I read an article about Padma Shri Dr. Suman Sahai’s views on the problems that rural farmers face in “The Hindu” paper issue dated Aug. 25th, 2011: http://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/agriculture/article2393921.ece. Dr. Sahai’s background and strong credentials in this “Indian rural farmer cause” can be seen here: http://www.genecampaign.org/ABOUT%20US/CV-of-Dr-Sahai.pdf.
The place where I live is a rain shadow and so, drought prone region – Puttaparthi village (major gram panchayat), Anantapur district (Rayalaseema region) of Andhra Pradesh. Therefore I have some limited exposure to the horrendously tough life of farmers in some parts of rural India. My findings when I talked to the local villagers in Puttaparthi is similar to that of Dr. Suman Sahai as mentioned in the article above, in that the younger generation of farmers in Puttaparthi area typically want to avoid farming. If this is how it is in many parts of rural India then it certainly is NOT a good sign for Food Security for 1 Billion plus people of India!!
I am curious about how agricultural web portals could help in alleviating the tough life of the Indian rural farmer. But I have not yet made a comprehensive study of available agricultural portals in India. Initial browsing on the net indicated that there are government and non-government, free and priced, agricultural produce prices related (mandi) and agricultural techniques/advise oriented sites.
Don’t know how many of them are available in Indian languages. That perhaps is really key to the portals being used by the majority of Indian farmers – I mean, the average Indian farmer does not fluently read, write and speak English! But I would not be surprised if most of the younger generation in Indian farmer families are very literate in their mother-tongue/regional language. The agricultural portal should not expect the Indian farmer to learn English to use the portal! The agricultural portal should be respectful of the farmer’s Indian language and deliver the content in Indian language – Period. Yes, there may be challenges in implementing such agricultural portals, but if the vision is right and we have the commitment, we may succeed.
I would like to share my experience of an assignment of around two months or so in Seoul, South Korea in the early 1990’s. The locals spoke Korean. All the software that I saw in the office that I was attached to showed stuff in Korean – Windows in Korean, Oracle in Korean and so on. The local staff struggled to communicate in English language with me [I was absolutely zero in Korean language :-(] but they had no language problems whatsoever with using the software on their computers as everything was in Korean! That was a great lesson to me in how effective local language software can be.
I saw an interesting article in “The Hindu” paper issue of Aug. 30, 2011 about a “Digital Mandi” developed by BSNL in collaboration with IIT Kanpur which is supposed to give latest mandi rates of various crops to farmers on phone http://www.thehindu.com/business/Industry/article2409448.ece.
However I am now spending more time, rather more part-time, on the Spoken English App. effort. So currently (Sept. 2011) the agricultural portal effort is a low priority thread for me. Anyway I felt I should put down some thoughts/information on it below. If any reader would like to take up this effort as ‘Seva co-ordinator’ I would be very happy to pass on the baton to her/him and hopefully play a part-time contributor role in the effort.
Given the precarious state of the global economy, many alternative school economic thinkers, at least in the US, are saying that agriculture is going to be the big thing in the future. If their predictions come true, even partially, then the well-informed Indian farmer group may become a vital group/sector for Indian economy growth in the not-so-distant future, besides catering to the hunger of the billion plus human beings in our country.
Some specific thoughts on Food Security Portal [Please give me ample license for blunders :-)]
- Maybe an initial step in developing this food security portal would be to see what Free & Open Source software is already available (India as well as outside), and then see whether we can build on top of it/modify/enhance it to suit our needs.
- Further if what we do will be a Free & Open Source software then perhaps the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology and/or educational institutions like IIITs/IITs may be willing to support/collaborate.
- Publicity to attract other individual software volunteers/organizational software volunteers for this effort may be important. I find that quite a few software organizations are serious about CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility). A Free portal for “Food Security” under some esteemed and established organization’s charge may be something many software folks & cos. would like to contribute to. Publicity from organizations like DST/CII can do wonders in reaching out to such interested parties.
- Software/sophisticated portal development can be a major challenge. It may not be as easy as just locating some few persons for development. Ideally, if we have a software organization taking it up (as CSR) with volunteers chipping in then the chances of success are better.
- My little indirect exposure to software projects taken up by NGOs is that GROSS UNDERESTIMATION of software development effort is one of the major reasons of NGO software project failures. I mean, many of the decision makers in NGOs simply do not understand complexities and quantum of Information Technology software development work.
- I googled for agricultural portal and came up with the following India (and one International) links:
- If we want to look at the ambitious goal of reaching out to poor farmers across the country then I think we may need the following as material either in our site or as links to other sites:
- Farming techniques & tips for poor/small rural farming communities
- Links to farm produce buying/price portals as well as farm input selling/price portals
- Discussion forum where we listen to poor/small/rural farmer input (via mediator) and give advise/incorporate feedback into our portal
- Showing information in Indian languages – While technically this may be a manageable issue, content-building wise this can be a major challenge. But then if we have it in our vision now then we can leave room for it to happen sometime in the not-too-distant future.
- If we shoot for this ambitious goal then we will perhaps need perhaps a network of government and non-governmental organizations interested in this effort. Then we can explore possibilities of software companies/related charitable foundations stepping in to do the “ambitious goal” software as CSR/Service to the Nation.
- The major challenge for the “ambitious goal” would be building appropriate content. If there are international, national & regional free agricultural portals from where we can source content (or link to them) then fine we have some content already. But if not then we have a serious challenge.
- One amazingly successful model for a free Internet knowledge-base is wikipedia. We can create a collaborative agricultural portal where we allow interested agricultural experts to contribute farming techniques articles, audio & video. We could have a system of reviewers who review the contribution before it gets shown to all users/visitors. A free education portal software that I was involved with in the recent past uses such a model. Whether such a model will click for us or not is a very important question.
- A Government neutral website may be vital for the portal being accepted as a resource site by government agencies. In areas like Puttaparthi, where I live, for the farmer the MRO (Mandal Revenue Officer) is the key resource center. Without support of MRO and government officials reaching out to the vast number of rural farmers looks impossible to me. But then I do not have any prior experience in this area and so could be completely wrong.
Dear reader, what do you think about my views? Feel absolutely free to criticize – I can take it :-). Some of you may be agricultural science / farming domain experts. I am just a software techie shooting some ideas in the air.