MUMBAI, 19 November 2016 : India has been relatively well endowed with resources for sustainable agricultural development, viz. land, labor, water, livestock, fisheries, forestry, three distinct agricultural seasons, congenial climate, solar radiation, among others. India has, also, established extensive and robust network of agricultural research institutions and supporting institutional infrastructure to provide specific services to farmers which, inter alia, include agricultural education and extension; rural financial institutions; farm input production and distribution [seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, farm equipment and machinery]; agricultural marketing, among others.
What farmers need to make farming profitable?
Digital ecosystem for agriculture in 21st century assumes indispensable role for disseminating information on all critical aspects of developing agriculture including crop cultivation, animal husbandry and fisheries. Farmers, in the context of advanced technologies already developed by India’s plethora of national and State level premiere research institutes, need to be facilitated and assisted to adopt these proven yield-enhancing, cost-efficient and environment-friendly technologies. Field studies show that S& MFs need timely accurate information from authentic sources on following specific aspects.
- Details of location-specific crop production technology
- Economics of crop, livestock and fish farming
- Authorized sources of timely availability of standard quality inputs [seeds, fertilizers, pesticides etc.] farm equipment, sprinklers, drippers, among others, along with costs
- Post-harvest management technology and facilities including transport, storage, processing, preservation, packaging and marketing
- Commodity prices, weather, measures to minimize impact of drought and climate change
- Detailed procedure along with RBI-prescribed norms for availing bank credit including debt-restructuring, crop and livestock insurance cover, government subsidies, land records, schemes of individual bank and National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development
- Government’s programs providing subsidy and other facilities to develop irrigation potential, rainwater harvesting, soil and water conservation measures, soil, water, seed & fertilizer testing facilities, prevention and control of pests and diseases, installation of bio-gas, minimum support prices
- Details of contract farming, organic farming, value chain system, warehouse receipts, agricultural marketing including commodity prices
- Reclamation of degraded, saline & alkaline land
- Sharing of information on profitable farming by millions of successful farmers accessing bank credit and technology
- Local level mechanism to redress grievances.
Harnessing potential of ICT a must
Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has the potential to revolutionize Indian farming sector in terms of significantly improving farm productivity, production and profitability at the level of lakhs of small, marginal, tenant and women farmers. Several apps are now available and many more can be developed which can help farmers access authentic, accurate and timely information related to high-yielding variety seeds, production-enhancing & cost-minimizing agronomic practices, efficient use of water including micro-irrigation system, integrated nutrient and pest management techniques, post-harvest management technology, measures to mitigate adverse impact of droughts, floods, climate change and marketing of farm produce in domestic and international markets.
Better mobile penetration in rural areas
India has about 69% rural population. Mobile connectivity has become a basic service in rural areas. Rural mobile subscriber base is growing twice as faster compared to urban subscriber base. As of March 2015, the national teledensity was 79% and rural teledensity 46.5%. Telecom Policy aims to increase rural teledensity to 60% by 2017 and 100% by 2020. Study of the IAMAI revealed 80% using it for communications, 67% for online services, 65% for e-commerce and 60% for social networking.Mobile phones can be effectively utilized for purposes including generating, processing, transmitting, disseminating, sorting, archiving and retrieving critical information and data relating to agriculture. Mobile phones are omnipresent and cost effective means to revolutionize agriculture in India. Farmers’ timely access to farm output related minute information right from the selection of seeds for planting to marketing of produce in domestic and international markets is a must.
Promising digital India project
Government of India’s “Digital India” envisions empowering citizens with e-access to government and related livelihood services. The project has three core components, viz. digital infrastructure, digital services and digital literacy. Mobile phone is the preferred delivery medium under digital India with focus on mGovernance and mServices. The mAgriculture and mGramBazar out of the seven components covered under mServices directly impact agricultural extension services. The recently launched innovative concept of dedicated Payment Banks, supported by digital platform and mobile operators who have millions of customer- access points across the country, would enable customers load cash onto mobile wallets and send payments across the country. All the components of the policy and programs embodied in the Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s address on 1st July 2015 while inaugurating the “Digital India Week” are most relevant to agriculture and rural livelihood as it would empower the rural people and extend services better with the use of information technology and its tools. The digital India has the potential to create a transformational change in various sections of the society with rural India poised for being the biggest beneficiary of this change. The plan to provide universal phone connectivity and access to broadband in 2.5 lakh villages by 2019 is the clarion call for corporates and entrepreneurs to seize the opportunity to develop new solutions for rural markets. The digital India policy has following aspects to benefit rural India..
- It seeks to transform India into a digitally-empowered, knowledge economy
- It will facilitate efficiency in governance through programs that include digital literacy and electronic delivery of services
- It seeks to develop online on-demand digital signature and every Indian will have a digital identity and a mobile connection linked to it
- Re-engineering of software and systems to help store, share online certificates that will bring convenience and eliminate paperwork
- At least one person in every family would be digitally empowered. The government expects to make 10 million people digitally literate in five years while aiming to train one million individuals by the end of 2015-16.
- It covers nine programs that include broadband highways, 100% mobile density, electronic manufacturing and eKranti or electronic delivery of services by 2018
- It aims to bridge the digital divide existing in the country
- Among other things, it will boost e-governance in several State services, which will cut delivery time and costs and increase transparency
- Focus on spreading the broadband connectivity across all local government bodies by 2017 to reach out to underprivileged masses and bring them into the mainstream of society
- Government has envisioned the 'National Digital Literacy Mission' to educate over 1 million people by 2019.
To be continued.....
About Dr Amrit Patel
Dr Patel is an Ahmedabad based agriculture & rural credit consultant and has served as deputy general manager, Bank of Baroda. He has worked as Research Officer for 10 years with Department of Agriculture, and two years as Assistant Professor with Gujarat Agricultural University. Junagarh, India and published seven research papers. Dr Patel has also been guest faculty for 10 years in College of Agricultural Banking of Reserve Bank of India Pune; National Institute of Bank Management Pune; National Institute of Rural Development, Hyderabad.
Retired Deputy General Manager, Bank of Baroda, Mumbai, India: B.Sc [Agri], M.Sc [Agri.Rural Economics]]. & Ph. D [Rural Studies], India, Patel has also contributed to establish “Rural Banking and Rural Credit & Micro-finance Policy & System” for Agricultural & Rural Development. Apart from this, Dr Patel has been working since 1996 as international consultant on “Rural Credit & Micro-finance” in countries of India, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Bangladesh and Uganda, with projects funded by World Bank, Asian Development Bank, & International Fund for Agricultural Development.