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Bringing digital technology to farmers’ door steps

B.K Singh, Ajay Singh and Archana Srivastava


Today we are more dependent on digital technologies than ever before. This paradigm shift towards digital technologies should not further marginalise the small and marginal farming communities, who ensure our food security. GEAG with the support of DST empowered 1200 small farmers to perform farming with greater precision in emerging weather shocks, using digital technologies


 

Farmer accessing weather data on his mobile

Developing resilience amidst weather shocks is one of the biggest challenges in agriculture in achieving the goal of Atmanirbhar Bharat. With widespread flooding and waterlogging, millions of small and marginal farmers in eastern Uttar Pradesh and northern Bihar have become farmless and homeless. Thanks to climate change, flooding nature and trends, heavy rainfall episodes, intermittent dry spell, drought followed by flood, pest attack and emerging crop diseases have become conspicuous in the region.A large segment of farming community has been pushed to live on the mercy of subsidies, relief and compensation.

While understanding the climate uncertainties and its impact on agriculture, it is important to reach out to a large number of affected people with farm advisory and practical solutions. However, under flooded conditions, reaching out to farmers using conventional means becomes challenging. Therefore, under such conditions, digital technology becomes a preferred means of communication.

Today, most of the farmers in the intervention villages have mobile phones, and thus are equipped to receive agricultural advice through simple text or voice messages, even without access to the Internet. Therefore, accessing weather and climate information through digital smartphone technology would be beneficial to the farmers enabling them to take appropriate decisions even during a stressful situation. This will certainly be crucial to reduce the related risks, enhance opportunities, improve the efficient use of limited resources, minimise cost and increase crop and livestock production and productivity.

The initiative

In 2018, the Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group (GEAG)in collaboration with Department of Science and Technology, Govt. of India initiated a programme to empower 10,000 small and marginal farmers in Gorakhpur and West Champaran regions to adopt climate-resilient technologies. The technologies for climate resilience include flood resilient farming technology, small landholding farm mechanization, developing efficient irrigation system, enhance nutrition of the soil by adopting bio-fertiliser and extend digital technology in farming practices.

GEAG established two Automatic Weather Stations (AWS). One at Mohnag, Gorakhpur and another one at Jamunia, West Champaran coupled with five rain gauge stations at Pachgawan, Dharmpur, Jindapur, Loharpurwa in Gorakhpur and Baikunthwa in West Champaran.  The data collection through AWS and rain gauges and formulation of weather forecast is done through three processes, viz. (i) Data processing, (ii) Quality control, (iii) Objective analysis.

The local IMD office helps GEAG to comprehend the microclimatology of the region, leveraging relevant meteorological data. Initially, at macro-level weather forecast information and forecast models generated by IMD, are collected. Using mathematical modelling methods, these macro-level data is downscaled at the block level and further corroborated with micro-level data collected from AWS and rain gauges located at different places of the intervention areas. Before finalising the weather advisory, the subject expert at GEAG, also considers the prevailing synoptic situation around the location of interest to improve the effectiveness of the forecast.

GEAG initiated weather and agro advisory dissemination services to the small and marginal farmers at their doorsteps, using the advantages of digital smartphone technology available in the rural areas. In collaboration with local IMD office and Narendra Deo Agriculture university, Ayodhya, U.P, GEAG has been conducting detailed observations of meteorological information, quantification of remote sensing data (radar and satellites), deriving indices and providing operational services to the farmers for making strategic decisions in agricultural operations at different stages of crop growth.

Content and dissemination

For agro advisory, GEAG’s in-house professional has developed a climate-smart advisory module, which depicts season-wise crop configurations for all the major crops. The module also considers technical inputs in real-time from agriculture experts in state research institutions. Further, value addition in the crop advisories is also done with an emphasis on promoting low external input agriculture, mainly based on ecological principles.  Collating both sets of information, GEAG sends a weather-based agro advisory to farmers in the local Hindi language including predictive and curative measures promoting sustainable agriculture practices.

Through digital smartphone-based initiative, farmers are informed about the forecast of weather conditions such as the probability of rainfall (light to heavy), temperature (maximum temperature, minimum temperature, and diurnal temperature  variation), maximum and minimum relative humidity, cloud situation and wind direction/speed for the forthcoming 5 days. Within the same weather forecast message, in general, farmers are also informed about the appropriate time of sowing of crops during Kharif, Rabi and Zayad season, scheduling of irrigation, application of fertiliser and pesticides in the field, harvesting as per the prediction of rainfall, and vaccination of pet animals.  Farmers are also alerted, in advance, to prepone or postpone the timing of sowing of major crops, its varieties/ breeds/ plants, based on rainfall occurrence. Along with this, information on possible diseases at different stages of plant growth and their remedial measures for the season-specific crops/vegetables and health care  for domestic animals is also provided.

Altogether six such advisories at the interval of 5 days are being disseminated regularly, directly to the farmers and to the DST field staff’s mobiles in a month through our web-based platform as small text messages. For reaching out to more number of farmers, the DST field staff write these advisories on a display board placed outside every agro service centre so that  farmers visiting the centre are also kept informed.

