Covid poses a challenge to agricultural extension

by May 9, 2020 0 comments

Despite the availability of the e-platform for extension services in agriculture, the usage by farmers, even the youth, remains very low in the country. This must be addressed on an urgent basis

Agricultural extension is a form of informal education that aims at transfer of scientific interventions to farmers and collection of feedback from them. The ultimate aim is to introduce the latest technical know-how in agriculture and allied activities such as dairy, poultry, apiculture, marketing and so on. The use of effective tools, vernacular languages and group dynamics marks the effectiveness of any extension programme.

Apart from the other challenges that plague agricultural extension, the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic has compelled us to think and plan about its future in India.

Normally, agriculture extension services are mainly provided by the functionaries of State departments of agriculture and  local voluntary organisations.

The Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) started its extension activities with the National Demonstration project in 1964. Further, the Krishi Vigyan Kendra (KVK) was introduced in 1974 to offer need-based and skill-oriented training to farmers and extension workers. Then the Lab to Land Programme was launched in 1979 to improve the economic condition of small, marginal farmers and landless agricultural labourers.

KVKs are considered to be the front runners in providing extension services to farmers even in the remotest districts of the country. The mandate of KVKs is Technology Assessment and Demonstration for wider Application and to enhance Capacity Development (TADA-CD). The target is horizontal expansion of proven agricultural technologies through on-farm testing (OFT), frontline demonstrations (FLDs), farmers’ trainings, vocational trainings for rural youth, interaction meetings between scientists and extension functionaries, field days and Kisan Melas. At present there are 713 KVKs under the administrative control of State and Central Agricultural Universities (498), ICAR Institutes (63), NGOs (101), State Governments (38) and other educational institutions (13).

In recent years, KVKs are performing the duties of primary awareness centres for all Centrally- sponsored schemes in the rural and agricultural sector. During the lockdown period also, KVKs are creating awareness among rural households for taking precautionary measures in their farms to avoid the spread of the Coronavirus.

However, extension activities such as training of farmers, rural youth and extension functionaries require a minimum gathering of 20 to 25 people at one place. On the other hand, organisation of Kisan Melas, field days on specific crop/enterprise, farmers’ seminars and campaigns involve the build-up of more than 100 farmers.

One of the modern extension approaches recommended for doubling farmers’ incomes are Self Help Groups (SHGs), farmers clubs and so on. These are formed to boost group activities so as to bring economies of scale in farming through better resource management.

Farmers, as producers of agricultural products, can form groups and register themselves under the Indian Companies Act to form Farmer Producer Organisations (FPOs). The aim is to improve the bargaining power of farmers through building of resources and social capital. The Government intends to set up 10,000 FPOs over the next five years in different fields of agriculture, including value addition and processing of fruits, vegetables and meat products.

Cluster frontline demonstrations (CFLDs) on oilseeds and pulses, traditional agriculture development plan and so on, are among the major extension programmes of the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare which employs a  cluster approach for sustainable production in agriculture.

Further, agricultural marketing covers so many activities which involve interaction of multiple stakeholders at one place. Starting from primary rural/village markets to wholesale regulated markets, all involve direct contact of many farmers, intermediaries and consumers to do interconnected activities for completing the supply chain of agricultural products.

However, there are a large number of agricultural services that are effectively managed by IT applications, including accessibility to markets, training, capacity-building, collection of feedback from farmers and so on. The creation of an IT infrastructure has been an integral part of the Government’s strategy for effective delivery of services.

The National e-Governance Plan (NeGP) was introduced in 2006 to make all Government services available to citizens via the electronic media. Approximately, 45 per cent of the world’s ICT projects are implemented in India, with the maximum number of information kiosks being in rural India.

E-agriculture initiatives such as Agrisnet, Digital green, eSagu, Agmarknet, eArik, Village Knowledge Centers (VKCs), SMS Portal/mKisan Portal, Kisan Call Centers (KCCs) and so on, are successfully rendering agricultural extension services.

Mobile apps like Kisan Suvidha, Pusa Krishi, Krishi Gyan, Crop insurance, Agri Market and IFFCO Kisan Agriculture and so on, are also popular among farmers and extension functionaries.

Despite the availability of the e-platform for extension services in agriculture, the usage by farmers, even the youth, remains very low.

Looking at the current mindset and the need for social distancing in the wake of the pandemic,  organising agricultural extension activities in the country will be a huge challenge.

Taking into consideration the success of group dynamics in agricultural extension, there is an urgent need to devise alternative methodologies for offering uninterrupted extension services to the clientele, apart from ICT.

(Writer: Pawan Kumar Sharma; Courtesy: The Pioneer)

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