Sugarcane growers and IT
Information Technology (IT) is assuming ever-increasing importance in agricultural development of the country. Sugarcane is a major cash crop and raw input for second largest agro-based sugar industry of the country. Sugarcane production has covered an area of about 4 million hectare engaging 50 million farmers in its cultivation within the country. For sustainable development of sugarcane based production system, access to information is must to the stakeholders at every level in the process of production, marketing and processing of sugarcane. In the broader perspective to achieve the target of 415 million tonnes sugarcane production in order to fulfill the 47.08 million tonnes sweetener requirements for 1360 million population of the country by the year 2020, the importance of access to information for every stakeholders become more imperative than ever before.
Our agricultural extension system is playing an important role since decades in disseminating sugarcane technology to the farmer's level. Information Technology (IT) may strengthen our extension system manifold by use of various IT tools in technology dissemination and empowering sugarcane farmers with the desired information. Their use with right perspective will transform information services to the farmers to be timely, logistic and effective. Present article discusses various dimensions of information needs of sugarcane growers and possible application of IT tools in realising those needs.
Sugarcane cultivation involves a set of activities, viz. land preparation, planting, pest control, irrigation, nutrient management, harvesting, marketing, etc. Entire cycle of sugarcane production process requires multitude of information by the farmers. Information on cost and availability of inputs, varieties, production and protection technologies, sugarcane marketing, etc. are required by farmers at various level of sugarcane production. For more remunerative production of sugarcane, correct information should reach to farmer as and when required. Information needs of sugarcane growers may be broadly categorised into:
Various dimension of information need of sugarcane growers and possible application of ICT tools in realising those needs are discussed
Input procurement and marketing: Farmers frequently requires the information regarding various inputs needed in their field such as seed, fertilisers, pesticides, labour, transport, etc. in terms of cost, quality, availability and possible sources. Once the sugarcane get ready to harvest the need arises for information related to its marketing. The questions like where to sell, when to sell, how to sell and whom to sell mesmerises the farmers. At this point of time, information provision related to sugar mills, jaggery units, transportation, crushing time, cane prices, agencies involved, etc. is must, which may help a lot to farmers in decision-making of sugarcane marketing.
Strategic information: There are several areas of sugarcane process where farmer requires information to strengthen the planning and minimising risk of sugarcane cultivation. Information related to sugarcane cultivation practices such as varietal characters, fertigation schedule, pest control methods, irrigation schedule, mechanisation, planting and harvesting schedule, inter-cropping, crop rotation, etc. may be classified under strategic information. Information about the most suitable production and protection technologies is required for optimum and sustainable sugarcane production.
Past trends: Information on past trends regarding area, production, productivity, consumption, utilisation, pest attack, climatic conditions, environmental concerns, fertigation, etc. are of immense use in making decision in sugarcane production. For example, past trends in climatic conditions may help growers in scheduling cultivation activities for optimum production and control of stresses.
Government policy decisions: Government decisions related to sugarcane and its products marketing, labour laws, land holdings, rural development, etc. are also important factors in decision taking. All such information must reach the farmers at the earliest, so that one may take the right decision for high production and maximum return. Many IT tools are available to record and disseminate information for decision support. Making available the information about government policies and support facilities to the farmers in time is the most noble way to empower the sugarcane growers in the way to their prosperity.
Possible IT tools
There is no doubt about potential of Information Technologies, as it has a variety of tools available for development of information systems. Recent developments in electronics, telecommunication, multimedia and Internet technologies have created possibilities for quick gathering, processing, transmission and presentation of information. Following are the major Information Technologies to harness the information needs of sugarcane farmers:
Database Management System (DBMS): Database is the ultimate repository of data. Variety of data are generated in sugarcane production system related to sugarcane varieties and their characters, pest/diseases of sugarcane, climatic data, sugarcane cultivation input resources, marketing resources, statistical data on area, production, productivity, etc. Database technologies play an important role to provide a platform for storing data in electronic form. Data in electronic form can be easily and quickly managed for addition, deletion and modification. Database may be harnessed by Information Retrieval System, Expert System, and Forecasting System, each to produce information in farmers' understandable form. Database management system is a group of hardware and software for addition, modification, deletion and reporting of data. Many flavour of DBMS are now available in market to develop database for sugarcane farmers such as Oracle, MS-SQL, MS-Access, Foxpro, dBase, etc.
Information Retrieval System: Presentation of information in user understandable format is ultimate target of an information system. Such systems uses search engines, user friendly clickable icons/menus, and other controls to mine the data from database and present the same in the form of reports, graphs, images, tables, etc. On the same line, information retrieval system may be developed to retrieve information from the database on sugarcane varieties, pest diseases, sugarcane cultivation resources, and many more. Some of the Information Retrieval Systems important for sugarcane farmers are Weather Information System, Pest/Disease Information System, Varietal Information System, etc. Sugarcane farmers will be highly benefited in gathering information on sugarcane production using these front-end/client-end software.
Expert Decision Support System: An Expert System is an intelligent computer programme that uses knowledge base and inference engine to solve problems that are difficult enough to require significant human expertise for their solution. A knowledge base is the repository of facts and rules about the specific problem. An inference engine is the software for solving the particular problem using the knowledge base. It is an efficient IT tool to take the technology from the scientist to sugarcane growers. This disables dilution of contents by reducing the number of agencies involved in technology transfer process. Such IT systems can provide instant solution to problem faced by a farmer. Expert system may be developed to suggest suitable sugarcane variety for cultivation, methods of field preparation and planting. Such systems may help in scheduling of irrigation and fertilisers applications, identification of sugarcane pest and disease on the basis of symptoms given by the farmers. Moreover, it can suggest control measures also.
Trend Analysis and Forecasting: Study of statistical trends regarding sugarcane production, weather data, utilisation/ consumption patterns, pest attack, fertigation, etc. may be executed with IT tools. Trend analysis assists farmers in decision making during the entire process of sugarcane production and marketing. Graphical trends may be generated using the database of specific parameters. Analysis of past trends enables the forecasting in sugarcane production system. For example, forecasting weather is a useful endeavour in deciding the various field operations. IT has many tools to develop such forecasting system.
Electronic Network and Messaging System: Internet has made the world a global village and enables information exchange quickly. Internet has become a most potential IT tool to contribute to agricultural development. Websites may be developed to provide information to sugarcane growers right at their location and even in their own regional languages. Modern IT tools allows development of web based information retrieval system, expert system, forecasting system for sugarcane growers to cater their information needs. Internet and its applications are very useful in sugarcane production planning, weather forecast, post-harvest management, marketing, disaster management, extension system, etc. (Many web sites are already in operations and empowering the sugarcane growers viz. www.iisr.nic.in, www.sugarcane-breeding.tn.nic.in, www.dacnet.nic.in/sugarcane, www.agriwatch.com, www.agmarknet.nic.in).
Modern IT tools to some extent allows widely separated farmers to maintain contact, irrespective of distance. Chatting and conferencing softwares will help farmers in getting discussions with experts and other farmers to exchange views and information and find solutions to problems. Electronic mailing is the fastest, cheapest and easy to manage messaging system in sending messages from farmers to experts and other farmers irrespective of distance.