National Agriculture Database: Digital Divide May Make Exercise Doomed: The Tribune India
Manjit S Kang
Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar recently informed Parliament that the Department of Agriculture and Farmer Welfare (DoAFW) will create a National Farmer Database or “Agristack”, a collection of technologies and digital databases focused on Indian farmers and the agricultural sector. The database, which will include digitized farmer land registers, is expected to help deliver proactive and personalized services to farmers, increase their incomes and improve the efficiency of the agricultural sector. The central government formed the Committee on Doubling Farmers’ Income in 2016; he submitted his report in 14 volumes in 2018. The creation of a dynamic database of farmers is mentioned in one of the volumes.
The DoAFW had launched the Indian Digital Agriculture Ecosystem (IDEA), which was to solicit feedback from stakeholders. From now on, “Proofs of Concept” (PoC) based on data from the database of federated farmers for certain selected areas have been invited. If any of the PoCs (pilot) prove beneficial to farmers, the database should be extended to the national level.
Farmers and some farmer organizations have raised objections to IDEA because there is a lack of farmer representation in the existing working group. They equate this process with how the three farm laws were introduced last year, with farmers not being consulted. A proactive approach is always preferable to a reactive approach.
Another objection concerns the link between the financing of the states by the central government and the implementation of the project. There are other concerns as well; for example, the confidentiality of personal data of farmers in the database.
The DoAFW should take into account the digital divide between rural and urban areas. According to a survey conducted by the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO), between July 2017 and June 2018, only 4.4% of rural households had a computer compared to 14.4% in urban areas. Only 14.9% of rural households had Internet access compared to 42% of urban households. Not all farmers have a smartphone. Thus, if it is launched, most farmers will not be able to reap the purported benefits of the national database.
Since one of the objectives of the proposed database is to double farmers ‘income, I want to comment on the report prepared by the Committee on Doubling Farmers’ Income (DFI).
Ashok Dilwai, chairman of the committee, presenting the report, wrote on the website of the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmer Welfare: “Dear citizens, I am happy to share with you the report of the ‘Doubling Committee’. de (sic) Income ”prepared in 14 volumes… The above volumes can be downloaded for review by all interested stakeholders.
With great optimization of an income revolution for Indian farmers … “
Volume 8 includes four sub-volumes. The smallest volume is n ° 10 (“Risk management in agriculture”; 124 pages) and the largest is n ° 8D (“Improving production through productivity gains”; 333 pages). In total, the 14 volumes consist of 3,156 single-spaced pages. The main actors are the farmers. How can you expect farmers to read and digest the 3,156-page information full of bureaucratic jargon? Not to mention the farmers, I doubt that many agronomists and policy makers have read all of these volumes.
In Volume 12 (“Science to Doubling Farmers’ Income”), the committee said: “At the national level, priority areas for targeting doubling farmer income, although science and technology may be:
a. Farmer Database – as recommended in Volume 13, to create a dynamic database and ensure targeted and efficient delivery of support to farmers, and to assist specialist extension services.
b. Credit Availability – to provide greater coverage under Kisan credit cards, including crops, fishermen and ranchers, and universal access to post-harvest pawn shops.
vs. Market Efficiency – to provide market information through forecasting demand and prices.
D. Extension system – to standardize information, integrate efforts between stakeholders and maximize coverage to reach all farmers.
e. Resource use efficiency – especially for improving soil and water management.
F. Sustainability and productivity gains – to improve yields and expand production while adapting to regional ecological strengths.
The intriguing phrase in the above statement is “could be,” indicating that the committee was unsure whether the six priority areas they listed would work the miracle of doubling farmers’ incomes by 2022. How can one can such a program succeed when the committee was so hesitant to propose the six priority areas?
The committee listed the following five elements as essential “pillars” for doubling farmers’ incomes and maintaining steady long-term income growth: increasing productivity as a path to higher production; reduction of production / cultivation costs; optimal monetization of the product; sustainable production technology; negotiation of risks along the agricultural value chain. You don’t need a committee to come up with such obvious interventions.
Agronomists have continually pointed out that crop productivity has plateaued for a variety of reasons, especially in the states of Punjab, Haryana and western UP, where, encouraged by government policies, monoculture rice-wheat has prevailed in the past. 50 years. While the costs of agricultural inputs have increased significantly from year to year, farmers have achieved only gradual increases in the minimum support price (MSP) for both crops. The Swaminathan Commission made a modest recommendation to provide an MSP of 50% on top of the total input costs incurred by the farmer. This has not been done. In addition, much needed crop diversification has remained elusive despite the food bolus state aquifers drying up due to rice-wheat monoculture.
Merely creating a national database will not double or increase farmers’ incomes. Here are some suggestions to increase their income:
- Encourage farmers to diversify from rice-wheat monoculture to high value-added crops
- Provide accurate weather forecast
- Provide ‘weather-based crop insurance’, whereby farmers are compensated based on adverse weather conditions (extreme temperature, floods, drought, hailstorm)
- Encourage farmers to form Farmer-Producer Organization (OPA) type cooperatives.
- Buy crops other than rice and wheat from MSP
- Help farmers improve their ‘holding power’ so they don’t have to sell their produce all at once
- Preparing agriculture for unpredictable climate change
- Encourage farmers not to burn rice straw in the fields
- Implement the recommendations of the Swaminathan Commission regarding PSM.
The author is former VC, PAU, Ludhiana, and Assistant Professor, Kansas State University
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