ICT as a Support Tool of Extension for Agricultural and Rural Development
Authors: A. P.Verma, Dr. H R Meena and Mukesh Kumar

Rural is essentially agricultural, its settlement system consists of villages or homesteads, socially it connotes greater interdependence among people, more deeply rooted community life , and occupationally it is highly dependent on crop farming, animal keeping, tree crops and related activities (Mishra and Sundaram, 1970). As a concept, rural development connotes overall development of rural areas with a view to improve the quality of life of rural people. In this sense, it is a comprehensive and multidimensional concept and encompasses the development of agriculture and allied activities, village and cottage industries, socio-economic infrastructure, community services and facilities, and above all the human resources in rural areas. In order to bring about development and enhance the quality of life of the villagers a definite policy with regard to communication support must be formulated and pursued. Communication has to emerge as an important policy instrument, integrating economic, social, education and cultural planning (Joshi, 1985). In India from the very beginning media has been designated as “catalytic agents” for rural development and social change and is considered as a solution to the problems of development of the agrarian Indian society. A research carried out by Lerner (1958) gave evidence that the media can induce developmental changes in traditional societies. Lerner sees the modernization or development process as the movement of a society along a traditional-modern continuum. Between these two poles are the transitional societies. The movement of traditional societies towards the modern end of continuum has been explained by lerner in terms of four keys variables, viz. Urbanization, Literacy, Mass media exposure and Participation. ICT in agriculture is an emerging fields focusing on the enhancement of agriculture and rural development. It involves applications of innovative ways to use ICT in rural domain. Planning commission of India’s working group on agricultural extension for XI five year plan (2007-2011) states that the agricultural growth is stagnating and sluggish. Hence, there is an immediate need of vibrant, dynamic and innovative approach to be adopted for agricultural extension in order to achieve targeted growth rate and serve the farmers better. Further, Land and water resources are almost reaching their limits; hence achieving food security heavily relies on “Knowledge Resource”. Estimates indicated that 60 per cent of farmers do not access any source of information for advanced agricultural technologies resulting in huge adoption gap (NSSO, 2005). In India, there are about 120 million farm holdings and the number is growing year by year. At least to provide one village extension personnel for 800-1000 farm families, the requirement of field level extension personnel is estimated to be about 13,00,000-15,00,000 against which the present availability is only about 1,00,000 extension personnel (Planning Commission, GoI, 2007). In this existing scenario, it is expected that integration of ICTs in agricultural extension will provide needed impetus to agricultural sector and ICTs can complement the traditional extension system for “Knowledge Resource” delivery to the millions of the farmers (Saravanan, 2010). Technology for agriculture, hitherto a dream, is translated into a reality because of ICT tools are proliferated for the nurture of agriculture. ICT tools should be utilized for accelerating the agricultural sector which automatically changes the economical growth of our country. National policy framework for agricultural extension (2000) stated that information technology revolution is unfolding and has very high visibility. Harnessing information technology for agricultural extension will receive high point in the policy agenda. Information Communication Technologies offering new ways for communicating and exchanging information and knowledge in recent days. ICT can be utilized for providing accurate, timely, relevant information and services to the farmers, thereby facilitating an environment for more remunerative agriculture. The technology revolution encompasses new ways of capturing, processing, storing and displaying information and is capable of increasing productivity and competiveness through information provision (Mangesi 2010). The use of ICT is an important pillar of agriculture extension in the current scenario of a rapidly changing world, has been recognized as an essential mechanism for delivering knowledge and advice as an input for modern farming (Jones 1997). With the help of ICT, extension has become more diversified, more knowledge-intensive, and more demand driven, and thus, more effective in meeting farmers’ information needs (Zijp, 1994). The scope of ICTs is vast, as it can be and is being customised as per the need of the target groups, which specially applies to the ICT initiatives for agricultural development because of varied needs of the farmers. A large numbers of initiatives has been made and are being made in rural India, to deploy ICT based extension project as a developmental tool for creating awareness among fanners and rural artisans, and for their betterment. These projects have initiated both by public and private sectors for enhancing the rural livelihoods and improving the status of agriculture in the country. However all the ICT initiatives are not uniform with disparities between regions in the level and quality of telecommunications, information and the effort of individuals, public and private organizations, and differentiated nature of demand of the farmers in different areas ?

As a result, there have been many successes, failures, lessons learned and experience gained, so far. While these initiatives are intended to address the needs of the farmers through ICT, their actual usage and their ability to bring significant impact on the farm productivity and socio-economic development of the intended beneficiaries actually use the facilities provided for them meaningfully to meet their needs. Thus, there is a need to understand as to how far the ICT initiatives are able to address the farmers need so that better solutions can be developed to address those unmet needs. The proposed research aims to study the past and present major ICT initiatives in agriculture.

Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs):

Information and Communication Technology can play significant role in transforming agriculture and it consist of three main technologies. They are: Computer Technology, Communication Technology and Information Management Technology. These technologies are applied for processing, exchanging and managing data, information and knowledge in agriculture. Traditional ICT tools e.g. T.V., Radio and Telephone have already established their credibility and effectiveness in promoting the developmental schemes in rural and marginalized areas. The modern ICT tools are computers, internet, and wireless communication technology along with powerful software which can process and integrate sound, text and video into electronic media. In delineating the significance of ICT in the Indian economy CSO (2010) defines ICT is not an individual item like the internet or computers, or telecommunications but it is a convergence of different electronic tools that facilitate the functions of information processing and communication, including transmission and display. However, on the basis of International Standard Industrial Classification (2008) on ICT sector, we are defining ICT as the technology which covers any product that stores, retrieves, manipulates, transmits or receives information electronically in a digital form. It comprises computers, the rapidly changing communication technologies – radio, television, mobile, telephone and internet; networking and data processing capabilities, and the software for using the technologies. Michiels and Van Crowder (2001) have defined ICTs ‘as a range of electronic technologies which when converged in new configurations are flexible, adaptable, enabling and capable of transforming organizations and redefining social relations’. The range of technologies is increasing all the time and ‘there is a convergence between the new technologies and conventional media’.

Need of ICT in Indian Agriculture

At present, the ratio of farmers to extension workers is as low as 1000:1. Although the appointed Village Local Workers (VLWs) disseminate information, there is lack of accountability. These two issues have created an urgency to effectively address the information needs of poor farmers. In addition, the cost involved in face-to-face information dissemination at the right time and the difficulties of reaching the target audience have also created the urgency to introduce ICT for this purpose. It is only through the introduction of ICT that information can also be updated and extended at the lowest cost. There are several ICT models in Indian agriculture, which have made significant difference to agricultural operations.

Why ICT for Agriculture and Rural development?

To empower the sustainability of small scale farms and meet the needs of farming community.

To acquire highly efficient agricultural practices necessitated by the scarcity of the land for crop cultivation.

To make the right decisions at right time and to bring out best possible solutions in the field of agriculture.

To design an automated system for water efficient irrigation system and increase the optimal production growth.

To nurture the farmers and to reduce the travails of farmers, it is indispensable of applying the technology in agriculture.

To facilitate stakeholders in the agricultural sector which encompasses the ministries, local government authorities, marketers, farmers to correspond better and effectively through mobiles and computers linked to wide area networks and Internet.

Five key services proposed by Bhatnagar (2000) to analyze ICT application and their contribution to agricultural and rural development are:

Access to information through different types of Agricultural Information Systems (AIS) e.g. village KIOSKS, e-Panchayat, cyber extension.

Monitoring the situation of natural resources and impact through analysis of environment deterioration, soil erosion, deforestation etc. e.g. Geographical Information System (GIS).

Education and communication technologies that are playing a very important role in generating new approaches to learning and to knowledge management e.g. e-Library.

Networking where ICTs can contribute greatly in relating people or institution among them and facilitating the emergence of "virtual communication of stake holders" that generate and exchange information and knowledge among themselves.

Decision support system (DSS): Tools and practices through which data and information provide relevant knowledge inputs for informed decision making. E.g. expert system.

References:
1. Mishra, R .P. and Sundaram, K.V. (1970) Rural Area Development Perspective and Approaches, p.1.Sterling Publication, New Delhi.p.1
2. Joshi, P.C. (1985) Communication in National Building Perspective and Policy Mainstream. In: Communication for Rural Development. Kurukshetra. Vol. 51 No.1: pp.24-26.
3. Lerner, D. (1958) The Passing of Traditional Society, Modernizing the Middle - East, Free Press, New York.p.II1
4. NSSO (2005) Access to modern technology for farming, situation assessment survey of farmers, 59th Round, Report No. 499, National Sample Survey Organization (NSSO), Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, Government of India, New Delhi.
5. Saravanan, R. (2010) 'India' In ICTs for Agricultural Extension. Global Experiments, Innovations and Experiences, edited by R. Saravanan. New Delhi: New India Publishing Agency.
6. Michiels, S. and Van Crowder, L. (2001) Discovering the 'Magic Box': Local Appropriation of Information and Communication Technologies. SDRE, FAO, Rome.
7. Jones, G.E. 1997. 'The history, development and the future of agricultural extension' in B. E. Swanson, R.P. Bentz and A.J. Sofranko. (eds). Improving Agricultural Extension - A Reference Manual. Rome: FAO.
8. Zijp, W. (1994) Improving the transfer and use of agricultural information - A guide to Information Technology. Washington DC: World Bank.
9. Mangesi, K. (2010) A comparative study of approaches to ICT policy formulation and implementation in Ghana and South Africa. M. Sc. Thesis, University of Kwa-Zulu Natal.


About Author / Additional Info:
I am currently pursuing Ph. D. (2nd Year) in Dairy Extension Division, ICAR-National Dairy Research Institute, Karnal-132001 Haryana (India)