Small Farmers - Are They Benefiting As India Develops Digitally?

Small Farmers - Are They Benefiting As India Develops Digitally?

As India develops digitally, do you not wonder whether small farmers are benefiting too, from technology? After all, a largely agrarian economy, agriculture is the primary source of livelihood for about 58 per cent of India’s population. And, 81% of them are small and marginal farmers with holdings of less than 2 hectares. What do you know! Looks like there is an initiative to use digital technology to help farmers and that too in the Northeast of India!

Excited to know about it, Zizira explorers bring you the story –  as a report on an ‘Intelligent Advisory System for Farmers of Northeast India’ where the farmers are connected to agricultural experts via the internet and mobile services. Mr. Canning Shabong, Assistant Director of Agriculture, Department of Agriculture, Meghalaya tells us all about the Intelligent Advisory System for Farmers in this blog post.

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Regular and Timely Advice Important for Small Farmers

Farmers rely heavily on field agriculture extension agents or officials of the Department of Agriculture for crop diagnostic and advisory services.  Especially when faced with the dilemma of how to fend off attacks by insect pests and diseases on their crops. If left uncontrolled, these could lead to severe economic loss and render the resource poor farmer, debt ridden.

In most instances, farmers living in remote geographical areas of North East India, without road connectivity, need to walk for hours to reach the nearest Community Development Block office to get help. Getting correct diagnosis and timely advice from crop and disease experts is of vital importance in order to take timely corrective measures to save their crops.

Looking at need assessment field surveys; analyses of farmers’ call centre logs; and various researches from the field and of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) projects in agriculture, it is clear that that pest and disease advisory is the most sought after service by farmers.

What is this Intelligent Advisory System (IASF) for Farmers?

Through this, farmers can get direct or indirect advice through Internet from agricultural experts for his/her queries related to their farming activities covered by IASF. Farmers can also communicate their problems with agricultural experts by sending an SMS text message in a predefined format. It has come to the aid of more than 2500 farmers residing in 9 districts of Manipur and 5 districts in Meghalaya.

How Does it Work?

This service stores each individual farmer’s query in a database along with its relevant solution (called CASE). Here is a visual presentation about the organizations behind this idea and how the queries from the farmers are processed.

The Main Objectives of IASF Are To:

  • Provide improved services to the farming community through the use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT).
  • Advice and help farmers to solve problems related to their farming activities. Otherwise, they need to contact agricultural experts and private extension workers.
  • Provide vital and generic information to farmers so that they get periodic alerts on important/useful tips, ideas, know-how etc.
  • Update farmers on latest technology in Agriculture sector for improved productivity and quality farming.
  • Develop an advisory system which can be extended with any other types of crops in any State of India.
  • Improve agricultural extension service by using mobile services so that farmers can send queries about their farming problem from their mobile device.
  • Develop educational material to be used by students for their practical experience with real case scenario.

What Services Does IASF Cover?

It covers four major farming activities:
  • Insect Management,
  • Disease Management,
  • Weed Management and
  • Fertilizer Management, which requires expert’s advice relating to diagnostic and remedial measures.
IASF aims to improve and strengthen existing agriculture extension services by integrating Information Technology (IT) with mobile services.

Who Are the Other Beneficiaries of the IASF?

The prime beneficiaries are the small farmers from North East Region of India, mainly small farmers from Manipur and Meghalaya. Other beneficiaries are:

  • DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE (DOA): DOA can broadcast periodic alerts and useful information to registered users via mobile SMS and email. And, can use IASF as a tool to train new officers and extension functionaries.
  • STUDENTS: One of the major objectives of IASF is in developing educational materials to be used by students of agriculture for their practical experience with real scenario.
  • RESEARCH SCHOLAR: Research scholars will be able to study diversity in small farmers’ problem across Northeast region of India and how agricultural experts are suggesting remedial measures on various field problems.
Agricultural experts benefit too as they can share knowledge through each others' advice given to farmers.

What Is the Status Update on IASF?

  • As on date there are over 2,500 farmers registered, across 5 districts of Meghalaya and 9 districts of Manipur. Many of these are small farmers. They use this platform to redress their farm problems.
  • 50 Subject Matter Specialists are registered in the portal to respond to farmer’s queries in real time.
  • This project also provides PUSH and PULL mobile services for farmers through the MSDG (Mobile e-Governance Service Delivery Gateway) five-digit short code number 51969.
  • About 2 lakhs SMS agriculture advisories have been pushed by departmental experts and KVK Scientists to farmers during the cropping cycle.

 What Next?

This project can be easily scaled and rolled out with localized content and languages to any state of Northeast India in a very short time. This is the first of its kind project in Northeast India, where ICT has come to the rescue of poor farmers residing in remote and inaccessible parts of the country.

The integration of web technology and mobile service delivery gateway has been a boon to this project, where the reach and scale of the service can be expanded exponentially due to the rapid expansion of mobile connectivity in the region. Want to know more?

Visit the website of Intelligent Advisory System for Farmers. (This is a contributed article by Mr. Canning Shabong, Assistant Director of Agriculture, Department of Agriculture, Meghalaya and he can be reached at csshabong@gmail.com)

As we close we wanted to share one more bit of news about IASF. The IASF service has been awarded eNorth East Award 2013 at the 4th Award Summit held in December 2013 at Itanagar and was a finalist at the Billionth Award South Asia held in New Delhi during July 2014. Are you an expert in the area of Agriculture or Horticulture in the Northeast of India and would like to share your views or experiences? Please contact us.


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