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Siddhanth Murdeshwar

NMIMS Mumbai
Applying Digital India to tackle challenges in Agriculture
On 1 July, 2015, PM Modi launched his ambitious project- Digital India, a national e-governance plan, with
a vision to transform India into a digitally empowered society and a knowledge economy. It seeks to create a
participative, transparent and a responsive government while ensuring accessibility of citizens to
government services electronically and bring in public accountability through electronic delivery of
government services.
This project primarily focuses on providing high speed internet, integrating services across jurisdictions to
provide governance and services on demand for both online and mobile platform.
India being an agrarian economy poses a pertinent question as to whether an initiative of this magnitude (Rs.
2510 Cr) could be utilized to tap the full potential of the agricultural sector.
ISSUES IN THE INDIAN AGRICULTURAL SECTOR
One of the alarming reasons that the agricultural sector needs reforms is (as of October 2015) 49% of the
labour force depends on agriculture while their contribution to GDP is merely 17% (source- The Economic
Times). The causes span various factors:
1. Small and fragmented land-holdings- The apparent profusion of a total of 330.9 million hectares
of net sown area and net cropped area, combined fades into triviality when these lands are divided
into economically unviable and scattered holdings. The average size of a holding is approximately 2
hectares while that of a farmer in developed countries brushes a whopping 400 hectares. This causes
low economies of scale, unviable irrigation and low investment in technology.
2. High yields depend upon good quality Seeds, Manures, Fertilizers and Biocides. Although
government entities such as the National Seeds Corporation, State farmers Corporation of India
attempt to provide raw materials to farmers at affordable prices, unavailability of information for
farmers to choose the right product-mix- deciding which crops to harvest and which fertilizers to
use for their land; deep-ridden corruption at government agencies, amongst other factors, lead to
suboptimal yields.
3. Lack of Irrigation and Mechanization- Irrigation is a critical input in India, given an irregular &
erratic rainfall pattern. India is the second highest irrigated country after China but only 1/3rd of the
cropped land is under irrigation. As of 2013-14, 62-67% of the potential yield was sacrificed due to
the poor irrigation facilities.
The bottleneck for adoption of modern techniques results in crop yields being just 30-60% of the best
attainable yields of developed nations.
4. Limited Agricultural Marketing and Agricultural Information- The dearth of reliable marketing
facilities for farmers in rural India compels them to, under socio-economic conditions; depend upon
traders and middlemen to dispose off their produce at a throw-away price, causing distress sale.
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 oilseeds and 35 per cent of cotton in Punjab is sold by
farmers in the village itself. Middlemen take away 47%, 52% and 60% of the prices of rice,
groundnut and potatoes respectively. (Source- Addressing farmers problems, Reference paper by
RML (formerly Reuters Market Light), Feb 2015).

a. Approximately 94% of the farmers turn to fellow farmers for agri-information, 10% to
retailers, 4% on media and 3% on agri-extension service personnel. Most of this information
being biased, unverified or misrepresented results in farmers being misguided, not employing
the best mix of resources suitable to their land, ultimately resulting in poor production of
crops.
b. The following image of the traditional agriculture supply chain model helps explain the
complexities involved in the farmers produce reaching the consumers and the intermediary
margins.
The retail prices provided are only a reference to the percentage of the final price farmers
earn and do not reflect current market prices
(Source-Outlook India).

5. Capital- The arduousness experienced in getting access to credit at affordable interest rates and the
adversities faced in repaying them is a major reason for the number of farmer-suicides
skyrocketing. According to a nationwide survey conducted by National Sample Survey
Organization (NSSO) in Jan 2015, 50% of the 90 million farm households are indebted to
moneylenders or banks (Uttar Pradesh having the highest number of indebted farm households at 69
lakhs). Over 50% of the loans were meant for capital & other expenditure on the farm.

