E-Agriculture: A new approach for agricultural development

--Md. Zahangir Alam, PhD

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The changing times have brought many latest technologies which give us an opportunity to deliver our jobs our achievement better than ever before. Today communication has become so fast and reliable that we can take very well informed decisions on time which is extremely critical for agriculture. There is a saying Information change life style. e-Agriculture is not only a concept but is has a lot to offer; to leverage from the use of latest ICTs for the overall growth of agriculture domain. e-Agriculture is a global initiative to enhance sustainable agricultural development and food security by improving the use of information, communication and associated technologies in the related sector. The overall aim is to enable members to exchange opinions, experiences, good practices and resources related to e-agriculture, and to ensure that the knowledge created is effectively shared and used local, regional, national and worldwide. e-Agriculture is an emerging field focusing on the enhancement of agricultural and rural development through improved information and communication processes. More specifically, e-Agriculture involves the conceptualization, design, development, evaluation and application of innovative ways to use information and communication technologies in the rural domain, with a primary focus on agriculture. e-Agriculture is a relatively new term and we fully expect its scope to change and evolve as our understanding of the area grows.

Vision & mission

The e-Agriculture Community provides an international framework to facilitate the processes of capturing, managing and disseminating the lessons learned through national and regional activities, as well as the results and implications of multilateral processes related to the use of ICT in agriculture and rural development. The e-Agriculture Community also provides the basis for the international community to monitor development and validation of conceptual models and methodologies and to package and disseminate them once tested. Through its collective activities some additional outputs of the Community include: the development and strengthening of innovative mechanisms and processes for information exchange and communication, including normative guidelines and tools being formulated, tested and disseminated to address the range of demands and capabilities of different Community members; empowering networks for exchange of new mechanisms and processes among key stakeholders; relevant content in digital format being developed, filtered, mobilized and exchanged by community members; and other activities based on active partnerships and collaborative lesson-learning.

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e-Agriculture can carry out…

w         Quickest dissemination of agricultural information and technology;

w         Getting demand driven agricultural suggestions;

w         Farmers can get appropriate solution from the concern expert direct from the field;

w         Improve agricultural production technology can get from dimensional sectors;

w         Production cost become less so getting maximum yield and production;

w         Exact result can be ensured directly and immediately for the betterment of agriculture;

 

Area of e-agriculture

e-Agriculture must be well oriented on Seed, Fertilizer, Agricultural mechanization, Irrigation, Pest management, credit, integrated and adoptive research, Extension activities, Biotechnology, Information Management, Farmers Association, Marketing, Preservation, Processing, Subsidy, Food procurement, Education, Industry, Employment, Climate and weather and specially total agricultural management system can be accelerated.

Weapon of e-Agriculture

w         Tele-centre/Call center

w         AICC, RIC, CIC, FICC, FIAC, FSC and all other social community clubs & hubs;

w         Website or portal in Bangla and English;

w         E-mail sharing in Bangla and English;

w         Mobile Phone- Call/SMS/MMS/ AM/ BM/IVR/WAPS systems;

w         Radio broadcast through Medium weave, Short wave, FM band and Community Radio

w         Web Television and Web Radio;

w         Public and Private TV channel through terrestrial and satellite facilities;

w         Teleconference/Video conference/Phone in Program/Video chatting;

w         Video documentary, audio documentary, agricultural content digitization through online & offline…

e-Agriculture movement in Bangladesh

The long-established way for Agriculture information dissemination was mainly offline content i.e. all print media. The information was distributed by extension worker, lead farmers, agro input suppliers. In that case, the information sources mainly were government personnel and NGOs. For the traditional approach, main challenges were limited reach of existing channels, ii. Information occasionally updated iii. Lack of information in need or urgent situation. As a result there were gaps in the supply and demand of agriculture information. Radio program broadcasted agro based program since the born of the country in 1971. And BTV started the telecasting of agro based program since 1978. The e-agriculture may bring greater success in Bangladesh since it is an agricultural economy.

