We all realize, small-holder farmers have a very important role to play in evolving the digital farming story of Agriculture. But most solutions and researches are not directed to them, be it affordability, feasibility, stability, robustness or practicality.
Small-holder farmers are vital for any country’s agriculture and rural economy when they comprise 78 to 80% of the country’s farmers. In Africa, India, Myanmar, Philippines, and many other developing countries the story is similar.
Productivity and price are the two pillars on which the profitability of small-holder farmers depends on. This applies for crop management, livestock management, or fish farming where a major constraint for the producer is resource and time.
SIMPLE Digital Technologies focussed on agriculture industry can impact the small-holders significantly.
Affordable solutions with the ability to visualize the soil moisture in land can save them a day of irrigation and water both. The hours and resources saved directly or indirectly impacts the productivity largely.
No UBER or SWIGGY like enterprises in Agriculture
A small-holder farmer may not afford to own the machinery like a tractor or a bulldozer – buying it and maintaining it is a costly affair. But the digital solutions can help bridge the gap between the machinery owners who wants to rent it out and farmers who need to rent it for 1 week. We have not heard of a UBER, ZOMATO or SWIGGY wave in the Agriculture industry, not at that scale, to deliver the need to the doorsteps of the farmer!
I am talking of Digital Solutions that can see the demand in a particular region, communicate amongst a pool of farmers in a common vicinity and time and then have the service delivered there. This helps the small-holder farmers to improve efficiency and plan better, in advance.
But at the same time, the digital solution can help the machinery owners with just in time analytics on usage, demand and other factors to plan the investment better for the next season.
We can help the small-holder farmers with ample user-friendly digital solutions (keeping in mind the education level, literacy and language factors) which help them buy fertilizer from the right place, at the right time at the right cost, to keep production costs low, overall.
I did a simple search in google with “hire harvest workers” expecting to find at least 10 digital platforms focussed on the Agriculture Industry. Most of the top results spoke of the struggle in hiring workers and the huge shortage. And this is a struggle for the medium to matured large farm owners. The small farmers are apparently at higher risks. The struggle and consequential losses of not being able to hire the resources in time for the work may seem small at the individual level. But if taken cumulatively for the 70 to 80% small-holders, the impact must be immense.
There need to be more digital solutions focussed on Agriculture workforce hiring. Of course, they need to be well thought out in terms of what can be done to increase the adoption and usage rate of these solutions amongst the large population of small-holdings. The individual who is hiring, in this case, will not look out for a resume. But facilitating a video interview or a F2F interview, weeks before the actual harvest dates, is something that might help. It’s again a matter of mindset change, but it’s possible. We just need to support them in the right way.
Online digital and skill-based training platforms can be a boon for these small farmers to grow their skillsets and keep themselves up-to-date by viewing videos in their off time. The small-holder farms may not always be available at the desired venue, at a demonstration farm, for taking trainings. For farmers every work hour is important. But if there is a platform which has all videos of the hands-on training, even that can benefit them immensely.
You must have noticed, that I have stressed on videos, across my article. This is because I am conscious of the native or vernacular language dependency which can be reduced largely through video as a digital medium of communication, as pictures speak a lot on their own.
Hyperlinking the small-holder farmers in the right way ahead
Including and evolving them in progressive agriculture is mandatory, to the extent of being obligatory. This is the right time. Joining the dotted lines to educate them on possibilities is crucial. Bringing those facilities to their doorstep and palm is compulsory.
To help smallholder farmers be-friend these digital solutions will need these solutions to be robust, flexible, accessible and very easy to operate. They should experience the comfort from using the digital solutions. They should be able to explore, engage, consult, discuss, analyze and make decisions at will with no influence – solutions that give the farmer a sense of ownership when using it.
Advances in technology should not frighten the smallholders, nor make them feel left behind in the race. Instead, the digital movement which is part and parcel of the Agriculture Revolution 4.0 should be used to reduce the gap between the producer and other enablers and service providers. They need to feel enriched and supported.
Both the farmer and the service provider will need to treat the profile and data associated with the farmer or farm profile as an asset. That is the starting point. Only then can we get success.
You can be a prosperous country when the focus is on agriculture, and the future lies in putting the focus on the smallholder farms. Help them grow!
We can do much more to HELP these small farmers to run their “business” efficiently by becoming “digital farmers”, with increased profitability and improved livelihood. And then we surely see them turn into sizeable drivers of economic growth in developing countries.
The Author Satarupa Sen is a graduate from BHU. She has nineteen plus years of IT experience in providing digital solutions including Artificial Intelligence. She has now taken a break from her work to explore pragmatic ways to apply AI in Agriculture. Reach her at LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/satarupa-sen/
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