Correlation between economic opportunities and spread of technology is a well established principle around the world. India, with its exponential rise in the use of wireless telephony matched with rural penetration is on a cusp to provide this economic access to the rural populace. Particularly heartening is the Government’s stated objective to provide broadband digital access through various policy interventions.
Broadband use as it understood and exists, has been mainly urban oriented; large number of ‘apps’ are neither useful nor attract the farming community to extensively use the broadband access. Key constraints in its large scale use would come from language barriers and content that is relevant to the needs of farming community; it is further vitiated with the fractured ownership of land amongst them. Newer and creative ideas need to be introduced on priority to make the digital access effective.
One major issue that perennially plagues farmers is understanding market; since there is a three to six months lag between sowing and harvest, often they are left with a crop that may not have market and making them vulnerable to the layers of middlemen between them and the consumer. Creating appropriate lead indicators could potentially mitigate these problems both for the farmers and the policy makers to pro-actively device interventions in the event of a crisis.
It is possible, with today’s access to telephones, to create such lead indicators. As an illustration, each farmer can be asked to send an SMS to a central data depository about the crop planted on their land, starting at the taluka level. This data can then be used to project arrival of various farm produce in the coming weeks. Product demand data against this will yield us the expected deficit/excess of arrivals in a future time-frame. It is possible to create an ‘app’ wherein a farmer can see the crop arrivals of various farm produce and net demand and decide before hand on the choice of crop he need to take up in the farm. This will greatly relieve the farmer from the uncertainties faced on the day of harvest. The farmer will know beforehand whether he needs to plant tomato or beans or some other crop as deemed necessary.
Aggregation of this data to District/State/National level will help policy makers to pro-actively intervene in terms of providing market access, information to geographical zones of shortage, connecting with food processors and government procurement/storage thus bringing in relief to both farmers and consumers. This rich data can further be put to a range of uses such as crop & inputs planning, export/import decisions etc.
Likewise, ‘apps’ can be created on best practices in farming, farm productivity, traditional/organic farming etc to place a wide range knowledge at the disposal of farmers.
A nation that employs 65% of its populace in agri-activities cannot dream of accelerated growth unless we are able to put more money in those hands without causing inflation. With today’s low cost technology and ability to provide its access to large number of rural populace, we need to make it our ‘MISSION’ to leverage this to empower our large rural masses. With imagination and creative work, it is now within our grasp.