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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).

Climate smart agricultural practices in Haryana, India: The way forward & challenges

Abhilaksh Likhi's picture

 Scott Wallace/ World BankThe Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) defines Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) as an approach that helps to guide actions needed to transform and reorient agricultural systems to effectively support development and ensure food security in a changing climate. Further, according to FAO, such an approach aims to tackle three main objectives: sustainably achieving agricultural productivity and incomes; adapting and building resilience to climate change; and reducing and/or removing Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions, where possible. Critical to achieving these objectives is a major shift in the way land, water, soil nutrients and genetic resources are managed with related shifts in local/national governance, legislation, policies, financial mechanisms and improving the farmers’ access to markets.

CSA, further, takes into consideration the diversity of social, economic and environmental contexts including agro-ecological zones/farming systems where it is to be applied. Implementation herein requires identification of integrated package of climate resilient technologies and practices for management of water, energy, land, crops, livestock, aquaculture etc at the farm level while considering the linkage between agricultural production and ecosystems services at the landscape level. Testing and applying different practices, experts opine, is important to expand the evidence base, determine which practices and extension methods are suitable in each context. This leads to identification of synergies and tradeoffs between food security, adaptation and mitigation.

CSA, thus, provides the broad enabling framework to help stakeholders, whether national or international, to identify sustainable agricultural strategies suitable to their local conditions. In this context, FAO actions in CSA e.g. policy structures, practices, investment and tools are a valuable repository for policymakers and administrators to learn about such agricultural strategies. This includes the critical baseline strategy to assess the past and future impact of climate variability on agriculture and consequent vulnerability of farming communities, especially, smallholder farmers. Needless to state that agriculture has the potential to mitigate between 5.5-6 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide (equivalent) annually (IPCC, 2007) with most of this potential in developing countries. Hence, to realize this potential, agricultural development efforts will have to support smallholder farmers for the uptake of climate smart practices at the farm and landscape levels and along the value chain, too.
 

#3 from 2016: Delhi’s odd-even plan as a public policy experiment

Suvojit Chattopadhyay's picture
Our Top Ten blog posts by readership in 2016. This post was originally published on February 2, 2016.  

Late last year, Delhi’s Chief Minister, Arvind Kejriwal, announced a measure to tackle the severe air pollution crisis in the city. The proposal was to implement an odd-even plan for private cars on Delhi roads: cars with odd numbered registration plates would be allowed to ply on odd dates and those with even numbered registration plates allowed on the other days. There was an exemption list that included single women (or with children), public vehicles, medical emergencies, etc. This was to be piloted for a period of fifteen days, starting on 1st January 2016.

For a detailed account of how the city dealt with this rule, see here.  An excerpt:
During the odd-even period, the use of cars fells by 30 per cent while those car-pooling went up by a whopping 387.7 per cent, indicating the success of the government’s push towards that option. Delhiites using private auto-rickshaws went up by 156.3 per cent compared to the period before odd-even, while Metro use went up by 58.4 per cent.

On average, the respondents’ took 12 minutes less to commute from home to work during the odd-even period. Car and bus users reached their workplaces 13 and 14 minutes faster during the 15-day period
 

Beyond rationalisation of Centrally Sponsored Schemes

Suvojit Chattopadhyay's picture

In August this year, the Government of India approved the recommendations made by the Sub-Group of Chief Ministers on Rationalisation of Centrally Sponsored Schemes (CSS). The rationalisation plan would first prune the existing 66 CSSs to 28, and then further divide them into three categories – six ‘core of the core’ schemes, 20 core schemes, and two optional schemes. The ‘core of the core’ schemes include the pension schemes, MNREGA, and four umbrella schemes targeting “vulnerable sections” of the population. Further, the flexi-funds component of the CSSs would be increased to 25% for the state governments to programme. Another set of recommendations were made around the modalities of release of funds. For instance, the release of a tranche of funds would no longer be dependent on producing an Utilisation Certificate of the previous instalment; and instead, it would be based on the submission of the instalment preceding the last one.

