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e-Arik Center: Using ICT for educating farmers

The ICT based agricultural education has the potential of empowering farming communities by improving access to information and knowledge sharing. The Village Knowledge Centers in North East India is one such initiative which uses ICT as an educational tool.

e-Arik Center at Sille village.

e-Arik Center at Sille village.

The tribal farming communities of north-east region of India remain one of the most disadvantaged lot having little access to appropriate agricultural information. Limited technical manpower in the agricultural research and extension organisations is a perennial problem in North-East India.In 2008, the ratio of extension personnel to farmer in East Siang district was abysmally low at 1:4090. Further, lack of transport and communication facilities, limited financial support to the technology transfer, difficult terrain, mountainous periphery and frequent natural disasters, less infrastructure facility makes access to information very difficult. This lack of access to information is manifested in low agricultural productivity, particularly of rice, which is lowest (1.76 tons/ha) among the states of India.

A survey was conducted in selected villages during 2007, to understand the current situation and future needs of information exchange on agriculture. The results indicated that only four per cent of farmers had regular access to agricultural information. A majority of tribal farmers who were growing paddy, expressed a strong need for information on pest and disease management. The survey also looked into the access and use of communication tools by local communities. While very few farmers possessed cellular phones, none of them owned a computer nor was there internet facility in the surrounding three villages. Infact, more than half of the households had no power supply.

Considering disappointing agricultural education and extension scenario among the farmers, an ICT based initiative entitled e- Arik (e-Agriculture) was initiated during mid 2007. The first Village Knowledge Centre (VKC) was set up in Yagrung village in East Siang district of Arunachal Pradesh State.

e-Arik Village Knowledge Center

There is project team comprising of Research fellows and computer instructor, who serve as facilitators helping farmers use the VKC. Farmers need to register themselves to be able to use the services. Presently, 500 farmers from 12 remote tribal villages are registered under the e-Arik system. The project team helps farmers access ICT based information. They also help them in engaging in remote consultation with other agricultural experts. Both Central Agricultural University (CAU) and the Krishi Vigyan Kendra provide the technical support.

While the CAU is responsible for the overall project implementation and to provide scientific advisory services to the farmers, the KVK has been organising trainings and demonstrations on the farm and carried out follow up activities. The Project Advisory Committee comprising of the project team, village tribal council members and farmers, regularly monitors, supervises and is responsible for quality control of project activities.

Information exchange

Farmer facilitator recording field situation using a mobile phone.
Farmer facilitator recording field situation using a mobile phone.

A lot of information sharing is being done through the e-Arik centers. The e-Arik project staff visit each farmer at least twice, every month. The project staff regularly visit the fields to observe crop conditions and to diagnose pests, diseases, nutrient deficiencies and physiological problems. They digitally document these issues using ICTs in the field and, via e-mail and web-cam, communicate them to staff at the e-Arik Research Laboratory at the Central Agricultural University.Locally educated young farmers are also trained in these activities and serve as farmer facilitators. Problems are analysed by the experts, who also visit the fields if required. The recommendations are passed on to the e-Arik village knowledge centre by e-mail. The concerned farmers are also informed by phone and personal face-to-face communication is carried out by the farmer-facilitators.

The project team has taken up specific documentation for eg., digital documentation of pest and diseases, on crop history etc., which serves as a resource reference for all concerned. Dissemination of information is supplemented with farm advisory services for major crops (rice and khasi mandarin). Farm market and weather information, announcements on farm training programmes, information on governance, health, and education sectors, results of survey reports, newsletters and farmers training reports are published through the project web portal (www.earik.in).

Some are also displayed on the notice boards at the e-Arik Center, besides information on computer education and general developmental and environmental awareness for the farmers and school children. Also farm multimedia shows, on-farm training and demonstrations are regularly organised by the e-Arik project staff. Good practices are disseminated through innovative approaches such as farmer-to-farmer communication and local self-help groups.

Impact

Farmers implemented a number of sustainable farm practices, such as vermi-compost, using leguminous crops for nitrogen fixation, bunds and ridges for water retention; stone contour bunds, agroforestry, crop rotation, indigenous pest and disease management etc. However, when it came to the adoption of new methods of cultivation like the System of Rice Intensification, only two farmers had adopted in the year 2010. It may take few more years to convince more farmers to adopt, because it follows entirely different farm practice compared to their usual cultivation methods which were followed over the generations.

