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Going digital – Integrating experiential innovations in coconut farming

Anithakumari. P


Small farms can become efficient when tacit knowledge of farmers is integrated with explicit knowledge from other sources. ICAR’s initiative has shown that this could be possible by adopting digital tools.


Reporting right from the field

More than 10 million farm families depend on coconut and coconut based farming systems for livelihood as well as nutrition of the family.Coconut is cultivated largely on small and marginal land holdings, where the contribution of family labour is predominant. Farmers adopt practices like resource recycling thereby reducing the cost of cultivation.

Homestead gardens are customized, localized and evolved, based on experiential learning of generation of farmers. Small systems are still open to learning from their own communities as well as from external sources. Information and the advisories needed for coconut cultivation are varied and are not available from a single source of the present extension systems.

Field problem reporting window – click and touch for instant reporting

Technology development, dissemination and decision to adopt them in the field is not a linear simple process. It requires feedback, technology assemblage, refinement and integration with knowledge and skills of farming communities. Digital technology provides an interactive platform and the tele density of major coconut growing states such as Tamil Nadu (115.62%), Kerala (124.17%), Karnataka (109.57%) and Andhra Pradesh (97.21%)  reveal that there is a huge scope to use mobiles asa means of information sharing.

Development of farmer friendly mobile app-E Kalpa

Digital mode of communication has the strength of providing rapid advisories by providing customized and authentic information to small and marginal coconut farmers; provide right information directly at the right time, at an affordable cost. To help the coconut farming community to access crop advisory digitally, ICAR CPCRI developed E-kalpa, a comprehensive farmer friendly mobile based android application for coconut, arecanut and cocoa.

The development of the app has been a long process. Before developing the app, for three years the need and receptivity of the farming community was assessed. A study was conducted among 750 sample coconut farmers in Alappuzha district. The study revealed that 92 percent of the farmers possessed mobile phones and majority of them were having android operating system. But none of them were using mobile apps for knowledge access and were not aware too.

During 2016 a pilot version was uploaded in English language with only 30 percent of the technology snippets beingin Malayalam language. From a telephone survey of the users, it was learned that farmers highly prefer technology snippets in their own local language. A multi disciplinary team of scientists and extension officials collated, edited, refined and uploaded the multi lingual technology snippets in the App.

Screen shot of e kalpa

Most of the coconut growers are marginal land holders. In coconut based homestead systems, farmers need a cafeteria of information on inter crops, mixed crops, life stock, poultry, fisheries etc., as a sustainable ecological unit to meet the economic and dietary requirements of the families. Based on the feedback and demand of the users for crop information on inter/mixed crops in the systems components such as ‘Crop Information on 79 crops’ and ‘Input Calculator for coconut’, were added subsequently. A study by ICAR CPCRI during 2017 showed that farmers highly preferred interpersonal localized sources followed by multi-colour images supported with text format in local language. The process of modification, correction and addition is a continuous exercise for maintaining the quality, usage and authenticity of the technology snippets.

The interactive app empowered farmers and extensions officials in gaining and transferring knowledge with confidence.

E kalpa was launched in online mode only. However, to reduce the internet dependency in rural areas and to lessen the cost, the contents were made available in offline mode also, which was well accepted. The app can be freely downloaded from google play store (https://goo.gl/b3GTk0).

Features of E-kalpa

E-Kalpahas the following features.

a) Technology snippets / knowledge base on coconut, arecanut and cocoa

The technology snippets are formulated by a team of scientists. The contents are furnished in simple language as text with appropriate images. A total of 271 technology snippets on coconut, arecanut and cocoa on varieties, production technologies, plant protection technologies, cropping systems, harvest and post-harvest technologies including machineries and processing have been developed. The contents are available in multi-language mode – Hindi, English, Malayalam, Kannada and Bengali

The content is scrutinized for errors, if any, by a multi – disciplinary team of experts. Periodical refinement of the technology snippets based on users feedback is being adhered to systematically.

b) Input calculator for coconut

Input use for coconut plantation varies depending upon the size of the farm and the age of the palms. In the input calculator, a farmer has to enter the number of coconut palms in his garden, according to the age and with a click, the detail report of quantity of inputs (for eg.,organic manure, dolomite / lime, chemical fertilizers, cowpea for basal management) for each of the palms and the total requirement will be displayed. Points to remember for fertilizer application is also provided.