This is another step in the process of improving the governance of CSS in India, with the specific rationalisation exercise being prompted by the ongoing fiscal reorganisation between the centre and state governments. Starting last year, transfers from the centre to state governments went up by approximately INR 1.8 lakh crores. This was a result of the 14th Finance Commission recommendations which increased the devolution of the centre’s tax receipts to state governments from the prevailing 32% up to 42%. This reduced the ability of the central government to continue funding CSSs at their previous levels, and at the same time, provided state governments a greater measure of flexibility in financing its own priority development schemes.

Campaign Art: Idols that protect their worshipers, and the ocean

Davinia Levy's picture
People, Spaces, Deliberation bloggers present exceptional campaign art from all over the world. These examples are meant to inspire.

During the Ganesh Festival in India, tons of idols representing the elephant-headed god are immersed in the ocean. The paint and other elements used for the making of these idols get blended in the water and pollute and kill the marine life of the bay.

SPROUTS Environment Trust, an environmental NGO in India came up with a very original solution to this problem and their initiative took off:
 
#GodSaveTheOcean

Delhi’s odd-even plan as a public policy experiment

Suvojit Chattopadhyay's picture
Traffic in DelhiLate last year, Delhi’s Chief Minister, Arvind Kejriwal, announced a measure to tackle the severe air pollution crisis in the city. The proposal was to implement an odd-even plan for private cars on Delhi roads: cars with odd numbered registration plates would be allowed to ply on odd dates and those with even numbered registration plates allowed on the other days. There was an exemption list that included single women (or with children), public vehicles, medical emergencies, etc. This was to be piloted for a period of fifteen days, starting on 1st January 2016.

For a detailed account of how the city dealt with this rule, see here.  An excerpt:
During the odd-even period, the use of cars fells by 30 per cent while those car-pooling went up by a whopping 387.7 per cent, indicating the success of the government’s push towards that option. Delhiites using private auto-rickshaws went up by 156.3 per cent compared to the period before odd-even, while Metro use went up by 58.4 per cent.

On average, the respondents’ took 12 minutes less to commute from home to work during the odd-even period. Car and bus users reached their workplaces 13 and 14 minutes faster during the 15-day period


I will come to the outcomes of this pilot in just a moment. Outcomes aside, the Delhi government’s Odd-Even plan has yielded a rich bounty. It sets the template for citizen engagement with a public policy reform experiment: heightened awareness regarding the core issue, mass participation, intense public scrutiny, and a data-driven discourse. Let’s take these one-by-one.

Cash as a response to humanitarian distress

Suvojit Chattopadhyay's picture

Men thrashing grain in IndiaIn the context of the subsidies regime in India, there is an ongoing debate on the suitability of cash transfers. With the much talked about JAM trinity – the Jan Dhan zero-balance bank accounts, Aadhar and mobile phones, it certainly appears that the state-sponsored welfare system is set to see a significant shift. While this shift may well fall short of being transformative, we could still expect an improvement in how benefits are delivered with reduced leakages to recipients. The use of the JAM model to extend the welfare net and to improve its efficiency implies a decisive move towards cash transfers, and therefore, one may be closer to settling the debate, at least in terms of favoured government policy.

But the argument in favour of cash is not new. I recently came across a 1986 United Nations University WIDER paper by Amartya Sen where he elegantly outlines five arguments in favour of direct distribution of cash in times of food crises. In this paper Food, Economics and Entitlements, Sen tackles this question in the context of a famine. First, Sen demonstrates how even in contexts where aggregate food output is plentiful, the ability of the poor to acquire this food is a whole different matter. Localised food shortages and famine-like situations can arise due to various reasons – at times when the prices of staples rise sharply, or when the prices of products the poor sell fall sharply. However, this isn’t obvious to policymakers as long as they view food sufficiency through the lens of per-capita food production alone.

When famines manifest themselves, there could be multiple policy response options. Sen talks of direct food distribution as the favoured method in those times. Three decades down the line, food relief continues to be popular in times of distress, even as direct cash transfers (as described above) are gaining ground as a favoured instrument of social welfare policy. Policy responses in these times is meant to enhance the ability of those affected, to ‘acquire’ more food. Both market-based solutions that begin with greater availability of cash, and direct distribution are potential paths to this end.
 

