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Mobile based agro-advisory initiatives: An analytical review

Yagya Dev Mishra and Reeta Mishra

Rajmata Vijayaraje Scindia Krishi Vishwa Vidyalaya, Gwalior (M.P.)

E-mail: ydmpantnagar a,gmail.com

Introduction

In modern agriculture, soft resources like knowledge and skills are as important as hard resources like input, labour and machinery. In India, we have about 1 20 million farm holdings and this number is increasing every year with fragmentations. The estimates indicate that 60 per cent of Indian farmers do not have access to any source of information for advanced agricultural technologies resulting in a huge adoption gap. It is estimated that to make available one extension personnel for 800-1000 farm families, at least 1.3 to 1.5 million field level extension personnel will be required, against the present availability of 0.lmillion extension personnel. Hence, there is an immediate need of vibrant, dynamic and innovative approach to be adopted for agricultural extension in order to achieve targeted growth rate and serve the farmers in a better manner. Further, land and water resources are almost reaching their limits; hence, achieving food security heavily relies on \"Knowledge Resource\" (Saravanan, 2011). In the current scenario, it is expected that the integration of ICTs in traditional agricultural extension would make available much needed impetus to agricultural sector through delivery of necessary information to the millions of the farmers on regular basis with minimal expenditure. Here the mobile phone comes into the picture with a spark of hope. In today\'s world, almost everybody owns a mobile phone. This huge reach, if harnessed in agricultural extension, can change the face of agriculture altogether in a developing country like India where we have nothing to lose by using it as a medium to disseminate agricultural information in multimodal form.

Reach of mobile phones: Current status

The strategic reforms in telecommunication sector in India during last decade of 20`x\' century facilitated a widespread ICT network across the country. The last decade witnessed the rapid stretch of mobile phones in the country. In the beginning of the twenty first century, possessing a mobile phone was a status symbol and a costly choice for an average Indian. But, during last few years, it has created history in fast spread of any goods or technology. In a short span of time, the mobile phone became an essential article for every person of the society from elite class to poor masses. The phenomena] growth of mobile phones surpassed the growth on other popular ICT tools like radio and television. The penetration of mobile phones in rural areas is still less as compare to urban India. Despite of several efforts at Government and private level, there is a huge gap in tele-density of rural and urban localities.

Density of telecom Subscribers (wireless) in India

S. No. Area No. of Subscribes (Millions) Tele density (%)

I. Rural 414.18 47.78%

2. Urban 555.71 143.08%

3. Total 969.89 80.16%

Source: www.irai.gov.in

Agricultural extension and mobile phone: A growing affiliation

The information revolution enable us to exchange the information and feelings with friends, professionals, clients, etc. for upgrading our knowledge & skills and updating ourselves with the recent developments in every varied facet of life. Information is thus emerging as more and more powerful tool of governance in our day-to-day endeavour. Experts in the field of information are confident in predicting that our poverty line will no longer be measured in terms of money, but in terms of information access and use. It is merely possible because of the revolution of information communication technology which is responsible for wide spread penetration of computer technology as well as mobile services in

to the social fabric. The technology in turn influenced the society, development and social environment. That is to say that in this age of information revolution, information technologies are being used in almost all walks of life.

Agriculture extension is no longer unscathed with the penetration of ICTs for keeping the farmers updated with research and development in the field of agriculture and allied sciences. The ICTs in general and mobile phones in particular are extensively being used by the public and private extension machinery for disseminating relevant and timely messages to the farming community. Emerging mobile based information and communication networks have redefined the way knowledge is shared, processed, stored and retrieved. Even in rural India, mobile phone is having a profound impact changing the rationale of development activities and strategies. A number of initiatives have proved the potential of it in meeting the information and communication needs of the people for agriculture and rural development.

• The mobile technology and its mass reach helps in bridging the digital divide situation between haves and have-nots.

• The mobile based messaging enables us the faster sharing of information and innovations and proving as a change agent in changing farmers\' lives and agrarian situation by improving access to information and knowledge with negligible time and money involved.

• More than forty different efforts by the Government and private sectors have been made so far in the country for reaching the farmers through mobile phones.

• The Kisan Mobile Advisories are being issued by various agencies on varied area of interest of the farmers viz; improved agricultural practices, pest and disease control, market and weather updates etc.

• The Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) has made it mandatory to issue regular advisories to the farmers and field extension functionaries through its wide spread KVK network and other functional extension units.

• It helps the farmers in taking day-to-day decisions and developing the risk bearing and entrepreneurial ability.

• The results of the efforts are significant and encouraging for replications in the future.

