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Sunday, December 14, 2014

In Conversation with the farmers- Can ICT usher in change for the better?



Photo: A Farmer harvesting Ginger in his field
Mr. S. Nongbri and his son-in-law, a class 9 dropout of Umroi village were harvesting ginger from their field on a December afternoon. Soon after, they were joined by the wife of Nongbri who started to pick the healthy rhizomes and kept them separately from the rest. On inquiring about this process, she informed me that the healthy rhizomes were being sorted out for seed purpose, while the rest, including the shrunken and diseased ones will be sold in the market. Then she instructed her son-in-law to dig 2 holes on the ground and he quickly obliged. I was curious and cannot help but ask what the holes are being dug for? She replied, “the holes are being dug to store the healthy ginger for seed purpose”. Then I asked her – is’nt there a better way to store the ginger meant for seed purpose as storing on the ground may lead to wastage and loss? Oh! this is the method we have learnt from our forefather, she quipped and also looked at me curiously. I then went on to explain the method of ginger storage which my colleague Iai Majaw, the Ginger man has explained to me supplemented with a writeup and a diagram of his storage structure. Inspite of not having any previous field experience with ginger, I now have enough knowledge about ginger storage and practices to confidently explain to these farmers, thanks to Iai Majaw. They looked to me and said “Babu I wish that the officers from the department will come us in the field and explain like you did” Please take a seat here and explain to us as we are illiterate and uninformed poor farmers. Then I sat down with them on the field and explained about what i represent, the work I do in the Agriculture Information Wing and how I passionately apply new technologies to bridge information and communication gaps that exist in the agricultural extension system.
In my two hours spend in their field, I could learn that many of my so called high technology and 21st century inventions are not able to reach them. They told me that they are too engrossed and focussed on their livelihood that they don’t read newspaper, don’t watch TV and don’t own any mobile phone either. Forget about access to internet and facebook! Then I asked what about access to State Government assistance program, awareness and training or field school- They replied in the negative and blamed the Headman for not informing them about any such programs. Don’t you ever visit the Department District or Circle office? Where do we have the time and luxury to visit and what guarantee that our visit would be fruitful? they answered back. 
Today we live in the so called 21st century in the midst of the Information and communication (ICT) revolution which has changed the way people interact, communicate and connect. Even the agriculture space has also not been left untouched by this revolution. In fact the Ministry of Agricuture is rolling out the 2nd Phase of the its ambitious National e-Governance Plan for Agriculture(NeGP-A), which aims to put agriculture in a new growth trajectory. Does my encounter above give me reason for optimism or disappointment since I will be in the forefront of this program? Is my glass half full or half empty?

The objectives of NeGP-A is to provide relevant information and services to the farming community through the use of ICT. This program is an ambitious country wide initiative which is being rolled out to 22 States and UT in a mission mode. The first phase of the pilot was carried out in 7 States and lessons learnt and best practices have been captured during the first phase.

In my 22 years of serving the department, I am of the firm opinion that the time has now come to address change in a fundamental way, i.e. to take people from a traditional stage, which they are comfortable with to the desired stage, through sustained communication and motivational campaign in order to change the way they think, behave and act. There is an art to communication which involves psychology, philosophy and sociology. Just doling out freebees and routine aids instead make the farmers more dependent on the system.
The question I ask myself “Can ICT bring in the desired change and improve the livelihood of the farming community in the present state of affairs? I take courage from the book by John Kotter, “Our Iceberg is Melting - Changing and Succeeding Under Any Conditions.” We need to reduce complacency and increase urgency! We need to create a short term win, in the least and ensure that the change would not be overcome by stubborn and hard to die “traditions.”

(The writer works in the Directorate of Agriculture, Meghalaya as Agriculture Development Officer (Information and IT) and can be reached at csshabong@gmail.com)

 

13 comments:

  1. ICT can only help when the infrastructure for it is in place. Its no different than radio and TV.

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  2. Indeed, the Government needs to improve the connectivity in rural areas for ICT to truly benefit the rural community. The opportunity presented by mobiles by way of reach, scale and penetration is a tool that presents the most promising opportunity. The Department of Agriculture Meghalaya is also using MSDG and mGOV to connect and reach the farming community through a project "Intelligent Advisory System for Farmers(IASF) which is available at this link htttp://www.iasf.in

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