The problems Indian farmers confront today are different from the ones they faced two decades ago. It is no longer productivity that poses a challenge, but excess output and its consequences — increased supply and crash in food prices — that need to be addressed seriously.
With the objective of doubling farmers’ income by 2022, the Centre has taken several initiatives, and the core of many is technology.
Mandis go online
One key facility that promises unmediated market access and higher selling price is the electronic National Agriculture Market (eNAM). At Adoni, Guntur and Kurnool mandis in Andhra Pradesh; Nizamabad and Suryapet in Telangana; Charkhi Dadri in Haryana; and many more mandis across the country, farmers today draw the benefits of better price discovery through eNAM. The platform has automated auctions and helped end price-fixing by cartels. At eNAM mandis today, weighing scales are electronic and connected to the eNAM platform through Bluetooth, deterring commission agents from falsifying weights and cheating farmers.
Further, many of the mandis have set up assay laboratories to grade the produce. Assayed commodities get farmers a better price. The Directorate of Marketing and Inspection publishes quality specifications for commodities and also issues guidelines on how to check for quality.
Quality-testing machines from the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC) and companies such as Nebulaa and FOSS have been piloted in a few mandis . Nebulaa uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to grade grains and pulses, significantly reducing the assay time.
Another promising initiative is electronic Negotiable Warehouse Receipts (eNWRs). Since the instrument helps in real-time tracing of stocks, and enables better risk management for warehouse service providers and banks, it can become the preferred route for credit institutions to lend to farmers. Digital innovations can also help mitigate weather risks for farmers. While the government has its own weather forecast mechanisms, several start-ups that use satellite imagery data have come up in the space.
The Centre’s crop insurance scheme, which is facing criticism because of delays and errors in loss assessment, can also consider using technology.
SatSure, a Bengaluru-based analytics company, works on advances in satellite, machine learning and big data analytics to solve many problems in the insurance space.
Helping farmers and value-chain participants embrace technology will be more impactfiul in reducing farm distress than writing off farm loans.