e-technology in the aid of farmers
Need of e-technology intervention for Agriculture:
- Indian agriculture is the home of small and marginal farmers (80%). Therefore, the future of sustainable agriculture growth and food security in India depends on the performance of small and marginal farmers. Increasing their productivity and incomes can make a major contribution to reducing hunger and poverty. Access to technological information is one of the most important enablers for smallholders to improve productivity sustainably.
- The cost of cultivation per hectare is high on small and marginal farms than medium and large farms. Access to technology is one of the most important enablers for smallholders to improve productivity sustainably. Innovative mechanisms for technology transfer are required to bring relevant tools, knowledge and knowhow to farmers.
- Market linkages are common weak points between the smallholders and formal supply chains. Intermediaries are required not only to aggregate production from small-scale growers, but also to provide support and services to ensure the quality and consistency of production. ICT applications can foster dissemination of information on technology, market demand and price information; weather, pest, and risk-management information, best practices to meet quality and certification standards.
- To bridge the information gap between the farmers and to build productive and competitive market, different ICT interventions support rural and under-developed markets to become efficient and productive.
Role of IT in Agriculture
- In the context of agriculture, the potential of information technology (IT) can be assessed broadly under two heads : (a) as a tool for direct contribution to agricultural productivity and (b) as an indirect tool for empowering farmers to take informed and quality decisions which will have positive impact on the way agriculture and allied activities are conducted.
- Precision farming, popular in developed countries, extensively uses IT to make direct contribution to agricultural productivity. The techniques of remote sensing using satellite technologies, geographical information systems, agronomy and soil sciences are used to increase the agricultural output. This approach is capital intensive and useful where large tracts of land are involved. Consequently it is more suitable for farming taken up on corporate lines.
- The indirect benefits of IT in empowering Indian farmer are significant and remains to be exploited. The Indian farmer urgently requires timely and reliable sources of information inputs for taking decisions. At present, the farmer depends on trickling down of decision inputs from conventional sources which are slow and unreliable. The changing environment faced by Indian farmers makes information not merely useful, but necessary to remain competitive.
The rapid changes in the field of information technology makes it possible to develop and disseminate required electronic services to rural India. The existing bottlenecks in undertaking the tasks need to be addressed immediately.
Major challenges in the spread of e-technology to farmers:
- Some of the major constraints delaying the spread of e-technology to farmers are listed below:
In Mobile Connectivity:
- Indian telecommunication revolution made it possible to reach to unreachable located consumers through Mobile Services. Even the masses have access to mobile connectivity, but the potential of the handsets are not yet tapped. This is largely because of the content delivered is often not directly related to their livelihood and environment. Since they need localised news and information directly delivered in their language to meet their daily needs.
- There are challenges – affordability is a key issue for many potential users. Not everyone can afford handsets; innovative business models adopted by the firms and handsets at low price tag which work for voice and sms based services. Looking at flexible business model rather than complex and rigid one of the past is need of the day. The thing still missing is the confidence on the system, delivery mechanism through affordable mobile unit, localised content in local language, easy to understand content and farmer-friendly. Illiteracy of rural farmers makes job even more tedious.
- Other challenge in disseminating agriculture related information is dynamic nature of information. Farming is not so linear but requires constant inputs at every stage where new technological inputs provide better crop outputs. It means, crop production depends on weather, agricultural practices and management of pests and diseases at right time to save crops and gain better results. The final produce should provide better marketable price to farmers, where the market intelligence is the key, which provides regular information about nearby markets in local language.
In Internet Connectivity:
- It is observed that some initiatives have already been made to provide IT based services to farmers. However, duplication of efforts are witnessed as most of the services revolve around limited subjects.
- Keeping in view the giant task involved, it is necessary to form a coordination mechanism to strive for a concerted effort to support farming community in the country. Such a coordination agency may only have advisory powers.
- The success of the strategy depends on the ease with which rural population can use the content.
- This will require easy language, training to farmers and intuitive graphics based presentation.
- Regional language fonts and mechanisms for synchronisation of the content provides a challenge that needs to be met with careful planning.