Mobile based agro-advisory initiatives by various agencies

S. No. Name of project Initiating agency Year Operational area

1. Farmer Call Centre (Kissan Call Centre) Ministry of Agriculture, Govt. of India 2004 All India

2. SMS Broadcast Service KVK, Babhaleshwar 2006 Ahmednagar, Maharashtra

3. Mobile Advisory Services by ICAR-KVKs ICAR, New Delhi 2008 Concerned district of KVK

4. SMS Service to Farmers Department of Agriculture, Haryana 2008 Haryana and Chandigarh

5. Dynamic Market Information (DMI), TNAU-C-DAC, Hyderabad The Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (TNAU) and Centre for Development

of Advanced Computing (C- DAC), Hyderabad 2008 South India

6 Kissan Kerala Department of Agriculture Government of Kerala and Indian

Institute of Information Technology and Management Kerala (IIITM-K) 2009 Kerala

7 Mobile Multimedia

Agriculture Advisory

 System (MAAS) ICAR -NAIP 2009 Farmers of India

8 Mahaagri SMS Govt of Maharashtra 2009 Maharashtra

9 vKVK (Virtual Krishi Vigyan Kendra) Govt. Of India (Krishi Vigyan Kendra) 2010 U.P., Uttarakhand and Karnataka

10 Mandi on Mobile Digital Mandi BSNL (U.P.) and Mandi Parishad, U. P.

BSNL in collaboration with IIT, Kanpur 2011 Uttar Pradesh

11 Market Price by SMS Rubber Board, India 2011 South India

12 Kisan Help Line Bihar Agricultural University, Sabour 2012 Bihar

13 Annapurna Krishi Prasaar Seva: Govt. of India and ANGRAU, Hyderabad 2012 Andhra Pradesh/Telangana

14 Mobile based Agro Advisory System in North- East India (m4agriNEl) Central Agricultural University (CAU) and Media Lab Asia 2012 Meghalaya

15 mKisan Portal Government of India 2013 All India

16 Intelligent Advisory

System for Farmers (IASF) Department of Information and Technology Government of India and other collaborating partners

2013 Manipur and Meghalaya

Private sector initiatives

S. No. Name of project Initiating agency Year Operational area

1 Farmers\' Helpline by Chambal Fertilisers and Chemicals Limited (Hello Uttam) Chambal Fertilisers and Chemicals Limited 2000 Rajasthan, Punjab, U.P. and Haryana

2. Lifelines India One World South Asia (OWSA) with the support of British Telecom and CISCO, \'T\'ech Mahindra and WIPRO 2006 North and Central India

3. Warana Unwired Warana Cooperative, a sugarcane farmers\' group and Microsoft 2006 Sugarcane Farmers of Maharashtra

4 Fisher Friend M. S. Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF), Tata Teleservices and Asute System Technology 2007 Tamilnad

5 Reuters Market Light (RML) Reuters group Ple. 2007 13states of India

6 IFFCO Kisan Sanchar Limited (IKSL) Bharti Airtel Limited and IFFCO 2008 All India

7. Nano Ganesh Ossian Agro-Automation Pvt. Ltd, India 2008

Current status of agro-advisory services through mobile phones

During past few years, the usefulness of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) especially Internet and cell phone have increased significantly. These emerging tools are being success in bridging the gap between scientific know how and application of technology at field level by developmental agencies throughout the world. The revolutions in information technologies have a wide and transforming impact on the fields directly linked to our daily needs such as agriculture, healthcare, education, defense and so on. The agricultural extension system is heavily being transformed through the application of internet and mobile phones. The ICT mediated extension systems are acting as key agents for changing agrarian situation and farmers\' lives by improving access to information and sharing of knowledge.

As per the statistics of TRAI, the mobile density in rural areas of India is approaching 50% with more than 414 million mobile subscribers in 2015. But the penetration of internet is still not significantly associated with number of mobile owners. The rural people are largely using mobile phone with basic features like voice calls and text messaging. The application of mobile phones in agricultural extension is growing, and has a great potential to be further developed and spread as evident through the success of Kisan Mobile Advisory Services initiated by various Government and private institutions. The Kisan Mobile Advisory services through messages is being used to deliver the needful agricultural information and specially to improve farmers\' agricultural technical knowledge with decision making ability, so that, they may enable to increase their production and productivity to fulfil market demands with securing better quality life and income in present competitive agrarian economy. The advisory was sent to targeted farmers covering the broad category of information like, crop production, livestock management, weather forecast. marketing, general awareness and other enterprises etc.

