Indian farming sector is one of the world’s largest producers of agricultural goods. As per the Economic Survey of India, almost 17% of the GDP of the nation is contributed by this industry and nearly 50% of the population is employed in agriculture and allied sectors. Agricultural practices had originated almost 6000 years ago.
After industrialisation came to India, the primitive farming methods gradually began to fade, making way for the new era of technology. Post-independence, there were numerous projects undertaken in the form of Green Revolution, Evergreen Revolution, White Revolution, Blue Revolution, Yellow Revolution and most recently- Biotechnology Revolution. These projects vastly empowered the agricultural and allied industries, making India self-sufficient in terms of food resources.
On a separate occasion, in 2015, the Union Government launched the Digital India programme which aimed to connect rural areas to internet and increase the spread and utility of information and communication technology (ICT). As of 2018, this initiative represents a staggering US$ 1 Trillion potential of economic growth in India along with job provisions to 55-60 million individuals.
By 2022, the number of internet users is going to increase up to 850 million. Now it would be unusual in the first glimpse to relate ICT to farming as the former is seen as a very primitive activity and the latter is perceived as an advanced field of science. But in present times, an interdisciplinary field arising from the applications of ICT in agriculture has emerged in the form of e-Technology in farming.
Role of Digital Technologies in Developing Rural India
ICT has played a crucial role in transforming the current agriculture scenario into a much more modernised practice. Technology has impacted this sector is two broad ways- firstly, as a tool of direct contribution to improve agricultural productivity and secondly, as an indirect mode of empowering the farmers by equipping them with information to make quality decision that impacts their agricultural activities.
In terms of the socioeconomic welfare of the rural population, ICT has provided improvement in the facilities of health, education, financial services and employment avenues. Broadly speaking, the offerings provided by ICT can be categorised into three types-
Empowerment based offering: The best example is the e-choupal scheme, an excellent supply chain system that reinforces the farmers with timely and relevant information so that they get better returns from their agricultural output. Its community centric approach also helps the farmer with availing insurance and farm management practise.
Enablement based offering: The policy of e-governance is an exemplary model of making the citizens enabled. E-governance promotes transparency and governance via IT. It has been implemented in land record maintenance which has seen decline in malpractices and improvement in creating assurance of rightful ownership. Similarly, Aadhaar has empowered the masses by providing confirmation to their identities which enables them to enjoy tailor-made government benefits for them.
Market expansion offering: Broadening the horizons of agricultural market is important for the growth of the sector. Various online portals have promoted village and heritage tourism in remote areas, creating awareness and boosting visitor count in those places. More successful example comes in the form of e-commerce which has benefited large number of small agro-enterprises by directly connecting them to their consumers via internet. Additionally, this has also improved the livelihood of women in the weaver community in the northeast.
ICT in e-Agriculture
This field has emerged out of the convergence of ICT and conventional agriculture. Internet and related technology is utilised to enhance farming techniques and practices. This is achieved by arming the farmers with better knowledge and information about various products and services he can use to improve crop productivity.
Besides this, the farmers are also provided with the correct market rates and prices that assist them to sell their harvest at the best price. The various information disseminated to the agriculturists include- state and union government policies and schemes as well as the institutions that dispense these schemes, innovations in agriculture and allied services, Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs), agencies that provide HYV seeds, new fertilisers, manure, etc. and provision of training in new farming techniques.
Some of the emerging technologies that are touted to be highly beneficial in the field of agriculture are listed below-
Smartphone Technology: As Digital India has been spreading across India, more and more households are acquiring smartphones every day. This piece of technology has found immense use in the corporate, R&D and communication sectors. Especially the mobile software, also known as ‘applications’ have made smartphone a multidimensional utility device. In terms of farming practices, smartphone can be utilised in the following ways-
- Spreading awareness via SMS, special news and info applications and voice calls.
- Improving connectivity and outreach through various online platforms.
- Wireless monitor for area coverage, manure and chemical usage and other records.
- Location specific apps which connects farmers of a region to a local major marketplace.
- Agricultural specific calculation for accurate measures of substance, products and prices.
Radio Frequency Identification (RFID): RFID Technology ensures a major boost to research, development and innovation in the agricultural field. Radio sensors have been used for over a decade to tag domestic animals for tracking and identification. Similarly, it can be implemented on crops and foods to track and identify their origin, perishability, etc.