Mrs. Usha Gopalakrishnan, Kottinatu house, Kayamkulam remarked that “This is a very useful and simple feature which I found to be very convenient for any coconut farmer for correctly estimating the input requirement.”

c) Crop information

Coconut is mostly cultivated as the base crop of homestead system integrating various other crops qualifying it as a unit of agro forestry. Hence a small scale farmer would need information regularly and continuously on these varied crops. E-kalpa provides basic information and critical knowledge on cropping seasons, seed rates, spacing and recommendations on nutrient management of 79 crops in this component.This feature is very much useful not only for farmers but also for field level workers and extension officials.

 d) Farm issue management through real time problem reporting

This is an interactive feature of ‘e kalpa’ for reporting field problems and accessing solutions from scientists and is available in online mode. Farmers can report the field issues or problems as and when they notice it in their field. This can be sent in the form of messages, images, audio or video.Diagnosis and solutions are provided directly by the scientist or multi-disciplinary team of scientists of ICAR CPCRI. The issue reported is automatically tagged with the mobile  number and the GPS, which enables tracking of the field problems.

Besides e kalpa, other digitally available information sources on coconut by ICAR CPCRI are ICAR CPCRI You Tube channel which provides multi language content on coconut technologies and advisory services through WhatsApp and Facebook. 

Outreach, usage and response

The usage of the mobile App was very slow in the initial period with 1000 to 1600 during the first two years, and picked up slowly and almost 30 percent improvement in the lockdown period compared to the previous corresponding period. Odanadu Farmer Producer Company Ltd., the FPO which is being supported by NABARD and ICAR CPCRI, conducted a rapid telephone survey among its shareholders on digital readiness. They found it to be almost absent among them, particularly old and women SHG farmers.  Subsequently the FPO organised skill based training on the use of mobile phones for accessing FaceBook, WhatsApp, mobile applications, browsing internet, YouTube and other knowledge sources on farming and networking effectively. The lesson plan is family based so that mutual learning makes it acceptable and adoptable. For enabling wider use of the app, the FPO has been promoting the app in all its shareholders meetings, training programmes and farmers meetings.Presently 5000 downloads are recorded with continuous use based on the knowledge demand of the farmer or extension officials.

A study was conducted among 100 users in 2018 on the desired attributes and found that 93.20 percent of the users perceived knowledge/technology snippets in local language as the most accepted feature followed with offline access (84.4%), direct interaction with scientists/experts (73 %), Real time advisories for field problems (71.3%) and quick updating of information (64.90%). The study indicated that there should be concerted efforts to bridge the digital gap in skills on effective use of ICT tools among farmers. The gender perspectives needs in depth analysis to maintain equity and inclusiveness.

The real time field issue reporting was very interesting in terms of the variety of problems pertaining not only to coconut, arecanut or cocoa but on other crops in the cropping systems also. Around 80 to 85 percent of the field issues reported consisted of problems with multiple causes (eg. Yellowing of leaves), difficult to identify by the farmer (eg. Red palm weevil coupled with leaf rot disease) and hard to decipher or diagnosed (eg. Micro nutrient deficiencies or soil problems).

The app not only helped farmers in accessing information, the interactive feature/process empowered farmers and extensions officials in transferring knowledge with confidence. Mr. Jagesh Kumar, K T Sadanam, a young coconut farmer from Pathiyoor panchayath, Kerala remarked that “farming is time critical and knowledge intensive. e-kalpa is a right tool which made information available in multiple languages, besides having very handy features like crop information on the inter/mixed crops in coconut gardens, input calculator for coconut which is flexible for individual farmer needs, and technology snippets in local language with appropriate and simple text and photos”.

The scope of digital farming in evolving smart farms is very vast. Small farms also need to be smart and this is possible by integrating digital tools. Integration and assemblage of tacit knowledge of the farmers with the explicit knowledge from digital and other formal sources is the way forward for being practically smart in the scenarios of climate change and market challenges. Recent experience showed that digital knowledge resources are of practical value and within the reach of farmers or customers, even in the remote areas, especially during the times of pandemic.

However, it is not devoid of challenges. Poor internet connectivity was perceived to be the greatest limitation by many users. Other major challenges include the amount of time required for direct interaction and meeting deadlines for quick responses since multiple expert consultation was required for solutions. Also coordination of operations in multi language mode was found to be very challenging. Some innovative solutions for bridging the gap include ‘Common digital facility centres with Wi Fi spotsat local points’ and ‘Community digital master farmers’ training programmes’. Digital based information applications could support and serve the multiple stake holders in coconut farming placing the farmers in the front line.

 

Anithakumari.P,

Principal Scientist (Agricultural Extension),

ICAR Central Plantation Crops Research Institute (CPCRI),

Regional Station, Krishnapuram P.O., Kayamkulam – 690533