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A Tech Solution For Farm Tragedy

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“About 3 lakh farmers have committed suicide in India since 1995.” - National Crime Records Bureau

“Since 2007, over 37 million Indian farmers had abandoned agriculture and migrated into the cities.” - CRISIL
 
India is known as a land of agriculture for ages. The agriculture sector has been the mainstay of Indian economy contributing about 15 per cent to the GDP in 2013-14. As per the census 2011, the agriculture and allied services sector provides employment to 57 per cent of the working population. It is the principal livelihood for 70 per cent of people in the rural areas. Agricultural universities and R&D institutes are helping to improve productivity of farmers but still the contribution of agriculture to GDP is declining. The challenges faced by the sector are discussed below:

•    Knowledge deficit: Farmers lack up-to-date information on crop procedures, weather, soil erosion and proper infrastructure for better productivity.
•    Agricultural Marketing: Farmers find it hard to get best price of their product because of absence of proper marketing facilities and depend upon the local traders and middle men. According to an estimate 85 per cent of wheat and 75 per cent of oil seeds in Uttar Pradesh, 90 per cent of jute in west Bengal, 70 per cent of oil seeds and 35 per cent of cotton in Punjab is sold by farmers in village itself. The middlemen take away about 47 per cent of the price of rice, 52 per cent of the price of groundnut and 60 per cent of the price of potatoes.
•    Inadequate transport and storage:  Poor connectivity of roadways to reach some rural and remote areas is a major setback in agriculture. Hence, farmers are unable to meet the potential buyers.
•    Monsoon - the life line: Monsoon is still the lifeline of millions of farmers in India due to poor irrigation facilities. The country receives 75% of its yearly rainfall between June and September and the productivity depends upon the efficiency and effectiveness of monsoon. Poor monsoon or late monsoon leads to damaged crops, poor productivity and drought.
•    Small and fragmented land holdings: The acreage has remained at 140 million hectares since 40 years but the number of farmers has increased from 7 crore to 14 crore. One crore farmers are being added every five years. The exponential rise in population not only divides land area per farmer but also makes the farmer poorer.
•    Lack of Mechanisation: The Green revolution of India in 1966-67, made some impact on the technology used in the agriculture. Most of the Indian farmers are using the conventional tools for ploughing, sowing, irrigating, thinning and harvesting because of the financial condition, small land holding, and knowledge deficit
.
Solutions from Technology, Media and Telecom
Telecom
The growing telecom market in India can be very useful for the agriculture sector. The urban teledensity stands at 142.39 and rural at 44.32. The Digital India and National Optic Fibre Network project may be helpful in improving rural penetration.
Portals:
•    Farmer’s Portal: The farmer’s portal is a government initiative which provides agricultural information on seeds, fertilizers, crops, machinery, insurance, storage, credit, beneficiary list and market price of products apart from the knowledge of many agriculture related projects.
•    mKissan: mKissan is a government initiative providing information via a mobile phone to the farmers. The farmers can receive SMS, IVRS, USSD and pull SMS based services in different languages free of cost. Mobile applications are also available for smart and feature phones.
•    Kisan SMS: Kisan SMS provides customised weather forecasts, advisories on disease, market-related information, soil test results, information on selections of fertilizers, its dosage etc., all for free to farmers.
Kisan call center: Kisan call center aims to provideagriculture knowledge to the farmers as and when desiredat no cost.
e-Choupals: Launched in June 2000, 'e-Choupal', has already become the largest initiative among all Internet-based interventions in rural India. It reaches to over 4 million farmers growing a range of crops in over 40,000 villages through 6500 kiosks across ten states.
 
Media
The productivity of farmers is low because of lack of knowledge about new technologies and government initiatives. The media can help in empowering farmers with useful updates and agriculture related education & awareness programmes.

Community radio: Community radio is a type of radio service that caters to the interests of a certain area, broadcasting content that is popular to a local audience but which may often be overlooked by commercial or mass-media broadcasters. The agriculture related information can be provided to rural areas in regional languages.

Social media: Social media can be helpful for connecting farmers all over the country and connecting buyers with sellers directly removing the middleman.Recently farmers in Maharashtra have found an unusual ally in Facebook. They formed a group on social media and started inviting farmers from across the region to join the group to meet the supply-demand gap.

Technology
Machine-to-machine (M2M): M2M is helping farmers worldwide to control the use of electricity, water pumps in a wireless medium and thus can counter the odd hour electricity and water supply. M2M is helping to optimise productivity through appropriate usage of fertilizers, pesticides, and other farm resources based on real-time weather conditions, soil property, etc.

Precision farming: Technologies like Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and Global Positioning System (GPS) along with a wide range of sensors, monitors and controllers for agricultural equipment enable farmers to use electronic guidance aids to direct equipment movements more accurately, provide precise positioning for all equipment actions and chemical applications and analyse all of that data in association with other sources of data (agronomic, climatic, etc.). Precision farming helps in yield monitoring, yield mapping, variable rate fertilizer, weed and salinity mapping and variable spraying.Under thee-Governance programme, Soil Health Card software has been standardised and in collaboration with Indian Institute of Soil Science, Bhopal, web-based software has been developed to provide integrated nutrient management recommendations using ‘Soil Test Crop Response’ method for 8 states.

Analytics:The rural data produced from the agriculture ecosystem can be analysed to provide better productivity and will help in waste management by providing efficient storage solution. ITC is using advanced analytics and mobile technologies to track data from individual farms and is offering supplies based on their needs such as fertilizers and seeds after analysing the data. Similarly John Deere is using sensors in the equipment to help farmers manage their fleet and to decrease downtime of their tractors as well as save on fuel. They combine the information with historical and real-time data regarding weather prediction, soil conditions, crop features and many other data sets for a better prediction of yield.

There will be 9 billion people that will need to be fed on Earth by 2050. To feed this rapidly-expanding population in the coming years, agriculture must produce more.ICT tools should be utilized for accelerating the growth of agricultural sector which will in turn boost the economic growth of the country.

The author, Hemant Joshi is a Partner with Deloitte Haskins & Sells LLP.