Global Positioning System (GPS): Conventionally used to map and navigate terrains, GPS technology can be used alongside variable rate technology. Through this technology, the farmers can monitor their entire farm and focus on the areas which require attention. For example, some areas of a field might not have been treated with fertilisers; the farmer can quickly identify this and take necessary action. This also prevents issues like cattle trespassing, infestations and other troubles.
Advantages of e-Technology in Farming
While there are many benefits of e-technology in farming at various levels including the producers, consumers as well as the government, they can be broadly summed up in six points-
Using site specific crop management model (SSCM) that is based on observing, measuring and responding to the variability of crops across the fields, farmers can achieve precision farming. This helps the farmers utilise their resources optimally and generate a high yield in terms of quantity and quality. This innovation is not only production specific, but also caters to the environmental concerns raised by agricultural practices.
Making necessary information and knowledge accessible on the fingertips of the farmers improves decision making capabilities of the farmers helping them choose the optimum factors for their crops. This information is not only related to farming techniques but also tells them about the details of the market as well as makes them aware of their consumer’s requirements and demands.
Availability of farming software further helps in better planning of farming techniques. These software’s include database management, inventory management, record keeping, field monitoring, crop requirements and many more options to make farm management and planning easier and more effective for farmers.
ICT makes agricultural breakthroughs available to farmers across the world. So whenever a scientist or a researcher has found a way to curb crop diseases due to heavy rains by increasing its moisture tolerability, the farmers can come to know about it and implement it in their practices.
Sharing of information and experience develops skills and techniques on personal level, thereby benefiting the entire farming community. This also puts focus on community involvement amongst the farmers. ICT has empowered the rural communities, improving networking and social connectivity between the farmers. The productivity of the farmers’ community as a whole increases as a result.
Finally, ICT has made agriculture available for everyone. That is, not just farmers, but people engaged in other professionals, or want to take up the profession in agriculture also receive information on agricultural science and technology. This way, not only the citizens indulge in personal sustainable farming, but the agriculture support industry including the fertiliser industry, pesticide industry, seeds and supplement industry, etc. also are benefited.
Government Initiatives to Provide e-Aid to Agriculturists
With the blooming IT industry and spread of Digital India, the Government of India has utilised the opportunity to implement many schemes and programmes for the benefit of farmers. These are listed as follows:
- National Policy for Farmers, 2007 has important provisions for implementation of technology in agricultural practices. It promotes the use of modern technology which enhances productivity per unit land. It also focuses on application of biotechnology, ICT, nanotechnology, space applications and renewable energy resources to generate better output while simultaneously encouraging environmental conservation.
- National Mission on Agricultural Extension and Technology is a provision under the National Telecom Policy, 2012 which stresses on strengthening agro-practices using various information and communication technology.
- Kisan Credit Card scheme uses ICT to enable the farmers gain affordable credits. It was started by the RBI and NABARD to help farmers get funds for crops and other resources.
- Kisan Choupal is a successful initiative in Bihar which in collaboration with the Krishi Vigyan Kendra discusses the problems faced by the farmers via the help of information technology and improve the technical and social awareness among the farmers by showing them videos and movies.
- Kisan Call Centre and SMS portal additionally helps those farmers who have basic mobile phones. These services provide the farmers information about farming practices, management, current trends in farming, market prices, government schemes and various more information.
- Village Knowledge Centres (VKC) and Village Resources Centre (VRC) are two of the most crucial initiatives. These centres bridge the gap between having a technology and applying it for self-benefit. Here the farmers are made aware of how to use the various modern technologies efficiently in the farms. It also provides skill and vocational training for livelihood support which comes handy to the farmers who have seasonal employment.
Farming is a novel profession that provides the world with food to fill their stomach with and help maintain health. But at the same time, it is the most thankless job. But with the advent of ICT laying its foundation in agricultural sector, the farmers are slowly being empowered and taken away from ignorance of the state-of-affairs in their surroundings, their nation and the globe.
Since ICT and IT have taken over almost all the spheres of life, agriculture remains no stranger to it. Agriculture industry has made massive leaps after being introduced to e-technology and the government played a very important role in convincing the population to use it.
E-technology has modernised the aspects of farm management and has given agriculture in India a new face. The government faces a lot of challenges like limited reach of technology, limited coordination between various governmental and private institutions, etc. Hence to control and eliminate these problems, e-technology is almost like a determinant of the future.