Six months ago while attending a small agriculture related workshop I was asked what would I change about agriculture in India if I could change anything. My response was that I would change everything from what is grown, who grows it, how it is sold — almost every aspect of agriculture. One of the biggest changes I said that I would like to change is to see “farming as a profession”.
The simple act of putting word “profession” next to “farming” forces us to invert on its head our typical view of farming as an activity undertaken by mostly uneducated, unskilled poor people in rural areas.
Seeing farming as a profession helps us envision an alternate future where farming is undertaken in a more scientific manner, where farmers select which crops to grow based on the ecological conditions of their land (terrain, soil type, water, weather, etc.) as well as the potential net income from the crop. A world where farmers are aware of the optimum inputs (water, fertilizer, pesticides) required for their crops.
Professions demand a drive towards excellence through continuous learning and improvement and farming wouldn’t be an exception. Farmers would need knowledge, skills, tools and tenchinques to excell at farming.
People working in the Indian agri industry typically mention various issues that need attention; issues such as need for more seeds R&D, seed banks, access to weather and market information, irrigation, better infrastructure, inefficient and non-transparent markets, etc. But hardly anyone talks about the issue of farming skills and knowledge which is the biggest component of making farming as a profession.
According to a 2010 paper on information needs of Indian farmers by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI):
Considering the large number of marginal and smallholder farmers, particularly in rainfed regions, a major need is to build the capacity of farmers to demand and access information to increase their productivity, profitability, and incomes. The information must be reliable and timely. For example, technologies need to be suited to the farmers’ capacity to take risk, which tends to be low in rainfed regions, and integrated with available and timely services that support the relevant technology.
The same study mentions that for small farmers, the biggest sources of info are other farmers, input dealers and radio. For large farmers, the biggest sources are TV, other farmers and input dealers. Roughly 40% of small farmers and 55% of large farmers claim they get some agri information from at least one source.
There are many organizations (govt., private and civic sector) which are trying to address information needs of farmers. Most of these efforts are stand-alone and do not address the problem in an integrated manner. A private sector service may provide market price information. Digital Green videos may provide info on cultivation techniques. Govt. agencies may offer information on seed varieties.
I wonder if there are any service providers who offer an integrated solution through multiple partnerships with govt. agencies, private and civic sector organizations.