February 2006

ICT in Indian Agriculture

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Indian scenario of agriculture
The latest Situation Assessment Survey of Farmers, 2005 of NSSO (http://mospi.nic.in/mospi_nsso_rept_pubn.htm) observes that the average monthly per capita expenditure (MPCE) of a farm house hold is just Rs 503 in 2003 across regions, classes and income groups with 27 per cent of farmers not liking farming while 40 per cent felt that given the option they prefer other career, due to poor incomes. It is also reported that only 29 per cent understood what minimum support prices meant while only 40 per cent of farmer households accessed information on modern technology in Farming. The observations clearly illustrate the ailment of Indian Agriculture and highlight the issue of access to technology, government endeavor, markets, institutions and services into focus, indicating the limitations in the current public service delivery and need for new intervention with right means.

At national level the impact is visible with low GDP contribution (22 per cent) of Agriculture sector, though more than 65 per cent of Indians derive their livelihood on it. Despite the avowed target of 4 per cent in Agriculture to achieve 8 per cent growth in over all GDP during tenth plan (2002-07), till date agriculture performance has been a serious concern for the economy and talk of the day in the nation both in the government, industry and civil society. In economic sense Agriculture is taken to encompass all farm enterprises viz., Agriculture, Horticulture, Animal Husbandry, Fishery and Sericulture and several other allied activities. Thus Agriculture upliftment will not only benefit farmers and many rural poor, but also will give fillip to overall growth of the economy through backward and forward linkages of agriculture with the rest of the economy. Under the circumstances and new global trade regime, government has been endeavouring to make the Agriculture sector, perform.

ICT's potential in agriculture sector
In Indian context, the performance of agriculture basically means the performance of small holder farming. It is only by empowering small and marginal farmers to overcome their handicaps that, they can become instruments of evergreen revolution and growth in agriculture sector. The limiting factors of farmers in maximising their farm incomes are access to technology, government endeavour, resources, markets, institutions and services. As farming is becoming highly knowledge intensive, commercialised, competitive and globalised against traditional resource based approach, the need to adopt right means to bring in all players of agribusiness, cannot be over emphasised.

Innovations in ICT are of great help in offering a communication platform circumventing all traditional physical barriers and backwardness with its wider reach out and neutrality to social and gender bias; and it's inclusive nature of public and private sectors and its innate strength of offering a reliable, good and cost effective communication platform to various management agencies involved in the extension to and from to the farmers. With these features, ICT will definitely strengthen the current ongoing extension reforms in bridging gaps in access and in bridging rural economy with globalised markets.

What observations say
A case study of Assam Agriculture will strengthen the above listed observations of a need for the use of ICT for any sustainable development and growth in Farm Sector. To mention in one of the recent homework workshop organised by the Government of Assam, the Agricultural Development Officers, civil society and farmer representatives could list out maximum 8 number of schemes while there were a plethora of schemes being offered by a number of agencies and institutions. Moreover, even the information that they have is incomplete with their admission that guidelines were available for only 2-3 schemes.

This is bound to raise the basic issue of 'for whom the schemes / programmes / projects/technologies are being developed by the centre and state Governments and several other agencies at the cost of convergence and synergy'. On the contrary extension functionary of a department agency is not aware of opportunities offered by multitude of agencies related to same target group and enterprise.
If we look from the side of spread and magnitude of the problem taking the case study of Assam State again, where in there are 2.5 million farm families. The Agriculture department extension machinery comprises approx. 5000 personnel (VLEWs + ADOs + Others) but is expected to provide service to more than 5 million farmers (if we consider two farmers in each farming family). This is naturally a herculian task, illustrating the limitation of traditional extension in providing access to the farmers and the role of ICT.

In India knowledge revolution through ICT is being spearheaded by Mission 2007, an alliance for providing Every Village One Knowledge Centre under the chairmanship of M.S. Swaminathan engaging governments, institutions, technologists, civil society
and the corporates.

ICT in Indian agriculture
Till date, the available Indian ICT public service delivery models in Agriculture sector are very few and are mostly in private sector viz., knowledge centres of MSSRF
(http://www.mssrf.org/specialprogrammes/mission_2007_NA/namain.htm), e-Choupal of ITC, Ikisan of Nagarjuna Fertilisers & Chemicals Ltd and Parrys corner. Besides a number of Agribusiness Corporates viz., TAFE, Mahindra and Mahindra and several others are adopting ICT in their business. The Private sector initiatives are very critical and essential given the strong presence of the corporate in Agriculture sector. In Cooperative sector the often quoted old examples are Dairy Information Services Kiosk (DISK) of NDDB and wired village WARANA. Amongst civil society, GRASSO of West Bengal is pioneering the ICT access in farm sector. Increased realisation of rural markets potential has become a driving force for the interest of corporate.

In government the major ICT based service delivery initiative is limited to ASHA (www.assamagribusiness.nic.in) initiative of Assam SFAC (Government of Assam) with its networking with large ICT infrastructure (CICs) spread all over the state. Kerala is coming up with two different initiatives (i) kissan kerala
(www.kissankerala.net) and (ii) e-Krishi
(www.e-krishi.org/web/main/). The Government of Andhra Pradesh is providing agribusiness services through Rajiv Internet Village Centres in partnership with ikisan. The IIIT Hyderabad is experimenting with e-Sagu
(http://agriculture.iiit.net/esagu/esagu2004). The Uttaranchal state is planning for Kisan Soochna Kendras in private partnership while the Haryana state recently inaugurated its first Agribusiness Information Centre. The Tamilnadu and Maharashtra are pursuing comprehensive Agrisnet. Several state agricultural universities launched telephonic help lines. Related to land records the Bhoomi Project of Karnataka state has been one of the highly successful public sector initiatives in the country having direct impact in improving health of agriculture sector and is being replicated in several other states.

Initiatives and achievables

At national level the Government of India has been undertaking a number of initiatives. Of them, popular public service models are – its telephony initiative

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