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Bringing technology to the doorsteps of India’s smallholder farmers for climate resilience

Priti Kumar's picture

Photo by Nitish Kumar Singh“I walk through three farm plots of my fellow farmers every day to examine the crop growth and occurrences of pest attacks or crop failure. I send photo alerts via my smart phone to Cropin, which sends an advisory within a few minutes to remedy the problem, said Pratima Devi, a climate smart village resource professional in Manichak village in the Barachatti block of Gaya district in Bihar, India.
 
Cropin Technology Solutions Pvt. Ltd, a private software and mobile apps company, has developed digital applications to advise farmers on ways to achieve optimal harvests, depending on weather conditions, soil and other indicators. In less than a month, Pratima Devi completes a visit to all the farm plots in her village that are registered to get agro-advisories. “Women farmers appreciate my efforts and have started trusting my advice because they see a positive difference on their farms,” she adds.

Ramchandra Prasad Verma has the status of a master trainer of climate-smart village resource professionals in the same Barachatti block. He succinctly explains how data on weather parameters, such as rainfall, temperature and humidity, provided by the Automatic Weather Station (AWS), which was installed by another private Indian company, Skymet, helps farmers make smarter decisions in the village. “When the AWS shows temperatures of 35-40 degree Centigrade, farmers will wait for cooler temperatures before transplanting paddy mat nurseries into the field. Otherwise, there is a fear of losing crops in high temperatures”, said Verma. Earlier farmers relied on traditional wisdom alone, but now digital information can help them make faster and better decisions on the times of sowing and harvesting.

When Verma was a village resource professional, he had raised the maximum number of alerts in Bihar and received many advisories from Cropin on sowing, soil health, seed treatment, and weather forecasts that benefitted farmers. Over time, he developed skills to interpret technical advisories, train farmers to apply information on their fields, and interact with Cropin and Skymet professionals, which earned him the status of a master trainer.

Developing resilience in agriculture to regular weather shocks in the short-term and to climate change in the medium- to long-term is one of the biggest challenges facing Indian farmers today. Large-scale pilots are being implemented in four districts of Bihar and Madhya Pradesh to test the effectiveness of digital apps to generate climate resilient solutions for farming needs. This was made possible through a public-private partnership between the State Rural Livelihood Missions in Bihar and Madhya Pradesh with  Cropin Technology and Skymet. These pioneering digital tools are being developed and utilized as part of the Sustainable Livelihoods and Adaptation to Climate Change (SLACC) Project associated with  the Government of India’s National Rural Livelihoods Project (NRLP).

Photo by Nitish Kumar SinghBoth SLACC and NRLP are supported by the World Bank. Funded by the Special Climate Change Fund under the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the SLACC project aims to empower at least 10,000 farmers to adopt climate resilient practices. These include a range of technological solutions, such as community-based adaptive planning, conservation agriculture, farm mechanization, efficient irrigation, soil health cards and digital farming practices. 

In the coming year, 90,000 farm plots in SLACC areas in both states will be audited and tracked across the kharif and rabi seasons for the major crops. Over 500 community professionals and other functionaries will be systematically trained by Cropin Technology and Skymet on farmer data digitization, crop advisories and timely activity updates, weather advisories, farm area auditing, geo-tagging and crop health monitoring. These community professionals will serve as change agents to scale up the digital interventions in Bihar and Madhya Pradesh, and possibly to other states under the NRLP. Overall, NRLP is being implemented in 13 states of India and has reached 7 million households.

Cropin Technology has also developed a climate smart advisory module that develops season-wise crop configurations for all the major crops and provides a weather-based advisory to SLACC farmers in the local Hindi language on predictive and curative measures promoting sustainable agriculture practices. Web- and mobile-based advisory dashboards have been developed to enable the Village Resource Professionals get important insights around sowing, soil health, seed treatment, recommendation for harvesting fertilizer, and seven-day weather forecasts derived from the best available weather observations systems and forecast models. This data is then downscaled at the farm plot level to help smallholder farmers make effective decisions for their crops. The module also considers technical inputs in real time from agriculture experts in state research institutions and farm alerts from village resource professionals to develop these practical agro-advisories.

Pratima Devi and Verma represent the first-generation of climate smart farmers that are triggering the communitization of technology, spreading knowledge and revolutionizing the way agriculture should be practiced in India. Digital farming offers great scope for pushing the frontiers in agriculture through data and innovation.


Photos by Nitish Kumar Singh
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