In this blog I will discuss about ” Application of ICT for agricultural infrastructure “.
North-Eastern region of the country is gifted with rich natural resources for all round economic development. Agriculture delivers livelihood sustenance to 70 % of the region’s population. However, it yields only 1.5 % of country’s food grain production and remains as a net importer of food grains even for its own consumption. The economic upliftment of the entire region depends to a large extent on the growth of agriculture and its allied sectors. Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has countless roles to accomplish for agricultural development beginning from the decision support system to the trading of harvests.
Due to non-availability of better-quality technological information to the ethnic farmers, agriculture displays low and unsteady output making it less remunerative thereby creating food insecurity problem for the population. In this prevailing set-up, it is anticipated that application of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) in agricultural information facility to be made to the tribal farming community will revolutionize the socio-economic conditions in the villages of the intended region. Information services on the accessibility of inputs, quality of inputs for pest & disease management of crops are already used by the farmers through ICTs.
However, foremost difficulties in the use of ICTs by the farmers are lack of their confidence in operating ICTs, unpredictable power supply, poor network connectivity and non-existence of awareness of the benefits of ICTs. The appropriate availability of right information and its proper use by farmers/ villagers is crucial for the growth of agriculture. ICT based enterprises which can be taken for proliferation of information, transfer of technology, procurement of inputs and selling of outputs for the benefit of farmers. The judicious information and applied solutions of the agricultural problems would help the farmers to implement good agricultural practices in creating better choices of inputs and also to plan the cultivation appropriately.
Information and communication Technologies (ICT) is an collection of electronic technologies that comprises a wide series of media viz., telephone, fax, television and radio. Moreover recent ICTs contain elements like internet, e-mail, computers, mobile phones, digital cameras, databases and web-portals.
ICT generally refer to growing association of technologies that are being used to accomplish information and support communication which include hardware, software, media for collection, storage, processing, transmission and exhibition of information in any format viz., voice, data, text and image, computers, internet, CD-ROMs, email, telephone, radio, television, video, digital cameras etc.
However, many of these out-dated ICTs are operative than web-based solutions, as they can resolve concerns such as language, literacy or access to the Internet (UNDAW, 2002). (Fig 1 below)
|Application of ICT for agricultural infrastructure development in North East India|
Approach for North East India:
ICT is a latent tool and not a solution and similarly development is not about technology or is it is about information because it is only about economic, social and political empowerment of farmers. Moreover, process is further important than its access and is about participation, communication and people for their needs and languages.
The prominence must be on communication and not on technology as a communication tool infers involvement, knowledge-sharing and admiration for diversity and culture. Hence, ICT should be the means for augmenting communication for any development activities and shall be for contributing towards growth of rural poor people connecting to ownership, local content, language, culture and suitable know-how.
However access to technology becomes substantial only once the circumstances are met and ICTs usages focus on the project/ programme level for enabling community participation and consolidating communication processes. International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD, 2003) has put up four questions for sensible discussion in relation to the policy matter on ICTs application in rural circumstances:
- · How to ensure that ICTs are considered a tool and not a solution?
- · How rural poor people set the ICTs agenda?
- · How can partners respond?
- · How to balance investment in ICTs between technology and content development?
Information chasers and ICT supports:
Information is vital for establishing realistic objectives for evolving short and long term targets, formulating policies, executing plans, measuring performances and taking corrective actions. Information systems are anticipated to ease better planning and also assist in monitoring and assessment of programmes/ projects. As Information and Communication Technology (ICT) infrastructure installed in the village level, then it will be part of the global village facilitating the process of rural development.
The role of ICT for augmenting food security and supporting rural livelihoods is extensively documented and was officially recognized at the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) 2003-2005 which comprises the usage of computers, internet, geographical information systems (GPS), mobile phones as well as old-fashioned media viz., radio or TV. Rural people need information to satisfy their short term needs and long term needs starting from crop husbandry to health related.
- Agricultural information comprises the following areas:
- Soil Investigation and crops nutrients requirement
- Sensible usage of fertilizers
- Methods of fertilizer use
- Acknowledgment of worthy seeds & seed treatment
- Period of sowing, seed rate and spacing
- Documentation of pests and well-timed application of pesticides
- Identification of weeds and management
- Soil erosion causes and its regulation
- Ecological agriculture and integrated pest management
- Preparation methods of organic fertilizer
- Weather situation and early Warning system on Crop protection
- Crop rotation and selection of micro area for specific crops.