The initiative informs, in advance, the farmers to undertake various farming activities and most often guide to take an immediate decision at farm level based on the predicted weather conditions and practical agro advisory in the intervention areas.  Apart from this, the initiative also helps farmers to reduce crop losses, reduce input costs in agriculture, and ultimately improve the resilience of their livelihood system

On an average, two to three calls per day or cumulatively 10-12 farmers’ calls or missed calls are received between the periods of two advisories (within 5 days after the advisory sent). Sometimes farmers also send problem queries through text or photos by their mobile on the farmer’s WhatsApp group created by GEAG. They always remain keen to know some additional information on weather /extreme weather warning and advisory on crops/animals husbandry. GEAG’s professionals respond promptly on every farmer’s query. GEAG also takes feedback regularly from farmers on the advisory to know the adoption levels, relevance and consequences of adopting new technologies.

“I work in my farm every day to examine the crop growth and occurrences of pest attacks or crop losses due to erratic weather. I ask my queries via my smartphone to GEAG’s professional, which they advise within a few minutes”, says Durgesh Kannaujia, a young model farmer in Bhuidharpur village in the Jangle kaudia block of Gorakhpur district in Uttar Pradesh.

Impact 

So far, 1200 small and marginal farmers of 18 villages of Gorakhpur and West Champaran have been linked directly with this digital service and tracked across the Kharif and Rabi seasons for the major crops.The 36 model farmers of both the states are systematically trained by GEAG on crop advisories, weather advisories, geo-tagging and crop health monitoring. These model farmers are serving as ‘change agents’ to scale up the digital interventions in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.

Farmers found the forecast on weather parameters to be 90-95 per cent accurate. As per the feedback of farmers in both the states, the digital service has been very useful in enhancing preparedness, increasing adaptive capacity,enabling transplanting of Kharif crops at the appropriate time, irrigation management, application of fertiliser and pesticides in the field.  Most importantly, crop harvesting is happening at the appropriate time.

Advisory for effective decision making

“Weather information helps us in effective decision-making in farm planning activities” says Ramniwas, a 48-year-old model farmer of Rakhukhor village in Gorakhpur.

Gorakhpur in the last two years, has been receiving low rainfall. This made farmers to grow peanuts in Kharif season. Farmers in the region followed the same practice during this year too. Almost 50% of farmers in the village planted peanut crop in Kharif, but this year, the situation changed. The entire Gorakhpur area received 936 mm of rainfall within two months (June- July 2020). The heavy rainfall episodes and waterlogging in the field damaged peanut plants.

Ramanivas through the weather advisory was informed that good rainfall was expected during last week of April and 1st week of May. Being an innovative farmer,he took the information seriously and preponed the sowing of peanuts to first week of May. He sowed peanut in his 0.20 decimal land. He invested Rs. 2300 and earned an income of Rs. 4300 by selling peanuts. He also reduced the input cost by 30 per cent (proper scheduling of irrigation, use of fertiliser) by following the crop advisories during the summer season of 2020.

Automatic Weather Station collecting and processing weather data

Farmers also felt that owing to accuracy of rainfall information, it saved on the cost of unnecessary irrigation, helped in timely paddy and vegetable transplantation. Analysis of farm data of 45 farmers indicated 18-20 per cent reduction in irrigation cost, use of insecticides and fertiliser in the farm activities. The service was found to be very effective and helpful to the small and marginal farmers in day-to-day decision making, which cumulatively has large financial implications on farmer’s income.

Looking ahead

Within a span of two years, the initiative has attracted the farmer’s interest because they see a positive difference in their farms and built capacity to make informed decisions. However, it was not easy to scale this initiative among thousands of people within a short period. Initially, it was a challenging task for the organisation to develop the faith of people over the information and the initiative. Other challenges included poor internet connectivity, frequent change of sim cards which makes tracking difficult and lack of regular feedback from farmers. However, with long experience of working with the community in the agricultural sector and support of local IMD office and Agricultural University, GEAG has been  successful in implementing the initiative in the highly risk-prone areas.

Agriculture sector has huge scope to use digital technologies. Today, farmers in the region, especially young farmers use smartphone for getting knowledge on many farm activities like adopting locally suited seeds and the making of bio fertiliser, protecting crops from diseases and pests, possible market and price rate through different social media platform like YouTube, WhatsApp group, etc. The programme impact indicates that those farmers who are empowered with weather information and agro advisories are performing well in agriculture.Their crop yield, income and resilience against weather shocks have increased. Therefore, there is an urgent need and a lot of scope for further innovation in integrating digital technologies in farming activities through strong partnerships between governments, businesses, and farmers, as well as the regulatory environment to ensure that digital technology remains affordable and accessible to the farmers.

Acknowledgements

We are grateful to the SEED Division, Department of Science and Technology, Govt. of India, for supporting technology development for the small and marginal farmers in climate stress areas of eastern U.P and Northern Bihar. We also express our gratitude to Mr Kailash Pandey, Climatologist at GEAG for executing the weather and agro advisory service using digital technologies to our farmers.

References

Pandey, K and Mishra, R, Weather-Agro Advisories: Empowering Transboundary Communities in India and Nepal,2019, published by GEAG, https://geagindia.org/sites/default/files/2020-03/Paper-Weather-Agro-Advisories-Revised-190904.pdf

  

Dr B.K Singh

Senior Programme Officer

Ajay Singh

Programme Professional

Archana Srivastava

Programme Officer

 Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group

224, Purdilpur, M G College Road

Gorakhpur – 273 001, Uttar Pradesh, INDIA