At present e- Agriculture

Bangladesh has entered into a new era with a glorious vision for making Digital Bangladesh is an electronic idea that includes planning, execution, management and governance to ensure transparency, accountability and answerability at all levels of society. It is one of the most efficient and effective channels to reach to a larger population. The Digital Bangladesh vision would achieve the target by e-Agriculture involving multidisciplinary initiatives of agricultural informatics, Agricultural development and entrepreneurship towards building a golden Bangladesh. e-agriculture helps in dissemination of gathered information to the target groups, to use in their routine work. Beside this it can aware them about the upcoming natural disaster, for possible protection of their products. The information disseminated by e-agriculture can be divided into – Soil and Soil health, Seed and crop, Fertilizer and nutrients, pest and pesticides, production and management techniques, irrigation and drainage, Weather and Climate, Organic agriculture, Post harvest technology, storage and preservation, processing and safe use, marketing , credit, farmers demand driven information and technology. Go & NGO have taken initiatives for proper implementation of e-Agriculture throughout the country. Some important steps have already been taken by both government and private entities. e-Agriculture pioneer in Bangladesh are D-Net (Development Research Network), WIN, Banglalink, Grameenphone, BIID (Bangladesh Institute of ICT for Development), Practical Action under BTN (Bangladesh Tele Network), IRRI, YPSA, Ahsania Mission. From government side AIS and some other organizations doing in the same way.

Compensation of e-Agriculture

Outreach of information is higher than any other medium; Prompt easiest delivery mechanism of updated content; Farmer can easily access the info from the nearest telecentre; Can get need based or demand driven information on time; Cost effective and time saving; Marketing channel through a organized network; Can gets all kinds of essential information as they need and desire. e-Agriculture movement is implementing through several mode. Ultimately become social composite communication movement. These are:

Telecentre based e-Agriculture

Telecentre in Bangladesh is a physical infrastructure with basic ICT facilities like phone, computers, printer, scanner, internet connectivity, digital camera, webcam, Photocopier, online & offline information, Infotainment inputs etc. in rural set-up. However, the center, along with other common ICT facilities, is disseminating business information for the local businesses and comprehensive information on integrated agriculture. Also, the centre will be source of various social, health, development, and government information.

Agriculture Information and Communication Centre (AICC)

There are about 20,000 farmers’ clubs around the country, working with the welfare of farmers in mind. The Integrated Pest/Crop Management Clubs (DANINDA), Special Program Food Security Clubs (FAO), Farmers Information and Advice Centers (World Bank) are to name a few. The latest trend towards union-parishad based information centers by DANIDA and UNDP, community based Agriculture Information and Communication Center (AICC) by AIS a ware house or cooking house of agricultural Information on behalf of Ministry of Agriculture sheds a new light in to the conventional information delivery mechanism. Providing appropriate information and communication tools to these information centers could potentially enhance and improve the efficiency and effectiveness of service and information delivery to a great extent.

Through AICC, the farmers can actively participate in the farm telecast and farm broadcast programs by phone-in programs. Moreover the idea of establishing AICC at the village level has derived from this thinking where demand-led agricultural technologies and information will be available at the door-step of the farmers so that the rural people can get the benefit from it and can develop their livelihood. In the centers they can also learn new agricultural technologies by watching documentary films, TV fillers, spots through the multimedia facilities. The service being rendered from those telecentres are not truly in the light of farmers demand nor is it much helpful to the farming community. Rather the main intentions of those centres are profit earning. Rural farmers generally collect information mostly from their neighboring farmer and extension personnel working under Government and different NGOs. Briefly, the rural farmers utilize multi sources to obtain their desired information. But the availability of timely information to the rural community is inadequate which has created problems not only in production process but also in marketing of their produces. These problems relating to production, processing and marketing could have been solved to a greater extent if farmers would have received information in right time from a particular source or information center at community level. In general, the problems relating to agricultural information are-

w         Inadequate demand driven information to the farmers-Input, production, price, market

w         No effective agriculture information centre or service centre at community level

w         Poor access to agricultural information

w         Knowledge and information gap at operational level

w         Inadequate documentation & exchange of good agricultural practices (GAP)

It can be noted that the farmers of Bangladesh are in crying need to have the in-depth modern information on production and protection technologies of different crops, weather and crop forecast, market information and so on. Urgency of any messages or communication materials at any emergency situation is always of utmost importance for the rural people, which can save the farmers from great loss. Moreover the information needed by the farmers for a particular region differs from another region. New income generating activities will be emerged, Food security, livelihood improvement scope will be accelerated, Farmers empowerment will be facilitated through both Print, Electronic media and electronic version.

