1. Kisan Call Centres (KCCs): To harness the potential of ICT in Agriculture, Ministry of Agriculture launched “Kisan Call Centres (KCCs)” on January 21, 2004 for answering farmers’ queries on a telephone call in farmers’ own dialect. These call centres are functioning in 13 different locations covering all the States and UTs. This scheme provides agriculture related information to the farming community through toll free telephone lines. A countrywide common eleven digit number 1800180-1551 has been allotted for Kisan Call Centre. The number is accessible through all mobile phones and landlines of all telecom networks. Replies to the farmers’ queries are given in 22 local languages. Calls are attended from 6.00 am to 10.00 pm on all seven days of the week at each KCC location. As the agriculture scenario has become more complex, farmers’ access to a reliable, timely, and relevant information source has become increasingly important. Farmers require access to more varied, multisource, and context-specific information, related not only to best practices and technologies for crop production and weather but also to information about post-harvest aspects, including processing, marketing, storage, and handling. Thus, generalised content might not help farmers in different regions, which have their own crops, times, and agro ecological specificities. Information that is context specific rather than generic could have important impact on the adoption of technologies and could increase farm productivity and income for marginal and small agricultural landholders. The need for community involvement as well as partnerships with experts for content development is essential for adaptability and acceptability of information by framers. This two-way process also enables farmers to share lessons and best practices related to their farm experiences, thus incorporating farmers ‘knowledge base into the program. Digital extension services can help the farmers to access information and give their opinion and suggestions through interactive way.


(The authors are Joint Director and Senior Research Fellow in IARI, New Delhi respectively. Views expressed are personal.)