Director, Kerala State IT Mission, Government of Kerala
Making farmer an equal partner
Agriculture is not only the predominant occupation of many in the world, but it also drives the economy of several developing nations. Today however, the whole sector is under tremendous pressure due to the rapid growth in population, increasing affluence and a dwindling natural resource base. People the world over are recognising the fact, if the sector is to progress and become sustainable, it must quickly transform its functioning, by adapting to new information technologies that assist farmers and help them improve economic performance and production.
It is not uncommon to hear in India about how ICTs have transformed agriculture. Research agencies and agriculture extension departments have always valued the importance of information databases, and methodically archived research and development findings. But making use of the technology and providing local information, that is relevant and applicable to resident communities is a fairly new and exciting phenomenon in the area of ICTs for development. Such information assists farmers to make well-informed decisions about cropping and management of scarce resources. Currently, there are many ICT driven projects that are changing forever the way agriculture and allied activities are practised in the country.
Road to rural empowerment
ICTs can empower rural communities and give them 'a voice' that permits them to contribute to the development process. ICT tools like community radio and handheld computers are being promoted heavily in developing countries to deliver real-time information on agriculture issues. With the advent of such new ICTs, rural communities can acquire the means to improve their living conditions, learn about best practices worldwide, have a constant dialogue with others, and reach a stage where they make decisions for their own development.
The past few years have brought with them a sea of change. Earlier farmers neither had the means nor the awareness to know about the advancements in agricultural technology and other related information like hybrid seeds, weather conditions, price movements, pesticides, fertilisers etc, except through extension services offered by universities and research institutions. They would be absorbed in their daily work without any thought about measuring their current yield and increasingly productivity. But today, ICT has made it possible that information is delivered to these farmers at their doorsteps and that too in a language they understand. Such is the power of ICTs. If used freely and fairly, ICTs have the potential to change the social equations forever and can empower farmers and enhance the whole agriculture sector.
Models of excellence
In the past few years, ICT intervention in agriculture has gained momentum world-over and development agencies are promoting use of ICTs in the agricultural sector aggressively. There are numerous examples of initiatives, both in India and in other developing countries in the world, such as the 'Pedagogia Audiovisual' project and 'Comunicaci