Online sources

Agriculture Information Service is providing agriculture information to rural people specially farmers through their website http://www.ais.gov.bd . This website is the only biggest Bangla version website in the country. It includes textual, audio, video, graphics and many other forms of contents. Many other agricultural websites have been developed that could be the sources of online agricultural information. Some of them are www.moa.gov.bd, www.dae.gov.bd, www.barc.gov.bd, www.bari.gov.bd, www.dls.gov.bd, www.sca.gov.bd, www.brri.gov.bd, www.bjri.gov.bd, www.dam.gov.bd, www.bfri.gov.bd, www.hortex.org, www.badc.gov.bd, www.knowledgebank-brri.org, www.foshol.org, www.fisheries.gov.bd, www.teaboard.gov.bd, www.ruralinfobd.com,www.bina.org.bd, www.blri.org.bd,www.bsri.gov.bd, www.namdec.gov.bd,www.ilri.org and many others.

Offline sources

Both Government and private entities are generating CD, DVD, Animation and other multimedia products for telecentre. Other than the government agencies, private organization are playing major role to produce off line agricultural information content in Bangladesh.

Television program

Television is the most powerful, popular and effective media in technology transfer. Currently Agricultural program is telecasting trough different TV channels including both government and private channels. Mati-o-Manush, Banglar Krishi are popular farm telecast program of BTV. AIS providing technical support to BTV in planning, designing developing and telecasting these programs. These TV show changed the traditional outlook on Agriculture by focusing on Crop Diversification non-farm sectors for income generation and still the most watched show by the rural farmers.

Radio program

Bangladesh Betar Government radio is broadcasting agricultural program everyday for consecutive 12 hours through national and regional stations. A national program and 10 regional stations broadcasting morning, noon & evening are regularly in own local dialects with the coordination of AIS central and regional offices. Desh Amar Mati Amar, a state-run agriculture radio program is also broadcast everyday for 25 minutes. This is designed by AIS regarding the selection of season-based topics and resource persons. This program answers hundreds of response from audience on integrated issues related. Besides urgent messages or communication materials at any emergency situation like flood, drought, pest infestation etc. are broadcasted quite often. 32 (16 broadcasting on air) community radio is going airing program from different parts of Bangladesh. Having witnessed the popularity of these programmes, GoB and non-government players are now introducing interactivity in these programs such as phone-in option, talk shows for farmers and extension workers to interact with agriculture policy makers and experts.

 

Documentary

Both Government and private organizations are producing different approach of documentary in Infotainment style on agricultural topic. In this field, AIS is leading the major role as they have the highest number of documentary on social issue. By this time more than 100 in numbers documentary were prepared and projecting in the rural and remote area of the country. in different format and style by following Infotainment, Edutainment and Agrotainment.

Mobile Phone

There is always a need of convenient and quick source of reliable information among farmers for faster problem solving. With an objective to help the farmers gaining more efficiency some initiators already been initiated for better mobile service for farmers through Interactive Voice Response (IVR), Telecentre call, SMS, MMS, AM, BM etc. considering some key insight of the farmers segment such as, Literacy is low; ii. Looks for the most efficient communication medium; iii. Predominantly voice users- a human agent managed call center based advisory service for the farmer was conceived of to be launched.

Upcoming Plans

It is envisioned that the e-Agriculture Community building upon the current successful knowledge sharing functions, and developing an interconnected series of pilot interventions, models of action and means for assessment, based on inputs from the e-Agriculture community. Lessons learned from the national and regional components can be captured and disseminated through the e-Agriculture community, and through other major participating institutions in support of capacity building.