EXERCISING DIGITAL INDIA TO IMPROVE THE AGRICULTURAL SECTOR


Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.Chinese Proverb
Until now, a plethora of populist policies were declared to try and improve the existing condition of the
sector, but to no avail. For agriculture in India to emerge as an economically viable business, a sustainable
model needs to be developed with the prerequisite of farmers, primarily, being well educated in their field,
aware and empowered; backed by the State.

Digital India can be used to address the issues mentioned above, barring the 1st which is a concern of a
different nature and would require an altogether different platform to be addressed. Let us see how Digital
India can be employed to impact the agricultural value chain to improve its existing functions which could
ultimately result in improved sustainable profitability for the farmers.
The project has 3 major components viz. 1) digital infrastructure 2) digital services and 3) digital literacy.
Mobile phone is the preferred delivery medium with focus on mGovernance and mServices. The
mAgriculture and mGramBazar, out of the seven components covered under mServices, directly impact
agricultural extension and marketing services.
Potential of Information & Communication Technology- 72% of the farmers being unaware of sources of
information for adopting technology, seeking credit, insurance and marketing services is a major reason for
low productivity. As of 2014, 68.32% of rural households avail mobile connectivity. Study of the IAMAI
revealed 80% using it for communications, 67% for online services, 65% for e-commerce and 60% for
social networking; which is why mobile phones can be effectively used for generating, processing,
disseminating and sorting critical agri-data.
Taking cognizance of the long gestation period involved, the State should give undivided attention to
transforming researches undertaken at regional, national and international institutes into a format
understandable and accessible to farmers in an App format; from genuine sources. The following
information can be provided to famers on apps:

Details of location specific crop-production technology


Authorized sources of timely availability of standard quality inputs [seeds, fertilizers, pesticides etc.]
farm equipment, sprinklers, drippers, among others, along with costs
Post harvest management technology including transport, storage, processing, preservation,
packaging and marketing
Commodity prices, weather and measures to minimize impact of climate change
Availing credit, insurance and subsidies

State FunctionsIn July 2015, the Govt approved setting up of an Online Agriculture Market which aims to provide more
options to farmers to buy raw material and sell their produce. Currently farmers are confined to selling their
produce to local mandis and market committees through middlemen that levy taxes of 2.5-6%. By 2019, a
two-way platform will be created between farmers and buyers primarily through broadband connectivity.

Farmers will have options to buy and sell fruits and vegetables across India through the online
platform
The direct link will delete intermediaries resulting in higher profits for farmers
The online trade being a free of cost service will result in improved income
An agency will be set up to monitor smooth functioning in online trading, transportation and storage
facilities.

The three portals viz. farmer portal, kisan call centre and mkisan portal will empower farmers to take
informed decisions under varying climatic conditions

Under the e-governance programme, soil health card software and a web-based app is being developed to
provide integrated nutrient management recommendations using soil test crop response methods.
PM Jan Dhan Yojana under online banking can be used to avail cheap credit and insurance; which will
render borrowing from moneylenders at exorbitant rates obsolete.
Governance and services can be accelerated to farmers, for instance, subsidies could directly be transferred
in bank accounts, reducing leakages
PILOT
A nationwide survey needs to be conducted to assess the impact of ICT initiatives on agriculture through a
phased pilot project. Factors to be evaluated- 1) number of farmers receiving and using mobile-agricultural
information services 2) feedback from users about content and ease of use 3) increase in productivity from
availing services 4) reduction in costs of inputs; 5) grievance redressal mechanism
A PPP model should be employed to design a digital ecosystem focusing on

Simplicity of access, layout, content and themes


Higher interactivity
Use of non-textual information

Recommendations, feedback and results from the pilot should be incorporated into the full fledged
development of the PPP model to address problems in agriculture.
While every problem in agriculture would not be solved solely through D.I, it would be a stepping stone to a
digital revolution, capable of integrating the sector and serve as a means to the solution and not the solution
itself.
(Sources- tech.firstpost.com
Indiamicrofinance.com)