- Farm automation and availability of agricultural tools
Predominantly educators of primary, secondary and senior secondary schools track information connected to their theme areas and enhancing their information. Teachers of science need assorted CD-ROM based interactive learning with the students and similarly teachers of language particularly English subject seek out for CD-ROM or on-line provision for their development in communicative English along with for their students. Apart from the prescribed education system, farmers want informal education for their crop cultivation, animal husbandry, poultry bird rearing, and fisheries. Educated unemployed youth needs job linked information and average students want information on vocational courses. Hence, ICT has immense potentiality in providing to the diverse needs as follows
· Communicating CD-ROM and distance education
· Online 24 hours interactive learning
· Interactive CD-ROM and functional literacy
· Interactive CD-ROM and crop cultivation knowledge
ICT has following band of exposure in the comprehensive field of economic information and e-commerce:-
- · Agricultural input and output
- · Mandi Information
- · Demand and supply of yields in local & urban market
- · Communication with agro-industries and their demand
- · Bank loan facilities
- · Crop insurance
- · Cottage industry and their marketing of produce
- · International Quality and Practices
- · Farm Chain formation
- · Grading and packing
- · Cost of cultivation and profit margin
One of the major alarming areas in rural sector is that even after providing required infrastructural support, specialist doctor and essential services are not reached to the target group. Telemedicine can play positive role in providing support in this area.
Usage of ICT for e-governance:
In the standpoint of application of Government to Citizen (G2C) service, ICTs are cost effective and fast to reach clients for their wants as follow:
- · Land Records improvements
- · Court case hearings and judicial support for poor people
- · Application forms for rural educated youth to get job in all sectors.
- · Application forms for availing various Govt. schemes
- · Information about Govt. Schemes and Packages
- · Online Payments of conveniences viz., telephone bills, electric bill etc.
- · Railway & airline reservation
- · Apprise higher authority about any discrepancies at lower level
- · Video conferencing and communication with statutory & government administrative personnel
Methods for Firming up Infrastructures for ICTs involvement in North East India
Keeping in view concerning the deliberations had on four questions promoted by International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD, 2003) relating to infrastructure development, telecommunication plays a dynamic role for ICTs involvement in linking people in North East India which is either limited or expensive with the rest of the world and enlightening their economic well-being along with physical communication.
The teledensity of the North East is stumpy in comparison to the rest of India and only Mizoram has a teledensity higher than the national average. Further to that, the rate of upsurge in teledensity in the region is slower than the national average, which could be due to the inadequate growth of tele-exchange capacity. Cellular mobile services were hosted in the NE region only in 2003 after a formidable delay of eight years than the rest of the country due to security concerns. There are still certain restrictions in border areas and due to which no signals are permissible within 500 metres of the international border.
ICTs not only contain internet connection but also radio; television, local radio which are known as old-style ICTs and similarly infrastructural development for these commonalities media is also important. North East India with their infrastructure restrictions to launch current ICTs in some parts of the region where existing traditional media can be tried as there are noticeable instances of synchronicity of both traditional and current ICTs. Traditional media may act as preliminary point of ICTs. North East India with numerous tribes and sub tribes has their own traditional media. O’Farrel (2001) argued that before overruling with technology and new information sources one should appreciate the existing information system of the poor people.
The traditional media is used in transmitting messages to a society or a group of societies from one generation to another and are the indigenous modes of communication which have served the society as communication tools for a long period. Therefore, traditional media offer important prospects in the process of inspiring rural masses towards accommodating social changes thereby establishing a productive means for the overall development of the common people and can make a scientific temperament among the rural mass. Traditional Medias necessitate the people’s participation and spontaneity.
The north eastern part of India has been the traditional land of the Indo-Mongoloid population wherein nearly 84 per cent of the region’s total population lives in rural areas. Traditional media in this region can become a close and emotional tool of communication. Now the view has come where we can deliberately incorporate science and technology to traditional media for communicating or broadcasting scientific matters with the general rural mass.
Amalgamation of Traditional Knowledge Systems (TKS) would also defend participation and ownership of the rural beneficiaries themselves. The necessity to assimilate inputs from indigenous systems is important not just because of their fruitfulness but also because these systems have grown over millennia preserving the social stability in that area. (Fig 2 below)
|Application of ICT for agricultural infrastructure development in North East India|
In view of the deliberations made above, ICT is a possible tool and is not a solution. Development is not about technology or information, but it is about economic, social and political empowerment. Process is more important than access and content is more important than machines. Access relates to machines, communication tools and technologies and information. Therefore, process is all about participation, communication and people and their needs and languages along with the content that is relevant.
Adoption of new technologies increases the farm productivity of small and marginal farmers but the current situation of ICT-led services is not as it should be; e-readiness among the farmers in remote rural areas of the NER region still too little. Hence, emphasis needs to be laid on the concept of pluralistic services when it comes to bringing ICT-led services to the remote rural areas that are a major feature of the North Eastern region and just distributing information through ICTs alone may not create expected agricultural and socio-economic development in less developed areas. The farmers may not be ready for using that information to their benefit. They need to be made aware of and trained towards the use of ICTs. Moreover, the content-specificity is another major concern. Addressing all these concerns may seem a herculean task with the limited agricultural extension service providers at present.