In a bid to improve the way state agriculture departments disseminate information on the latest in crop sciences, the government plans to equip farmers across the country with portable devices called “pico-generators” that can store and screen audiovisual content.
The handheld devices will be similar to film projectors. Officers in state agriculture extension departments, which form the last-mile connect between farmers and the state, will use these devices for effectively communicating information on using better seeds and improved sowing techniques. Officers equipped with the devices will interact with farmers and screen pre-programmed audiovisual content.
The project is likely to be launched early next year and is an attempt to improve the government’s interaction with farmers, said Sanjeev Gupta, joint secretary in the agriculture ministry. “We are still testing these devices and are going to begin a pilot soon next year in Tamil Nadu. We also have to prepare approved content that can be streamed on these pico-generators,” Gupta said.
The pico-generator may not be breakthrough technology, but it is aimed at boosting the agriculture extension departments’ limited interaction with farmers that has affected crop yields.
India has nearly 100,000 agriculture extension officers across the country whose job is to liase with farmers, but experts say they lack the adequate training and expertise to be effective communicators.
“That’s where we think technological devices such as these can be useful. Officers can be trained well and because they are going to be almost like mobile showmen, can reach out to several farmers at a time. We have to embellish skill sets of our existing manpower,” said Gupta.
In the early decades of independent India, when agriculture was the dominant contributor to the economy, the agricultural extension departments and their officers played a key role in disseminating information about emerging crop technology.
An off-shoot of its role is Krishi Darshan, a widely televised programme that has been broadcasting information on new crops and modern agriculture trends since 1967.
“Agriculture reforms have been stalled for several years and it’s high time the government did something about it,” said Ajay Vir Jakkhar, a farmer and head of the Bharath Krishak Samaj, a farmers’ group.
While an inefficient public foodgrain distribution system, because of which over more than 40 % of the crop tends to spoil, is seen as one of the gravest threats to food security in the country, the stagnant yields of key food crops and inadequate modernization of agriculture practices could further impede the availability of foodgrain.
“Agriculture production is the elephant in the room,” says P. Chengal Reddy, secretary general, Consortium of Indian Farmers Associations. “We have no clear policy or direction on the use of biotechnology or any other such scientific information in improving agriculture output. ”
Although agriculture employs nearly 60% of its workforce, the sector’s contribution to the economy has been steadily declining over the years. From slightly above one-fifth of gross domestic product at the start of the decade, it now contributes only 14%.