Analysis of mobile based agricultural extension projects in India on various parameters

After a rigorous review of various public and private sector initiatives on mobile based extension through available literature on various aspects, it can be summarised as among public sectors, mainly research-extension organisations (ICAR-KVKs), State Agricultural Universities and commodity based research and development institute, development department of state Governments providing services in collaboration with information technology and software solution providers such as; Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) and Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC). Interestingly, private initiatives are mainly from the NGOs, Co-operatives (IFFCO, KRIBHCO etc.), and also from the core corporate houses like Airtel, Nokia, TCS, Thomson & Reuters etc. Almost all the private players are exploring business model by value addition in the information services and hence, innovating continuously like mKrishi of TATA Consultancy Services. But, unfortunately, most of the mobile based agro-advisory initiatives of the public sector provide routine information with limited refinement and validation whereas the private players focus more on micro analysis based information with customised approach. There are certain aspects considered for in analysis and described underneath;

1. Source of content and its management

As far as sources of information is concerned, the public sector mainly relies on their research resources (like universities and ICAR institutes, and other R&D wings) for content generation but private sectors appoints dedicated teams to generate location specific information and some of the them engaging in partnerships with others who can provide better content (like Life Lines of India having association with Indian Society of Agribusiness Professionals (ISAP).

2. Partnership: Agriculture Technology vs Information Technology

Most of the mobile based projects had partnership with information technology solution providers and agricultural technology experts like TNAU-C-DAC, private mobile software solution providers and KVKs, Airtel-IFFCO etc. Collaboration ensures better looking after the information needs of the clients and ensures a sustainable. as well as dynamic portal where the information is updated regularly.

3. Coverage on various aspects of farming

Market and weather information and crop advisory are generally offered by most of the mobile based advisory services. However, preliminary analyses of Lifelines of India indicate that majority (57 per cent) of the questions are on horticulture sector followed by field crops (27 per cent) and animal husbandry and dairy (5 per cent).

4. Sustainability and Continuity

Few projects like IFFCO Kisan Sanchar Limited and Lifelines of India sustains (system and financial sustainability) over the years and continue to expand their services to the larger clients. However, most of the other projects are stuck in pilot basis or riot scaledup. Projects like Warana Wired Village have been up-scaled to Warana Unwired and pilot tested but has not yet been applied on a long-term basis.

5. Cost analysis: Conventional extension vs ICT based extension

A sustainable revenue generating model in projects like aAqua. IKSL. Nokia Life Tools, RML, SMS broadcast Service of KVK, Bhabaleshwar, Fisher Friend, etc. is the main reason behind their sustainability for over a long period and benefits the farmer ultimately.

Even the farmers and subscribers are voicing the same concern saying that the utility of the SMS alerts are more when they come with a cost rather than free of cost (Bhaskar, 2013).

6. Message format: Text vs Voice vs Video and Proactive vs Reactive

The literacy rate of India might show an upward trend but as of now, there are many farmers in rural areas who are illiterate or functionally illiterate as was found in the study on KMAS in Meghalaya and for them, a voice or speech guided system is far more effective than a simple text. In the preliminary study of Video kheti, it was also experienced that the participants were more interested in using the voice command rather than using the touch interface to navigate among the videos in the application. The integration of IVRS is found to be a common trend in most of the mobile based advisory system which is also an indicator of the same. The information which is demand driven have better results rather than just routine messaging. When the information is provided after the problem strike gives limited results whereas proactive information solution give more significant results.

7. New vs Improved old

The trend of projects for mobile based advisory systems have been found to be addons rather than replacement of the existing ones with the old drawbacks addressed properly. Sustainability of the advisory systems beyond project period and without the continued funding has been a problem with most of the extension programmes in India. While private approaches like IKSL, Lifelines of India, RML are expanding their user base, other projects are just being piled up in the growing list of mobile based advisory services.

8. Impact Assessment

Impact studies of the projects after a certain period of project implementation has been insignificant. Even though the number of subscribers is listed and updated, studies regarding the actual impact of the project on the socio-economic conditions of the subscribers have been less. Individual researches have been conducted for Kisan Call Centre, IKSL, Lifelines of India, Spoken Web, etc., but the integration of research to find-out the impact as in m4agriNEt has been taken up by very few projects.

Key components for success of mobile based agricultural advisory services

Customised content

Location specific and personalized (farmer specific) contents are more useful to the farming community than generalised contents. Further, additional information like availability of fertilizers and pesticides in local areas, as found in the study on KMAS in Meghalaya, is highly regarded and required by the farmers.

Innovativeness

Continued innovation and appropriate mobile application development is necessary to ensure the sustainability of the services. Agricultural information has moved beyond 60-80 character SMS and voice, pictures and videos are more in demand. Development of applications for smart phones as well as medium range phones can go a long way in increasing the effectiveness and popularity of the service with mobile phones getting cost economic every day.