- Information content based on remote sensing and geographical information systems can provide timely alerts to the farmers and also improve the efficiency of administration. These applications can have a major impact on the farmers and help them to appreciate the potential of information technology. However, government’s map restriction policies often threaten to stifle the optimal utilisation of these tools.
- In most of the rural India, power supply is not available for long hours. This will reduce the usefulness of the intended services.
- Since almost entire country receives sunshine for most part of the year, it is useful to explore solar power packs for UPS as well as for supply of power.
- Despite the phenomenal progress made in the recent years, the connectivity to rural areas still requires to be improved. Reliable connectivity is a prerequisite for a successful penetration of IT into rural areas.
- Many private ISPs are setting up large networks connecting many major towns and cities. Since some of these networks pass through rural areas, it is possible to provide connectivity to a large number of villages.
- GOI should complete National Optical fibre network (NOFN) as soon as possible. Mobile’s high penetration could be utilised for connectivity.
- Even in areas where telephone and other communication services exist, the available bandwidth is a major constraint. Since internet based rural services require substantial use of graphics, low bandwidth is one of the major limitations in providing effective e-services to farmers.
- Networks with high bandwidth are being set up by several companies passing through rural segments which can be utilised. Until this materialises, a two pronged strategy of storing static information at the kiosks and providing dynamic information from remote locations can be examined. The graphic oriented content which does not change frequently, such as, demonstration clips for farmers, can be stored on the local drives at the kiosks and arrange for periodic updation of this information over the network during non-peak hours. The dynamic information which changes more frequently can be accessed from remote locations to obtain the latest status.
- Mass deployment of information kiosks is critical for effective use of the Internet based content and services. In order to ensure that the information kiosks are economically feasible, it is necessary to make the proposition sustainable and viable. This requires a major focus on a viable revenue model for such kiosks.
- In the new information era, the kiosks should be designed to become electronic super markets that can, in addition to being information sources, handle other services of use to the people living in rural areas. The revenue available through such sources can make a kiosk attractive for prospective investors.
- The Government can provide finance facilities to unemployed rural agricultural graduates who can be expected to have greater commitment and at the same time act as an efficient interface for less educated rural visitors.
- Agricultural extension is a general term meaning the application of scientific research and new knowledge to agricultural practices through farmer education.
- The field of ‘extension’ encompasses a wider range of communication and learning activities organized for rural people by educators from different disciplines, including agriculture, agricultural marketing, health, and business studies.
Schemes and Projects of Government and its agencies in e-technology for farmers
Agricultural Technology Management Agency (A T M A)
- ATMA is a society of key stakeholders involved in agricultural activities for sustainable agriculture development in the district. It is a focal point for integrating Research and Extension activities
- It is a registered society responsible for technology dissemination at the district level. As a whole the ATMA would be a facilitating agency rather than implementing Agency.
- The scheme is suppported by the Central Government. The funding pattern is 90% by the central Government and 10% by the state government. The 10% state’s share shall consist of cash contribution of the State, beneficiary contribution or the contribution of other non-governmental organizations.
- The objectives of ATMA are
- To strengthen research – extension – farmer linkages.
- To provide an effective mechanism for co-ordination and management of activities of different agencies involved in technology adaption / validation and dissemination at the district level and below.
- To increase the quality and type of technologies being disseminated.
- To move towards shared ownership of the agricultural technology system by key shareholders.
- To develop new partnerships with the private institutions including NGOs.
National Mission on Agricultural Extension and Technology (NMAET)
- National Mission on Agricultural Extension and Technology (NMAET) is being implemented during the 12th Plan period.
- NMAET consists of 4 Sub Missions:
- Sub Mission on Agricultural Extension (SMAE)
- Sub-Mission on Seed and Planting Material (SMSP)
- Sub Mission on Agricultural Mechanization (SMAM)
- Sub Mission on Plant Protection and Plant Quarantine (SMPP)
- Agricultural Technology, including the adoption/ promotion of critical inputs, and improved agronomic practices were being disseminated under 17 different schemes of the Department of Agriculture & Cooperation during the 11th Plan. The Modified Extension Reforms Scheme was introduced in 2010 with the objective of strengthening extension machinery and utilizing it for synergizing interventions under these schemes under the umbrella of the Agriculture Technology Management Agency (ATMA).
