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Informing farmers of the latest in agrotech

LiveMint logoLiveMint 10-05-2017 Sohini Sen

New Delhi: In a country of 12 crore farmers, it is surprising that technology is not as focused on the development of agriculture as it could be. The knowledge available to the urban agricultural researcher is difficult to transmit to the farmers in the hinterlands. It is with this agenda that Neeru Bhooshan started working on creating an app for information sharing with farmers and industry stakeholders alike. 

Bhooshan, an alumnus of the National Dairy Research Institute, Karnal, with a PhD in animal sciences from Agra University, is in charge of the Zonal Technology Management and Business Planning and Development (ZTM-BPD) unit at the Indian Council of Agricultural Research-Indian Agricultural Research Institute (ICAR-IARI). As principal scientist, Bhooshan is responsible for IP management, technology transfer and agri-business incubation.

“We at IARI were creating the technology on the one hand, and then reaching out to the farmers, creating awareness and getting the feedback as well. But, we are the developers of the technology but not the producers. For example, we develop a kind of bio-fertilizer that a farmer can use for better crop and tell them about its benefits. But where will they get it from? We needed to partner with the industry so that under the public private partnership (PPP) model, they can produce, manufacture and provide these innovative technologies to the farmers,” explains Bhooshan.

The Pusa Krishi app was inaugurated in March 2016 during the Krishi Unnati Mela and is among the finalists in the Early Stage Category of the Digital Empowerment Foundation’s awards in 2016.

IARI has two stakeholders: industry and farmers. So far the team at IARI had been conversing with industry only through conferences, business meets, industry meets, etc. But the reach was limited. Conversations with farmers were infrequent. The mobile app was developed with the aim of bringing information from lab to land so that they could reach out to both stakeholders at the same time.

The Pusa Krishi app gives information about the varieties of products available to farmers, technology that can be used to yield better crops, information about produce and the region it is best suited for, information about animal feed and bio-fertilizers, among others. The app gets updated regularly and showcases any new developments in the product or technology segment. There is also a feedback section which enables them to have a real time conversation with the stakeholders.

“The industry in itself is quite unorganized. Therefore it is not easy to reach all stakeholders. Secondly, if you look at the complete agriculture portfolio, you will notice how diverse it is. We are working in 23 disciplines and yet the team is really small. It is very difficult to do justice to the project and aim for targeted maximum reach,” says Bhooshan.

While the initial idea was presented in 2013, it took a while for the team to get things moving. Bhooshan took the help of the Department of Agriculture and Corporation’s //Cooperation? chk// IT division in designing the application. But while the idea was in place, data collection and updates were a challenge. 

“We already had data on our website. But it needed to be updated in a short span of time,” says Bhooshan. 

While designing the app, one of the things the team had to keep in mind was last mile connectivity—in this case, reaching farmers in regions where cellular network may not be as strong. Thus, the app uses lighter files, simple black and white photographs and can work even on 2G network.

One of the bigger challenges was creating trust in the sector. “The mindset of a lot of stakeholders was that they refused to believe that the government sector now has the technological know-how to make an app, and that we are willing to share it with them. But this has changed over time and now they call us,” she adds.

The app itself is easily available— on Google Play, Mygov.in, Department of Agriculture and Cooperation’s website, and the IARI website. The team did not have to put in any extra effort to advertise it. Since it was launched during the Krishi Unnati Mela, word-of-mouth publicity helped. However, Bhooshan is quick to point out that in a country with 12 crore farmers, there is lots of room to grow.

The app has been downloaded 23,560 times across India (between March and October 2016). Data shows that the maximum downloads are from Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Haryana, though even places such as Andaman and Nicobar islands, Goa and the Northeast have seen sizeable downloads in this period.

Budget constraints have not hampered the application so far. The app gets funded by the ministry of agriculture (IARI was not ready to divulge figures). However, bringing out new technology in time is something they are still working on.

“Internal auditing takes time in DAC and only when the committee feels that all possible questions have been answered do they announce the technology. The technology generation takes time, but it is a normal research challenge that we also face,” says Bhooshan.

She has already commissioned new varieties of bio-pesticides, fertilizers etc. that can be listed. Continuous communication with industry and farmers is on top of her priority list and she hopes to continue to address queries that the team has been receiving through the app.

Mint has a strategic partnership with Digital Empowerment Foundation, which hosts the Manthan and mBillionth awards.

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