E – Technology in the Aid of Farmers
Poverty is the root cause of malnutrition. Over 42% of the Indian population lives on less than $1.25 a day. However, if farmers could increase their output and earn more from what they already have through the use of innovative technology, food insecurity could decrease and that same dollar and a quarter could go much further.
The proliferation of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in every field, agriculture is not one to be left behind.
Technology can help farmers to augment their knowledge of which crops to produce for the best return, find the most effective farming practices and make plans based upon weather
Role of Information Technology in Agriculture and its Scope in India
The potential of information technology (IT) in the context of Agriculture can be assessed broadly under two heads :
As a tool for direct contribution to agricultural productivity :
Precision farming, popular in developed countries, extensively uses IT to make a 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.
As an indirect tool for empowering farmers to take informed and quality decisions which will have a positive impact on the way, agriculture and allied activities are conducted.
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 the information not merely useful, but necessary to remain competitive.
Changing Pattern of Needs – Post-WTO:
While relevant information of the required quality always had the potential of improving efficiency in all spheres of activity of Indian farmer, the emerging scenario of a deregulated agriculture, has brought in a ‘need’ and urgency to make it an integral part of decision making.
Consequently, deploying IT as a strategic tool for the benefit of rural India has assumed importance. Since information needs of the Indian farmers, in general, are documented extensively, it is more pertinent to focus on the theme in the context of challenges raised by WTO.
The broad information inputs required by farmers in the new scenario can be classified as
Awareness Databases – those that facilitate proper understanding of the implications of the WTO on Indian agriculture,
Decision Support Systems – information that facilitates farmers to make a proper SWOT analysis to take appropriate decisions, Systems that facilitate Indian farmers to forge appropriate alliances for collective benefit, Information on new opportunities Monitoring systems for corrective measures.
Information Technology and its Components
Induction of IT as a strategic tool for agricultural development and the welfare of rural India requires that the necessary IT infrastructure is in place. The rapid changes and the downward trend in prices in various components of IT make it feasible to target at a large scale IT penetration into rural India. Some of the broad factors to be noted with respect to various components of IT are listed below :
Input devices :
Radical improvements are witnessed with respect to the means of communication by human beings with computers such as keyboards, mouse devices, scanners. The advent of touch-screen monitors that allow users to give input to computers by touching on the appropriate location of the monitor has made it possible to develop a user-friendly interface for farmers which is easy, intuitive, circumvents language barrier.
Digital Cameras helps to provide computer-based demonstration clips to educate the farmers. The digital cameras can also be used to upload plant stress related images, movie clips which can facilitate an expert residing at a far of location to quickly recommend a solution.
1. Output devices :
Monitor screens, printers & plotters, data projectors support high resolution and good quality output. The quality of these output devices has the potential of generating renewed interest in the farmers in using IT-based services. The portable data projectors can be easily carried by the agricultural extension personnel for serving a larger audience. Similarly, speakers can also be attached to the computers to incorporate voice-based training for farmers.
The processing speeds of computers have gone up. The presently available range of processors makes it possible to undertake substantial processing of data at the client side.
3.Storage Devices :
40GB and even higher hard disk drives have become common in the PC range of computers. This makes it possible to store substantial information at the local level which facilitates faster access. Similarly, portable storage devices make it possible to transfer large volumes of data to locations which can not be connected to networks immediately. These storage devices are also used for backup of crucial data.
Various operating systems are available which act as an interface between the user and the machine. The graphic user interface (GUI) has become an accepted prerequisite for end users. Application software which can support complex user requirements is available. The present downward trend in the IT industry provides an opportunity to get customized application for any specific task developed at an affordable price. Rapid Application Development and Deployment (RADD) is a popular model for quick development and deployment of applications. Project management and monitoring software are available that facilitate efficient execution of large and complex applications that are required for rural India
5.Transmission Media :
The media through which the data transfer takes place has also undergone a revolutionary change. Telephone lines are still the popular source in India although the reliability and low bandwidth are still major issues. High capacity cables, optical fiber, radio, wireless local loops, satellite transmission and various solutions based on a combination of these are being used in many parts of the country.
Uninterrupted Power Supply (UPS) devices are crucial to ensure the longevity of the IT equipment as well as provide backup mechanisms. The potential of solar power packs to provide a feasible solution to the shortage of power in the rural areas needs to be exploited.
E-choupal – Indian council for Agriculture and Research
The e-Choupal initiative is one way that technology is being used to give farmers the information they need to be more successful. The e-Choupal network has expanded to 6,500 centers synchronizing the efforts of 40,000 villages to produce greater quantities of better produce and profit.
The e-Choupal initiative has created a network where over 25,000 small farmers have organized a supply chain that has augmented their average annual incomes by a very significant $1,000.
Benefits of the e-Choupal platform:
Enables buyers to come to the farmers instead of having to haul the produce to market, where oftentimes traders manipulate the market in order to exploit the farmers out of their proper earnings.
Eradicate lack of technical expertise and insufficient market knowledge.
Provides access to storage services and agricultural equipment in addition to other important assets for rural farmers.
Explore the high-profit technologies like Organic farming, Drip-Irrigation etc.,
India is a country of fertile lands and capable farmers. Technology is the catalyst that promises to drive the more than 400 million people living on less than $1.25 a day out of poverty.
IT and Indian Agriculture in the Future
Technologically it is possible to develop suitable systems, to cater to the information needs of the Indian farmer. User-friendly systems, particularly with content in local languages, can generate interest in the farmers and others working at the grassroots. It is possible to create dedicated networks or harness the power of the Internet to make these services are available to all parts of the country.
The Long Term Agriculture Policy provides an exhaustive list of all the areas that are to be covered. This can be taken as a guiding list to evolve the design and develop suitable systems catering to each of the specified areas. Our country has the advantage of having a large number of specialized institutions in the place catering to various aspects of Indian agriculture.
These institutions can play a crucial role in designing the necessary applications & databases and services. This will facilitate modularisation of the task, better control and help in achieving quick results. As it is, several institutions have already developed systems related to their area of specialization.
In order to avoid duplication of efforts, it may be useful to consider promoting a coordinating agency which will have an advisory role to play in evolving standard interface for users, broad design and monitoring of the progress.
In the post-WTO regime, it is suggested that it is useful to focus more on some agricultural products to maintain an unquestionable competitive advantage for exports. This will call for urgent measures to introduce state of the art technologies such as remote sensing, geographical information systems (GIS), bio-engineering, etc.
India has made rapid strides in satellite technologies. It is possible to effectively monitor agricultural performance using remote sensing and GIS applications. This will not only help in planning, advising and monitoring the status of the crops but also will help in responding quickly to crop stress conditions and natural calamities.
Challenges of crop stress, soil problems, natural disasters can be tackled effectively through these technologies. A beginning in precision farming can be encouraged in larger tracts of land in which export potential can be tilted in our country’s favor.
Once the required application packages & databases are in place, a major challenge is with respect to dissemination of the information. The KrishiVigyanKendras, NGOs and cooperative societies may be used to set up information kiosks. Private enterprise is also required to be drawn into these activities.