AIS initiatives

AIS have been working under the Ministry of Agriculture since its establishment in 1961 and have been playing a significant role in the agriculture sector providing mass media support. Meanwhile, AIS has proved that mass communication is one of the strongest methods in transferring technology among the rural people. AIS with its limited resource is trying to transfer agricultural technology through mass media like Radio (12 consecutive hours broadcasting in a day), Community Radio (Krishi Radio FM 98.8), Television (Mati-O-Manush, Banglar Krishi…), Video docu-production and projection through mobile cinema van, print media(Krishi Kotha , Samprosaron Barta…), Call center 16123, Biggest website in Bangla www.ais.gov.bd, Mobile phone services & so on.

Suggestions in e-Agriculture

w         Doing every things through PPP under a unique integrated umbrella by good coordination system

w         Intensive practical training on e-Agriculture;

w         Develop farmer’s friendly digital contents. Community based information centers should function through digitization in online & offline facilities;

w         Infrastructure and related facilities up to remotest area of the country;

w         Up skilling of professionals for proper guidance of real development on e-agriculture;

w         Ensure Agro-based Webpage with ample information can be developed in Bengla and regularly updated

w         Krishi help line or Agri help line should be promoted centrally ;

w         Farmers Knowledge bank and repository should be established with validated agricultural Onformation;

w         Nationwide mobile cinema shows should be extensive through the country;

w         More field and location specific problem based agricultural program should be launched;

w         Market Information should be increased in farm broadcast & telecast program;

w         Live Radio & TV program including phone-in program should be included properly;

w         Agricultural Terrestrial TV Channel should be established;

w         Establishment need number of Community Radio at community level throughout the country;

w         Encourage on Integrated agriculture & dissemination of new agricultural information and technology;

w         Preparedness of climate change & weather forecasting by strengthening of  telecentres;

w         Economic Crop zoning formulation specified on cropping pattern, crop rotation, cropping intensity ;

w         Awarding system on agriculture for all corner of e-agriculture;

w         Ensure Power/Electricity availability 24 hours by any means;

w         Regular training program and knowledge updatation for all categories of stakeholders;

w         Strengthen Inter and intra communication of all related departments and organizations…

To achieve millennium development goal of the Government digital agriculture has no alternative to work together in a common harmony and perfect plan. Successful transfer of modern agricultural technologies is the most important pre-requisite for higher and sustainable agricultural production, food security and improvement of livelihood of the farmers. Enhancing productivity, resource use efficiency, using cutting age science, on-farm experiments and above all productivity and maintaining a reservoir of good human resources to sustain knowledge intensive agriculture has become critically important. Farm people demands considerable scientific and technological inputs and information. Hence these technological resources should be made available at the door- step of the farm people by e-agriculture. Radio and Television are broadcasting very good agricultural program that have created a lot of interest for new technologies among the farmers. On the other hand, innovative electronic programs in the form of Websites, Management Information System (MIS), etc. have been using widely by the planners, researchers and other professionals working in agricultural development. By effective use of e-agriculture it is anticipated that the new era of agricultural technologies to all users will certainly be enhanced.

Effort initiated by the Government of Bangladesh and development partners to reduce poverty and malnutrition is to be guided by the Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS) and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The aims to match the overarching goal of achieving 50% reduction of poverty in the population living below the poverty by 2015 is motto of UN. Government of Bangladesh has passed an act of Right to Information for all citizens. Hence agricultural information for the grass root people of the rural areas is very important. Information plays a vital role for livelihoods improvement, but farmers are not getting demand driven information. In order to reach the above mentioned modern updated technological information at the doorstep of the rural people. AIS, on behalf of government trying to get all the information from possible sources and disseminate as from one stop and single door service by the help of all stakeholders by all means of broadcasting media. And hopefully a brighten, glorious agriculturally developed Bangladesh will emerge within in shortest time. Then we would feel proud this is our agriculture based Bangladesh.