Opinion

How to lift farm income

Lloyd Mathias/Rameesh Kailasam | Updated on July 22, 2021

Use of tech and corporate involvement will help

Agriculture in India has undergone significant evolution since the Green Revolution, with the processes around seeds, farming, cropping and irrigation improving over time. However, there still are areas where India lags other countries. Supply chain and end-buyer engagement are critical aspects in agriculture, and these can get a boost by adopting internet-based technologies.

Smart use of digital tech will not only help improve output but will also ensure farmers adopt sustainable practices. Digital tech must be utilised to support farmers and rural communities by building competitiveness of agri value-chains and leveraging opportunities for agri-exports.

To benefit from the emerging opportunities, farmers will also require access to new knowledge in crop management and efficient linkages to input and output markets with each cluster being equipped with a micro-ecosystem. Such a transformation is possible through multi-stakeholder partnerships amongst the different players in the ecosystem, be it farmers, input providers, research institutions, value-chain partners, brand owners, financial institutions and the like.

The e-Choupal initiative

Corporate India, which already has deep distribution networks, can help further the digital revolution to empower farmers effectively. One such initiative that has stood out over time is e-Choupal, which is a good example of a multi-stakeholder partnership. Launched in June 2000 by ITC, it is the largest private sector initiative amongst all internet-based interventions in rural India, covering over 40 lakh farmers and a large range of crops spread over 35,000 villages across 10 States.

This initiative brings the benefits of agricultural best practices to small and marginal farmers. The e-Choupal network has successfully set up integrated rural hubs called Choupal Sagars that serve as procurement centres, warehouses as well as rural retail outlets. Engagement with the rural consumers is facilitated at marketing platforms, called Choupal Haats, that have been built along the lines of village fairs.

Backed by intensive research and knowledge, this initiative provides agri-extension services which are qualitatively superior and involves pro-active hand-holding of farmers to ensure productivity gains.

The new e-Choupal 4.0 version integrates modern technology and connectivity and is being driven aggressively by ITC. It is designed as a crop agnostic integrated solution framework that will synergistically aggregate technologies like remote sensing, precision farming, drone-based services, quality assaying and e-marketplace.

As a part of this initiative, besides planning and monitoring, training is imparted through 6,200 WhatsApp groups. Over four lakh farmers are trained on various crop development aspects and around 10,000 youth and children covered through vocational skills training and education module training. As part of PPPs, around 19,000 government officials have been trained in aspects ranging from solid waste management, mother and child healthcare, education, etc.

Corporate India’s interventions of such nature significantly help transform village communities into vibrant economic organisations, by enhancing incomes and co-creating markets. Empowerment, partnership and trust built amongst the farming community are at the core of such multi-stakeholder partnership models. Such models of engagement impart knowledge and information, improve productivity and significantly increase net returns per acre for farmers.

The transformative agri-reforms, amongst other initiatives undertaken by the government, will also open up many new opportunities.

The reforms provide the building blocks that will give foundational support to agri-value chain partners, FPOs and market participants to build the competitiveness of the agri-sector.

Mathias is a business strategist and angel investor, and Kailasam is CEO, Indiatech.org

Published on July 22, 2021

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