- The NMAET has been envisaged as the next step towards this objective through the amalgamation of these schemes.
- The common threads running across all 4 Sub-Missions in NMAET are Extension and Technology. Therefore, while 4 separate Sub-Missions are being proposed for administrative convenience, these are inextricably linked to each other at the field level and most components thereof have to be disseminated among farmers and other stakeholders through a strong extension network.
- The aim of the Mission is: to restructure and strengthen agricultural extension to enable delivery of appropriate technology and improved agronomic practices to farmers.
- This aim is envisaged to be achieved by a judicious mix of:
- extensive physical outreach and interactive methods of information dissemination,
- use of ICT,
- popularisation of modern and appropriate technologies,
- capacity building and institution strengthening to promote mechanisation, availability of quality seeds, plant protection etc. and
- encourage aggregation of Farmers into Interest Groups (FIGs) to form Farmer Producer Organisations (FPOs).
- In order to overcome systemic challenges being faced by the Extension System, there is a need for a focused approach in mission mode to disseminate appropriate technologies and relevant information to larger number of farmer households through inter personal and innovative methods of technology dissemination including ICT.
National Policy for Farmers, 2007
- The Government had constituted National Commission on Farmers in 2004 under the chairmanship of Dr. M.S. Swaminathan. Based on the recommendations made by the Commission, the “National Policy for Farmers, 2007” has been formulated and approved by the Government of India.
- It has important provision for use of Technology: New technologies which can help enhance productivity per unit of land and water are needed. Biotechnology, information and communication technology (ICT), renewable energy technology, space applications and nano-technology to provide opportunities for launching an “Evergreen Revolution” capable of improving productivity in perpetuity without harming the ecology.
Village Knowledge Centre (VKC)
- Village Knowledge Centre (VKC) serves as information dissemination centre providing instant access to farmers to latest information/ knowledge available in the field of agriculture, starting from crop production to marketing. A “VKC In-charge” who looks after the operations of the VKC mans every VKC.
Village Resource Centres (VRCs)
- To provide the space based services directly to the rural areas, ISRO/ DOS has launched the Village Resource Centres (VRCs) programme in association with NGOs/ Trusts and state/ central agencies. At present, there are 461 VRCs set up in 22 States/Union Territories
- Over 6500 programmes have been conducted by the VRCs so far addressing the areas like, Agriculture/horticulture development; Fisheries development; Live stock development; Water resources; Tele health care; Awareness programmes; Woman’s empowerment; Supplementary education; Computer literacy; Micro credit; Micro finance; Skill development / vocational training for livelihood support etc. So far, over five Lakh people have used VRC services.
mKisan SMS Portal
- Though there are about 38 crore mobile telephone connections in rural areas, internet penetration in the countryside is still abysmally low. Therefore, mobile messaging is the most effective tool so far having pervasive outreach to nearly 8.93 crore farm families.
- mKisan SMS Portal for farmers enables all Central and State government organizations in agriculture and allied sectors to give information/services/advisories to farmers by SMS in their language, preference of agricultural practices and location.
- These messages are specific to farmers’ specific needs & relevance at a particular point of time and generate heavy inflow of calls in the Kisan Call Centres where people call up to get supplementary information.
- As part of agricultural extension (extending research from lab to the field), under the National e-Governance Plan – Agriculture (NeGP-A), various modes of delivery of services have been envisaged. These include internet, touch screen kiosks, agri-clinics, private kiosks, mass media, Common Service Centres, Kisan Call Centres, and integrated platforms in the departmental offices coupled with physical outreach of extension personnel equipped with pico-projectors and hand held devices. However, mobile telephony (with or without internet) is the most potent and omnipresent tool of agricultural extension.
- USSD (Unstructured Supplementary Service Data), IVRS (Interactive Voice Response System) and Pull SMS are value added services which have enabled farmers and other stakeholders not only to receive broadcast messages but also to get web based services on their mobile without having internet. Semi-literate and illiterate farmers have also been targeted to be reached through voice messages.
