Sapna A Narula
TERI University,New Delhi, India
ICTs offer great potential for economic growth and social empowerment of farmers by linking agricultural supply chains to national and global markets.
ICTs offer a promising potential for social and economic empowerment of rural people in India especially those involved in agriculture (Narula, 2010). However, the opportunities in this field are not limited to agriculture, but are extended to health, education and e-governance as well. Most of the ICT models including both private sector as well as public sector have been launched with agricultural applications as their prime focus. These models are providing a range of services to fulfill the information deficit our farmers are facing in agricultural production, input-supply, agricultural extension, market information/intelligence and price discovery(Narula and Sharma, 2008; Narula, 2009). Inspite of all these initiatives, it has been felt that there is a huge gap existing between what is being offered and what is being demanded.(Cecchini and Raina, 2004; Chetley, 2006; Parmar, 2007; Narula, 2008, Narula, 2009b, Saith and Vijaybhaskar, 2008). The information modules which are too generalised irrespective of the region, crop, farmer, agro-climatic zone can not really fulfill the strategic objectives of these ICT interventions. (Jain et al, 2008; Parmar et al, 2007). Hence, a strong need has been felt to explore important issues pertaining to this gap such as assessing the information-supply gap, finding out the impact assessment of information modules, design and development of client-centric initiatives and enhancing adoption and use of ICT services by target beneficiaries. This article is a part of a larger study conducted in district of Udham Singh Nagar of Uttarakhand, India pertaining to the use of ICTs by farmers. In this article, an effort has been made to address issues related to the prioritisation of informational needs of the farmers in the district and the possession level of ICTs among the target group so as to further explore the potential of ICTs such as computers, the Internet and mobile phones among the rural folk/farmers.
The study has been carried out in the district of Udham Singh Nagar (U.S. Nagar), Uttarakhand state of India. The agriculture in Uttarakhand is characterised by small and marginal farmers owning small and scattered landholdings, scanty marketing infrastructure and lack of market information and intelligence. Hence, Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) offer great potential for economic growth and social empowerment of Uttarakhand farmers by linking the agricultural supply chains to national as well as world markets. Information Technology has immense potential in enhancing the efficiency and effectiveness of agriculture extension programmes, agricultural trade and dissemination of best agricultural practices (Narula,2009a). This area offers great potential in terms of exports as well as domestic trade of commodities such as paddy, mango and litchi. Also, there is dire need to study the information related needs of the farmers i.e., in which area, at what time and about what aspect of agriculture and other areas they need information.
Keeping this in mind, the study was planned with the objectives: 1.) To find the possession level of various ICTs i.e. computers, Internet as well as mobile phones among selected farmers 2.) To identify and prioritise the information needs of the farmers with respect to agricultural aspects 3.) To identify the main sources of information for farmers and further suggest an ICT-based model for agricultural supply chain management.
First, an effort was made to identify a set of information pertaining to agriculture through a pilot survey of farmers in the district. The pilot survey of the farmers was done during the kisaan mela at GB Pant University of Agriculture and Technology, Pantnagar which revealed the major requirements of their information needs and hence provided the inputs to design the structured questionnaire for the study. Primary data has been collected from 300 paddy and vegetable farmers of districts U.S. Nagar with the help of a structured questionnaire.
The findings reveal some important facts about the informational needs of rural people in U.S. Nagar.
An enquiry into their possession level of mobiles and computers revealed that 82 percent of respondents possessed mobiles, whereas only 5.1 percent of respondents possessed computers at home or at workplace. Only 3.2 percent of respondents subscribed to the Internet, whereas only one percent had knowledge about use of the Internet. 4.8 percent of respondents owned both computers and mobile phones. (Table 2)
The study mainly focused on finding out what kind of information is needed and valued by farmers. The information needs of the community has been categorised and segregated on the basis of its importance. For example, crucial information that is required by a farmer for making decisions about his/her crop has been designated as extremely important and so on. A framework for assessment of informational needs of farmers on the basis of cropping operations in India has already been suggested (Narula, 2008) (Table 3).
The information, which farmers need about agriculture mainly belong to four categories i.e. agri-inputs, market and supply chain, production and Government related. The selected farmers were asked about their needs regarding various categories of information mentioned in Table 3. Within each category, they were again asked to rank the various subsets of informational needs from extremely important to not important at all.
Farmers were of the view that information related to agri-inputs was the most important followed by that related to production, market and supply chain and government respectively. Around 40 percent farmers reported information on agri-inputs to be an extremely important informational need and another 30 percent reported this to be an important need (Table 4).
Out of the agri-input needs, seeds, pesticides and fertilizers were the most important inputs which farmers need information for, whereas tractors and agricultural implement needs were considered as important. Around 60 percent of the farmers counted information on new brands as important (Table 5). For the information on agri-input, farmers were mainly eager to know about products/brand names of quality seeds, pesticides, correct dosage and time of application and sowing, reliable brands and their availability. Among the market and information related needs, information on commodity prices was found to be the most important followed by agricultural markets and procurement avenues which were rated equally important. Logistics and transport related needs were found to be less important (Table 6).
Among the production related needs, around 80 percent of farmers related these as extremely important followed by pest management and sowing practices. Animal husbandry needs were found to be important among 50 percent of farmers, whereas around 20 percent farmers reported them to be most important. The information which was found to be least important was related to farm operations. However, it was observed that weather and climate information is the most important followed by animal husbandry, pest management and sowing practices and farm operations.
Among the market and supply chain needs, 40 percent of the respondents reported commodity prices as extremely important while another 35 percent rated it as important need. Farmers were of the view that during the harvest season, they did not have information about prices of commodities in far-off mandis (agricultural markets) Information on agricultural markets and new procurement avenue was also found to be important for the farmers. Information on logistics and transport has been found to be moderately important.
Information on Government schemes launched for farmers was found to be a high priority need and was rated extremely important by 30 percent farmers, whereas 30 percent reported it as an important need. Information about their local agriculture officers was also asked for as important information
Farmers were also asked about the sources from where they can get information on various aspects. The source of information and the information which is obtained through these sources has been compiled in Table 10.
Conclusion and Policy Implications
The study concludes that there is a high penetration level of mobile phones among the selected farmers in the district, whereas computer ownership is quite low. A high level of penetration of mobiles reveal a great potential to deliver information through mobiles. It has also been concluded that the farmers of the region consider information on agri-inputs and weather and climate as extremely important, whereas information on markets, commodity prices, pest management and animal husbandry and government schemes are counted as important information. The results are useful for managers and policymakers for design and delivery of a needs-based product/service mix based on the needs of farmers. The prioritisation also helps in knowing what information is valued by farmers and for what services he will be willing to pay. It is recommended that managers as well as policymakers design their ICT interventions based on the priorities of farmers. In case of paid services, this type of approach is helpful in designing differential pricing for farmers based on the importance of information.
The study is limited in aspect as it has tried to address only one issue i.e. assessing informational needs of farmers. The small sample size in the study also remains one of its limitation. However, this study could further be replicated in other geographical regions with a larger sample size. Further, there are a few questions which remain to be explored eg. What is the demand-supply gap in information delivery? What are the regional differences in demand of information services by farmers? What are the different sources of information for farmers? What has been the impact of ICTs on the social lives of farmers? Who are the target groups and what information services do they need? How can these target groups be best served?
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