Another positive result was that many famers moved away from shifting cultivation. Around 55% of farmers developed new Khasi mandarin orchards in their Jhum field, permanently moving away from the age old slash and burn agriculture to settled cultivation.

After three years of implementation, around 42% of e-Arik beneficiaries reported increased production of rice and 29% reported increase in Khasi mandarin crops. It was estimated that on an average, the income increased by Rs.1689 for Rice crop and Rs. 5251 for Khasi Manadarin trees, among 500 e-Arik beneficiaries.

Besides improvements in farm, the e-Arik advisory services helped farmers save a lot of time and cost in accessing information. In comparison to the conventional extension services, farmers in this system saved around Rs.2400 per year on their travel cost.

Scaling-Up

Impact on agro-advisory services by using ICTs were assessed regularly and based on the findings project was refined and project activities were added to facilitate better information and knowledge access among the tribal farmers. A number of challenges had to be addressed before it was scaled up. For instance, the Adi dialect spoken by the tribal communities does not have a script. Hence, Adi dialect translation was used simultaneously along with English and Hindi languages for effective communication among the farmers. In the publications, the Adi dialect was communicated by English alphabets. Also, one of the biggest challenges the project had to face was the fluctuating electricity voltage and frequent power cuts. This was overcome by battery back-ups, universal power supply and using step-up inverters. During the failure of online connectivity, offline content is made available as a substitute.

Overcoming the limitations and based on the positive feedback and farmers interest, the e-Arik project concept was extended to the entire district by establishing 10 e-village centres in collaboration with the C-DAC, Hyderabad during 2008 and followed by e-Agri Kiosk project with the support of the NABARD in four villages for facilitating better agricultural extension education among the tribal farmers.

Lessons Learnt

Need based and farmer specific content is not readily available for dissemination. Along with modern technologies, local innovations and ITKs need to be suitably refined and then disseminated by the ICTs.

Facilitating information exchange alone will not result in desirable changes in adopting sustainable farm practices. Appropriate technologies need to be demonstrated and appropriate resources be made available based on field conditions.

Information and knowledge on farm practices along with other linkages – forward (farm machinery, manure, seeds) and backward (post-harvest technology and market) are essential in adopting farm practices. This is necessary to turn information into agricultural action.

For successful implementation of the ICT based extension education to farmers and also for its sustainability, integration of the other public agencies like the Department of Agriculture, Horticulture, Fisheries, Krishi Vigyan Kendras and private knowledge providers in the agriculture sector like NGOs, farm input dealers, agribusiness firms etc., is crucial.

References

Saravanan, R., e-Arik: Using ICTs to Facilitate “Climate-Smart Agriculture” among Tribal Farmers of North-East India, ICTs and Agricultural Adaptation to Climate Change Case Study, 2011, Centre for Development Informatics, University of Manchester, UK. www.niccd.org/NICCD_AgricAdapt_Case_Study_eArik.pdf

Saravanan, R., e-Agriculture Prototype for Knowledge Facilitation among Tribal Farmers of North-East India: Innovations, Impact and Lessons, 2013, Journal of Agricultural Education and Extension. Vol. 19 (2), April 2013. Pp: 113-31 http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/1389224X.2012.718247

Saravanan, R., Kathiresan, C., Narmi Darang, Indra Devi, T. Supriya Devi, and Lizamoni Chungkurang, e-Village for Agriculture and Rural Development: Integrating ICTs with Traditiona Agricultural Extension Methods in North-East India, 2011, In: Saravanan, R., Kathiresan, C., and Indra Devi, T. (Eds). Information and Communication Technology for Agriculture and Rural Development, New India Publishing Agency, New Delhi.

Acknowledgements

The author expresses gratitude to the DSIR (MoS&T, GoI), C-DAC, Hyderabad and NABARD for providing research grants to carryout e-Agriculture such as e-Arik, e-Village and e-AgriKiosk initiatives, respectively in Arunachal Pradesh state of North-East India. Author is also thankful to the farmers, research team members and staff of the Central Agricultural University and other agricultural stakeholders who facilitated successful implementation of the e-Agriculture projects.

R Saravanan
Associate Professor (Communication)
School of Social Sciences
College of Post Graduate Studies
Central Agricultural University (CAU)
Umiam, Barapani – 793 103, Meghalaya, India
E-mail: saravananraj@hotmail.com / saravanancau@gmail.com