Kisan Call Centres
- In order to harness the potential of ICT in Agriculture, Ministry of Agriculture launched the scheme “Kisan Call Centres (KCCs)” on January 21, 2004. Main aim of the project is to answer farmers’ queries on a telephone call in their own dialect. These call Centres are working in 14 different locations covering all the States and UTs. A countrywide common eleven digit Toll Free number 1800-180-1551 has been allotted for Kisan Call Centre.
- Replies to the farmers’ queries are given in 22 local languages. Call center services are available from 6.00 am to 10.00 pm on all seven days of the week at each KCC location.
- A Kisan Knowledge Management System (KKMS) to facilitate correct, consistent and quick replies to the queries of farmers and capture all the details of their calls, has been developed. The Kisan Call Centre (KCC) Agents working at various KCC locations throughout the country have access to it.
- The Sandesh Pathak application, developed jointly by C-DAC Mumbai, IIT-Madras, IIIT Hyderabad, IIT Kharagpur, and C-DAC Thiruvananthapuram will enable SMS messages to be read out loud, for the benefit of farmers who may have difficulty in reading.
- It is usable by people who cannot read. A large population of farmers belongs to this category. So when they receive an SMS message either containing agriculture-related advice or some other thing, this app will read aloud the content.
- It uses the text-to-speech synthesis systems developed by the Indian Language TTS Consortium. To make it especially useful for farmers, the TTS engines of all these languages have been tested on the agriculture domain-related texts and fine-tuned accordingly.
- The app which is available for download from the Appstore of Mobile Seva Project of government of India.
Kisan credit card
- Kisan credit card uses the ICT to provide affordable credit for farmers in India. It was started by the Government of India, Reserve Bank of India (RBI), and National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) in 1998 to help farmers access timely and adequate credit.
- The aim of Kisan Credit Card Scheme is to provide adequate and timely support from the banking system to the farmers for their short-term credit needs during their cultivation for purchase of inputs etc., during the cropping season .
- Kisan Credit Card has emerged as an innovative credit delivery mechanism to meet the production credit requirements of the farmers in a timely and hassle-free manner.
- The scheme is under implementation in the entire country by the vast institutional credit framework involving Commercial Banks, RRBs and Cooperatives and has received wide acceptability amongst bankers and farmers.
Sanchar Shakti scheme
- The Sanchar Shakti scheme for Mobile Value Added Services (VAS) provisioning envisages development of content/information customized to the requirements of women SHG members engaged in diverse activities in rural areas across India. The scheme entails innovative application of technology in designing & delivering the VAS content so as to ensure its easier accessibility & effective assimilation among the targeted women beneficiaries.
Sanchar Shakti scheme has been initiated by the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF) which launched wireless broadband Scheme in 2009. USOF is funding the National Optical fibre network (NOFN), which is being managed by Bharat Broadband Network Limited. Bandwidth from NOFN will be eligible to give wide range of services to rural India.
- It is an integrated, multi-modal Agricultural information system, which provides several dynamic and useful information and advisory services for the farming community across the state of Kerala.
- The project solves the problem of content gaps by providing the authentic agricultural information though various delivery methods like Television, Internet, Telephone, and Mobile. The farmers may choose any medium to seek the relevant information. The project offers the major services through the effective integration of ICT systems and tools to reaching out to the farming community.
agropedia –ICAR initiative
- Content availability and its intelligent organization continues to be a serious challenge in agriculture. This prevents offer of meaningful and efficient advisory and allied services to farmers and other stakeholders. agropedia is an attempt to infuse semantic and social networking technologies into agriculture information management to alleviate this problem.
vKVK : Voice Krishi Vigyan Kendra
- KVK places a special emphasis on training and education of farmers, entrepreneurs, farm women, rural youth, financial institutions extension functionaries as well as voluntary organizations. The center plays a First Line Extension role- A linkage between research and the field in augmenting the socio-economic conditions of farmers, farmwomen and livestock owners since 1985 – 86.
