Hyderabad: Indian farmers have historically struggled with prolonged droughts that parch the farmland, followed by heavy rains and floods that destroy crops.
In an attempt to protect farmers from the vagaries of weather, the Indian government introduced the National Horticulture Mission (NHM) in 2003, encouraging them to shift to horticulture crops such as fruits, vegetables, spices, flowers and plantation crops. In 2013, NHM was subsumed into the Mission for Integrated Development of Horticulture (MIDH).
States that implement this centrally sponsored mission are helped in this task by Hortnet, a software solution that automates the workflow process in the sector. The solution was developed by the National Informatics Centre (NIC) in Hyderabad.
“With frequent droughts and floods, the importance of crops which can withstand the long dry spells interspersed by floods is increasing,” says K. Rajasekhar, deputy director general at NIC. “Developing countries such as India are losing much more than developed countries from the impact of global warming on agriculture.”
Farmers can apply for a horticulture scheme online, through Internet kiosks or community welfare centres.
Government officials scrutinize the applications. Eligible farmers who meet the criteria get identity cards.
NIC has also integrated Hortnet with official online land records to make verification of credentials easier.
Farmers can use the solution to monitor the progress of schemes, track applications online, receive acknowledgements and raise grievances. They also get text messages about pests, disease management and best practices.
Hortnet’s online process cuts processing time, which otherwise take months.
“Several crores of rupees in subsidy are being given by the government for the welfare of farmers,” Rajasekhar says. “This initiative ensures transparency and efficiency.”
With an initial outlay of Rs.16,840 crore, MIDH covers the entire country and aims to achieve 7.2% growth in horticulture during the 12th Five-Year Plan.
Undivided Andhra Pradesh was the first state to implement the project. It was followed by Karnataka, Kerala, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Bihar, Haryana and Tamil Nadu.
The solution, provided free for government departments, can be configured for states that have different schemes and subsidy patterns.
The government fixes annual targets for horticulture farmers who sign up. Targets are also set for horticulture officers and their achievements and expenditure are monitored online.
Occasionally, government inspectors visit villages to check progress and photograph farmers with their produce using a mobile app. Images are geo-tagged and time-stamped to prevent fraud. This also ensures that the inspectors indeed visit the farmlands.
Once the images are uploaded online, officials assess the progress, verify the farmer’s photograph, and decide on releasing the subsidy. As soon as the subsidy is approved, a digital electronic pay order is sent to the bank, which credits the subsidy to the farmer’s account. This ensures the beneficiaries are not cheated, says Rajasekhar.
Except in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, photographing is not mandatory in other states that have adopted Hortnet. In Karnataka, NIC has integrated farmers’ biometric data with the solution.
The Hortnet portal hosts resources on best practices and provides advice on production techniques, post-harvest management and processing.
Rajasekhar points out that the solution can be expanded to integrate different farmer-related schemes such as National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture, National Mission for Micro Irrigation and Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana.
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