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Implementing ICT solutions for Pakistan's farmers
 By  CABI


Implementing ICT solutions for Pakistan's farmers:-Pakissan.comSo what's the problem?
A huge number of people throughout South Asia are involved in agriculture, however many are not benefiting from it in the ways that they could.

In India for example, around 35% of its agricultural produce is wasted due to supply chain issues.

And, whilst nearly half of Pakistan’s population is employed in agriculture, it is still a net importer of food.

The same is true in Bangladesh where most farmers grind out a subsistence living, unable to make the transition to a more commercialised way of farming which would ultimately lift them out of poverty.

For rural farmers in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh to succeed in today’s fast-paced market, they require the latest information at their fingertips.

Their governments and development agencies recognize the potential for IT and online technologies to become a vital tool in improving agriculture and as a result a number of innovative communication technology schemes have been set up. 45% of South Asians now have a home PC and internet access is available in some villages.

However, despite best efforts, the technology is still poorly understood and used infrequently.

So, critical data on weather patterns and the latest market prices are still not reaching those who really need it and as a result, smallholder farmers are losing out.

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What is this project doing?
Results show that farmers consider themselves as ‘information poor’, and that news about new agricultural technologies that improve productivity is not reaching them.

This lack of information was cited as the single largest barrier to the uptake of technology. Our research identified what information was required and the best means of disseminating it.

The information most frequently required was area/crop specific and solutions tailored to farmer’s budgets were needed.

There was also a clear requirement for advice on a yearly cropping plan to improve return on investment.

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The advice of field assistants/agriculture officers was considered more reliable than that of input suppliers, but we found that extension workers were under resourced, inadequately trained in technology and lacked any affordable system of communi- cation with the farmers.

This has led to low morale amongst many, although there was noted to be a wide disparity in the quality of service from the public extension staff, as was the difference between public and private sector.

High transportation costs and lack of budget mean that sufficient visits by field extension staff to the farmers in their area aren’t taking place.

To address this, the Directorate of Agriculture Information introduced a ‘help line’.

This service is still at a nascent stage and needs to evolve so as to maintain farmer profiles, FAQs and area-focused searchable data on crops.

Evidence shows that cell phone usage is prevalent in the rural areas of Punjab.

Mobile applications are therefore extremely well suited for communication between farmers and extension service providers and disseminating and collecting information to and from the field via voice and text massages in Urdu.

Many mobile phone operators recognized that services to the rural community is potentially a huge un-tapped market and are keen to get involved.

Research shows that subscription-based models provide the most predictable revenue-generating model for services to the masses.

To try and remedy the situation, CABI researchers are conducting an in-depth analysis of the existing IT infrastructure and services available to smallholder farmers in the region.

They hope to build up a picture of the gaps and fault lines in the current system of IT provision, and where the inefficiencies lie.

They will also explore the possibility of working with local partners to deliver the information services required.

CABI has decades of experience and expertise at implementing similar grassroots schemes in places like Africa and Sri Lanka, all of which ensure maximum benefit for people lacking vital information.

The CABI team is visiting farms and markets in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh to see for themselves the current services on offer.

In Sargodha, Pakistan they examined the citrus fruit production process, whilst their research in India tracked the growing and sale of mangoes.

CABI researchers will also be investigating the current role of IT in the rice production industry in Bangladesh.

June, 2014

Source:  CABI

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