- Total 631 Krishi Vigyan Kendras-KVKs have been established across the country at district level with a team of multidisciplinary team of experts. The KVKs aim at technology assessment and refinement and work as knowledge and resource centre in the district.
- A voice KVK (vKVK) is a set of advisors (KVK experts) and peers (lead smallholder farmers) connected through mobile and internet technologies. In the vKVK, the interaction between the two parties can be entirely electronic. The agropedia platform acts as ‘middle ware’ for this interaction providing amplification (one-to-many and many-to-one), persistence (messages are stored and can be searched, retrieved), monitoring and other utilities which are possible when the content is electronically stored and semantically indexed.
Agriclinic and Agribusiness centre: (Not directly related to e-technology)
- The Ministry of Agriculture and farmers welfare, Government of India, in association with NABARD has launched a unique programme to take better methods of farming to each and every farmer across the country.
- This programme aims to tap the expertise available in the large pool of Agriculture Graduates. Irrespective of whether you are a fresh graduate or not, or whether you are currently employed or not, you can set up your own AgriClinic or AgriBusiness Centre and offer professional extension services to innumerable farmers.
- Committed to this programme, the Government is now also providing start-up training to graduates in Agriculture, or any subject allied to Agriculture like Horticulture, Sericulture, Veterinary Sciences, Forestry, Dairy, Poultry Farming, and Fisheries, etc. Those completing the training can apply for special start-up loans for venture.
- Bank loans to an individual or a group of individuals available for Agriclinics and Agribusiness Centres
- Agribusiness Centres would provide paid services for enhancement of agriculture production and income of farmers. Centres would need to advice farmers on crop selection, best farm practices, post-harvest value-added options, key agricultural information (including even Internet-based weather forecast), price trends, market news, risk mitigation and crop insurance, credit and input access, as well as critical sanitary and phyto-sanitary considerations, which the farmers have to keep in mind.
Private sector initiatives in e-technology for farmers
- TCS’ Mobile Agro Advisory System (mKrishi) connects farmers with an ecosystem that empowers them to make sound decisions about agriculture, drive profits and conserve the environment.
- Farmers get information on weather, soil, fertilizer and pesticide that are specific to their plot of land. They get information on the type of seeds, crops available in the market and local market prices.
IFFCO Kisan Sanchar (IKSL)
- Indian Farmers Fertiliser Cooperative Limited (IFFCO), together with telecom giant Bharti Airtel and Star Global Resources Ltd. has promoted IFFCO Kisan Sanchar Limited as a joint venture.
- In this model, the telecom products of Airtel are made available to farmers and people living in villages through cooperative societies.
- IKSL provides the farmer the much desired inputs on real time basis which is going to help him on agri-related issues and would guide him for his day to day chores. The project is working on public-private-NGO partnership based revenue generating business model across major states. The services to farmers include telecom products and services of Airtel; free daily voice updates on VAS platform (mandi prices, farming techniques, weather forecasts and fertilizer availability) and dedicated helpline for farmers to answer their queries
- It aims to empower farmers and people living in rural India with pertinent and high quality information and services, through affordable communication network, in a sustainable manner and to work concertedly to develop content and services which will improve informed decision making by people living in Indian villages.
- e-Choupal is an initiative of ITC Limited, a conglomerate in India, to link directly with rural farmers via the Internet for procurement of agricultural and aquaculture products like soybeans, wheat, coffee, and prawns.
- e-Choupal tackles the challenges posed by Indian agriculture, characterized by fragmented farms, weak infrastructure and the involvement of intermediaries. The programme installs computers with Internet access in rural areas of India to offer farmers up-to-date marketing and agricultural information.
- ITC Limited has provided computers and Internet access in rural areas across several agricultural regions of the country, where the farmers can directly negotiate the sale of their produce with ITC Limited. Online access enables farmers to obtain information on mandi prices, and good farming practices, and to place orders for agricultural inputs like seeds and fertilizers. This helps farmers improve the quality of their products, and helps in obtaining a better price.
- Each ITC Limited kiosk having Internet access is run by a sanchalak — a trained farmer. Each installation serves an average of 600 farmers in the surrounding ten villages within about a 5 km radius.