The political economy of welfare schemes

Suvojit Chattopadhyay's picture
Medical checkups for children in India.Social welfare schemes the world over are going through interesting times. Egged on by fiscal management targets, welfare cuts are routinely passed off as “reforms”. Subsequently, there is usually pressure on governments to target welfare to the most deserving. Determining who the deserving beneficiaries are and the appropriate value of these transfers is critical.
 
In a recent edition of the Pathways’ Perspectives, social policy specialist Stephen Kidd bats for universal social security schemes. His central argument is built around the political economy of targeting, suggesting that “inclusive social security schemes build political alliances between those living in poverty, those on middle incomes and the affluent”. Governments that are interested in scaling up social security schemes prefer universal coverage. The argument goes that this way, they build a wide coalition of interests that support their scheme and hope that this support translates into electoral endorsement. On the other hand, governments that are interested in scaling back social security schemes do so by first withdrawing from universal schemes and then introduce an element of targeting. Soon, those that do not benefit from the scheme are more likely to see it as wasteful public spending and therefore, support a move to cut back.
 

Campaign art: Fighting neglected tropical diseases one step at a time

Roxanne Bauer's picture

People, Spaces, Deliberation bloggers present exceptional campaign art from all over the world. These examples are meant to inspire.

Filariasis, also known as elephantiasis or filaria, leaves a giant footprint in India. A shocking 500 million people in India – one half of the country’s population— are at risk of infection!  It is one of seven neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) that attacks nearly one in six people globally.

Filaria occurs when an individual is infected with filarial worms, which are transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito. The worms later mature in the lymphatic vessels, causing painful, disfiguring swelling of the legs and genital organs.  

While Filaria can be fatal, especially for children, it also has a greater public health impact because it interferes with physical fitness and cognition. Moreover, those with severe symptoms of the disease are often unable to work and may suffer significant social stigma as a result of their disfigurement. In this way, Filaria can trap people in a perpetual cycle of poverty.

In response, the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases, an initiative of the Sabin Vaccine Institute, was created to raise awareness about the seven most common NTDs (through its END7 campaign) and to work with governments to deliver low-cost treatment for NTDs. In December 2014, the Indian Ministry of Health & Family Welfare (MOHFW) launched a national campaign called “Hathipaon Mukt Bharat” (Fliaria Free India) to rid the country of filaria within the next few years. It is one of the largest public health campaigns in India’s history and aims to provide more than 400 million people with free medication that could protect them from the disease.
  
VIDEO: Giant footprints!


If we don’t assess, how will we learn? Assessments are critical to learning, accountability and school improvement

Suvojit Chattopadhyay's picture

Young boys studying in IndiaAre assessments and standardized tests critical to measuring the effectiveness of educational systems?  How can communities demand accountability from local schools? Suvojit Chattopadhyay argues that assesments can serve as a lever to improving education.

This is a response to a recent livemint column by Azim Premji Foundation’s Anurag Behar in which he argues that assessments are not a primary systemic lever for improvement in education and that assessments should remain tools that provide feedback to teachers in the classroom. Interestingly, Behar does not make any reference to India’s Annual Status of Education Report (ASER). ASER has been around for a decade, riding on a simple and powerful idea: parents, communities, the wider civil society and policymakers just did not have sufficient information on the levels of learning our public schools deliver.
 
Unsurprisingly, in an age where social spending by governments is under tremendous scrutiny and aid flows are under pressure, testing and assessments have found currency in many countries across the developing world. It has also helped civil society put pressure on education systems (whether public or private) to focus on learning outcomes, moving beyond a highly limiting obsession with inputs— classrooms, teachers, textbooks, uniforms, etc. To be clear, the argument is not that one can ignore the need for high quality inputs. Indeed, that would be foolish. However, there is now substantial evidence that on its own, investing in inputs will not yield improved schooling outcomes.

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