Multimedia and media mix

In addition to text messages, voice, image and multimedia based services need to be initiated to sustain momentum in the mobile advisory services, make them more interactive and change with the changing needs of the next generation users and mobile phones.

Timeliness

Timeliness is a factor that impacts agricultural information to a greater extent. Late or too early messages do not have much utility for the farmers and ultimately the service loses its credibility.

Trustworthiness

The message sent to a farmer from a trusted source, irrespective of the format, determines to a great extent the success of the service provided. Personalised and location specific messages have more utility than general ones; real time market price of commodities, price forecasts; weather and disease and pest attack forecasts are much more desired than preventions. The credibility of the service providers among the clientele is important for the sustainability of the services.

Appropriate partnership

Partnership with appropriate content generators and software solution providers can be the key for success of the mobile based agricultural advisory services.

Learning from past

Majority of the mobile based projects were operational as pilot projects. Except few (IKSL, Life Lines India) most other projects were operated in a small scale. Systematic impact studies are yet to be conducted. However, some of the private initiatives are making a lot of promise for scaling up with innovative business model. At the same time much overvalued projects like Reuters Market light (RML) evaluation report by the expert, from the Oxford University and International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) indicated no significant impact among farmers due to mobile based market information services. At the same time farmers are paying for the services of the IKSL where they feel value for agricultural information and farmers\' enrolment is continuously increasing. An evaluation of Avaaz Otalo on cotton farmers in Gujarat showed that the information source of the farmers for taking major agricultural decisions changed from peer groups to the mobile advisory service once it established credibility with the farmers. This indicates the behavioural change of subscribers by reliable mobile advisory services. But again, some attempts have failed to register with the subscribers like KMAS of some of the KVKs as they did not properly address the needs of the farmers. The need of information as text messages have changed and farmers are more interested in voice, pictures and videos which give them a better idea about agricultural methods and practices. With these needs, the services have evolved fast.

Kisan Call Centre, which was basically a land line (wired phones) based pull service has given way to mobile applications for high end smart phones; basic text messages in KMAS, mKrishi, etc. have evolved to voice messages (IKSL) to multimedia content (m4agriNEI) to mobile applications (Videokheti). The use of basic phones are reducing and making way for Enhanced Data rates for GSM Evolution (EDGE) and General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) enabled smart-phones. Operating systems of mobile phones have evolved a lot with Google\'s Android, Microsoft\'s Windows and Apple\'s iOS. Along with it has increased the opportunity to evolve the research and development in mobile for agricultural and rural development. Applications developed for Apple App Store, Nokia Ovi Store, Nokia Marketplace can be accessed through 2G, 3G and 4G internet connections. And with the prices of smart-phones coming down and user base increasing every day, these applications can go a long way in making agriculture both attractive and profitable. Even the nature of impact studies have changed from mere calculation of user base to increase in income of the subscribers, effect in their socio-economic conditions, their behavioural changes before and after accessing the service to profit of the service providers to make the projects sustainable and take them from pilot experiments to up scaled sustainable ones.

and Path ahead

The magical gadget called mobile phone offers enormous applications and have shown incredible opportunities in agricultural extension system in a country like ours, but also poses a lot of challenges due to lack of mobile friendly and locally relevant digital content, rural mobile infrastructure limitations (network and signal, electricity problem), illiteracy, large number of local languages and tribal dialects. Further, numbers of pilot projects are undertaken in project mode and after the project period sustainability becomes the major hurdle. Hence, instead of standalone projects, mobile based applications need to be integrated with ongoing agricultural extension programmes and methods. Public-private partnerships for project implementation and web to mobile, voice, image and text integrated applications need to be developed to cater to the farmer specific information and knowledge. Mobile based advisory services for farmers will be encouraged from the National Agricultural Research System (State/Central Agricultural Universities, Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) institutions and \\GOs) in collaboration with the technology solution providers such as IITs, C-DAC, Private (TCS, Wipro, Nokia, Airtel etc). Based on farmers\' need assessment, location and farmer specific information need to be generated in multimedia format for the dissemination among the millions of farm families. Systematic studies on farmers\' mobile use behaviour and impact of on-going projects to be carried out to understand the real benefits of mobile based agricultural advisory services. To say mobiles are going to revolutionise agricultural extension might be overstating the facts right now, but so far, within a few years of its introduction in the country, it has changed the mode of agricultural extension and has proved to be a great aid to the human resource of the extension system. It has added personal touch to the machines through voice calls, made understanding easier through pictures and videos and instant communication with agricultural experts anytime anywhere a reality through mobile communications. All that is needed is to learn from the success and failures alike and make mobiles an integral part of agricultural extension as it has become an integral part of the life of the common people.

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