- Since the introduction of e-Choupal services, farmers have seen a rise in their income levels because of a rise in yields, improvement in quality of output, and a fall in transaction costs. Even small farmers have gained from the initiative. Farmers can get real-time information despite their physical distance from the mandis. The system saves procurement costs for ITC Limited. The farmers do not pay for the information and knowledge they get from e-Choupals.
Mobile Fisher Friend project
- M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation has, in association with telecom and software majors, developed applications to provide fishermen with up-to-date information of relevance to them. By pressing the button of this mobile phone application, fishermen can gain access to information on wave height, weather, potential fishing zones, news flashes, government schemes and latest market price.
- It offers real-time decision-support tools (aAQUA) to progressive farmers and organizations supporting progressive farming. The project envisaged working on revenue generating business model. The aAQUA eAgriService is a problem-solving system dedicated to find solutions to problems posed by Indian farmers – small and large.
- The services provided are broadly to farmers include,
- localised – remote crop diagnostic solution;
- audio prompted guide application (in English/Marathi/Hindi);
- remote crop & land properties based disease diagnostics;
- micro-weather info (temp, cloud cover, precipitation);
- SMS enabled query mechanism
- Answers to agri-related queries
GIS in Agriculture
- Geographic Information Systems are incredibly helpful in being able to map and project current and future fluctuations in precipitation, temperature, crop output, and more.
- By mapping geographic and geologic features of current (and potential) farmland scientists and farmers can work together to create more effective and efficient farming techniques; this could increase food production.
- GIS can analyze soil data combined with historical farming practices to determine what are the best crops to plant, where they should go, and how to maintain soil nutrition levels to best benefit the plants.
- Agricultural Geographic Information Systems can map not only topography and crop health, but help solve wider economic issues in municipalities and urban centers that may stem from rural farming practices.
Remote Sensing in agriculture
- Remote sensing is the acquisition of information about an object or phenomenon without making physical contact with the object and thus in contrast to on site observation. It is done by the scanning of the earth by satellite or high-flying aircraft in order to obtain information about it.
- Remote sensing applications have become very important for making macroeconomic decisions related to food security, poverty alleviation and sustainable development. Remote sensing techniques play an important role in:
- crop identification,
- acreage and production estimation,
- disease and stress detection
- soil and water resources.
- Some of the specific applications are:
- Soil Properties Sensing: Soil Texture, Structure, and Physical Condition Soil Moisture; Soil Nutrients.
- Crop Sensing: Plant Population; Crop Stress and Nutrient Status.
- Yield Monitoring Systems: Crop Yield; Harvest Swath Width; Crop Moisture
- Variable Rate Technology Systems: Fertilizer flow; Weed detection, pressure sensor.
- Precision Agriculture is a collection of agricultural practices that focus on specific areas of the field at a particular moment in time. This is opposed to more traditional practices where the various crop treatments, such as irrigation, application of fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides were evenly applied to the entire field, ignoring any variability within the field.
- It is a farming management concept based on observing, measuring and responding to inter and intra-field variability in crops.It is also called satellite farming or site specific crop management.
- Advances in remote sensing technology and the reduced cost of sensors is now allowing for the more widespread use of such equipment in farming. With the use of these sensors it is possible to identify which particular areas of the field are in need of which treatment, and focus the application of chemicals to these particular locations alone, reducing the amount of chemicals used, and thus the cost of the application, as well as protecting the environment.
- Data collected in the field are recorded by sensors which are mounted on the tractor and scan the field as the tractor moves forward, collecting data sequentially (in rows). In order to assign geographic co-ordinates to each spectal measurement, the co-ordinates of the tractor are frequently recorded through the Global Positioning System (GPS).
- Autonomous Farming is next stage of Precision Farming. It refers to the use of machine for seeding, crop sensing, harvesting, weeding and other follow-up operations by using remote sensing and GIS. Seeding is done by an attached seeding drill controlled by GPS. Crop growth, soil moisture and weeds are continuously noted via the remote sensing appliances.
- It involves autonomous and coordinated harvesting and grain collection machinery. The automation of agriculture is still in research level in many developed countries.