September 2007

ICTs for an ailing Agriculture Sector

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The agricultural sector in India has seen an unprecedented crisis in recent times. Although the economic reforms initiated in India during 1991 have helped the economy to achieve an impressive growth trajectory, the picture does not remain optimistic if one observes the sectoral composition of this growth. Growth in agriculture does not match upto the growth in the services or the industrial sectors, and the rate has deaccelerated from the mid-1990s. According to the XIth Plan approach paper, agricultural growth rate has fallen from 3.2 per cent during 1980 and 1996-97 to a trend average of 1.5 per cent subsequently. During the period 1999-00 to 2004-05, while agricultural GDP had grown at 1.7 per cent, the trend rate of growth of non-agricultural GDP exceeded 7 per cent. The period since the early 1990s has been the worst in comparison to any other period since independence, especially when compared to the preceding decade. In 1980s, the annual rate of growth of agricultural output (all crops) was 3.19 per cent; and this declined to 1.58 per cent, in the 90s, and the yield growth rate was reduced to almost one-third.

There is an urgent need to address the issues of the agriculture sector, from various fronts. There are the obvious requirements of augmenting investments, ensure irrigation, promote technological inputs, improve power supply, ensure delivery of quality inputs, improve the terms of trade for agriculture, and provide mechanisms for risk mitigation. ICTs can be used alongside these interventions in a variety of ways. There is an urgent need to evolve a network for dissemination of Agriculture related knowledge and information to the farmer. ICTs can play a significant role in this regard. The knowledge about modern farming practices, optimum resource utilisation, and indigenous practices, can be disseminated using a host of ICTs. This will require, an extensive capacity building programme to enable the farmers to jump from illiteracy to e-literacy. ICTs can facilitate extension and advisory services on a real time basis, which will enable the farmer to plan his/her production, post-harvest management and marketing in an efficient manner. On the other hand there is also a concurrent requirement to network the various universities, research bodies, and agriculture experts to create a reservoir of knowledge. This knowledge can be made to flow from the network to the the farming community.
 
ICTs also find extensive application in 'Agriculture Marketing' by facilitating price discovery mechanisms, transfering information about availability of inputs etc. IT based agriculture marketing systems are to be developed for markets around the country. ICTs also find implementation in aiding the provision of microfinance services to the farmers. Finally, advanced technolgoies like GIS, and remote sensing, can be instrumental in resource management, dispute handling, crop and region wise production estimates, disaster management, calamity management etc. 
 
e-Agriculture is an emerging subject, and realising the immense potential of ICT applications for agriculture, it is important to collate energies and minds in this endeavour to map the potentialities, and do the bit to alleviate the agrarian slowdown. 

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