By Pawan Kumar
The ongoing coronavirus pandemic is creating multiple challenges for every section of society on Planet Earth. All the sectors of the economy, namely, industry, manufacturing, transportation, agriculture, etc. are suffering at the hands of this prevailing pandemic. The agricultural sector, being the employer of a large section of the population in developing and underdeveloped countries is liable to affect the economy in more critical ways, if not dealt with utmost, immediate care.
Agriculture is not only a source of food but it is also the livelihood for more than 65% of the population in India. Farmers are always vulnerable to natural calamities owing to the negative impact on crop production and farm incomes. The incidence of diseases and insect pests in crop production further enhances the production risks in agriculture and poses greater challenges for sustenance for small and marginal farmers. The farm calamities now seem to be more localized. Despite the fact that in irrigated lower plains of the Jammu region, farmers were not able to sow wheat due to untimely rains, the area under wheat when it comes to national level readiness is all set to break the record for productivity, covering 310 lakh hectare.
The current situation calls for innovative interventions in the area of the marketing of agricultural produce. Already, many farmers in remote villages have reported loss of produce because of an absence of any marketing facility during the lockdown, especially vegetables and seasonal fruits such as strawberry etc. Now, in order to ensure reasonable prices for farmers for their field crops such as wheat, mustard etc. the government has started a call centre for inter-state agricultural transportation which can be used by retailers, traders, truck drivers, transporters or any other stakeholders to manage the problems faced during their involvement in the movement of agricultural products. Call centre involves the use of telephone and is the basic tool of Information and Communication Technology (ICT), which in these difficult times is expected to resolve the problem of agricultural marketing.
In fact, ICT is the most effective answer to solve the problem in the current situation. Besides, access to improved inputs, scientific knowledge etc., ICT is instrumentall in providing market information. The Government of India has introduced several ICT initiatives targeting the welfare of the agricultural sector. Approximately 45 per cent of the ICT projects of the whole world have been implemented in India and also the maximum number of information kiosks has been employed in rural India. Some of the e-Agriculture initiatives in India are Agrisnet, Digital green, eSagu, Warana, IKSL, Agmarknet, IKSL, Agmarknet, Digital Mandi, eArik, Akashganaga, aAQUA, Fisher Friend Mobile Advisory KCC, Reuters Market Light, SMS Portal/mKisan Portal, Mahindara Kisan Mitra, Kisan Call Centers (KCCs), Village Knowledge Centers (VKCs) etc.
For providing the remunerative prices to the farmers for their produce, several network sites and portals like AGMARKNET are being developed. All the information about the markets, arrival of different products and prices can be obtained from this site which will help farmers to make decisions on their own about where to sell the produce and at what price. Here, ICT acts as an effective tool for managing the supply chain in agriculture.
The flow of information is more complex in UT of J&K due to poor infrastructure when it comes to its difficult terrains, roads, availability and accessibility of technology etc. In this respect, under the price dissemination initiative of the Forward Market Commission, ticker boards have been installed in Krishi Vigyan Kendras, wherein spot and futures prices of agricultural products are reflected for ready reference of farmers.
When it comes to agricultural marketing, the most effective ICT application has been introduced in the Union budget of 2016-17, called the e-National Agricultural market (e-NAM), wherein a unified common market platform is created to integrate all the regulated markets across the nation through a single electronic platform. The initiative is a move as part of the initiative by the Agriculture Produce Market Committee (APMC) Model act, 2017, a pan India electronic trading portal with twin objectives of spot price discovery and real time price dissemination.
The act also envisages use of technological infrastructure for marketing and online trading of produce. It also involves creation of alternative marketing channels through private sector investments for smooth sales transactions.
Agricultural marketing is administered by the States as per their agri-marketing regulations. After the repeal of APM act 1997 in J&K, the process of establishment of e-NAM infrastructure has been undertaken to keep the farmers of the state up-to-date when it comes to application of ICT for marketing their produce.
It’s beyond any doubt that ICT can revolutionise agricultural marketing for marginal and small farmers in India. However, it remains to be seen how farmers can make the best use of available ICT resources to manage diverse supply chains in farming.
The author is a Scientist in the department of Agricultural Economics at Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences & Technology of Jammu (J&K)