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Sunday, December 14, 2014

In Conversation with the farmers- Can ICT usher in change for the better?



Photo: A Farmer harvesting Ginger in his field
Mr. S. Nongbri and his son-in-law, a class 9 dropout of Umroi village were harvesting ginger from their field on a December afternoon. Soon after, they were joined by the wife of Nongbri who started to pick the healthy rhizomes and kept them separately from the rest. On inquiring about this process, she informed me that the healthy rhizomes were being sorted out for seed purpose, while the rest, including the shrunken and diseased ones will be sold in the market. Then she instructed her son-in-law to dig 2 holes on the ground and he quickly obliged. I was curious and cannot help but ask what the holes are being dug for? She replied, “the holes are being dug to store the healthy ginger for seed purpose”. Then I asked her – is’nt there a better way to store the ginger meant for seed purpose as storing on the ground may lead to wastage and loss? Oh! this is the method we have learnt from our forefather, she quipped and also looked at me curiously. I then went on to explain the method of ginger storage which my colleague Iai Majaw, the Ginger man has explained to me supplemented with a writeup and a diagram of his storage structure. Inspite of not having any previous field experience with ginger, I now have enough knowledge about ginger storage and practices to confidently explain to these farmers, thanks to Iai Majaw. They looked to me and said “Babu I wish that the officers from the department will come us in the field and explain like you did” Please take a seat here and explain to us as we are illiterate and uninformed poor farmers. Then I sat down with them on the field and explained about what i represent, the work I do in the Agriculture Information Wing and how I passionately apply new technologies to bridge information and communication gaps that exist in the agricultural extension system.
In my two hours spend in their field, I could learn that many of my so called high technology and 21st century inventions are not able to reach them. They told me that they are too engrossed and focussed on their livelihood that they don’t read newspaper, don’t watch TV and don’t own any mobile phone either. Forget about access to internet and facebook! Then I asked what about access to State Government assistance program, awareness and training or field school- They replied in the negative and blamed the Headman for not informing them about any such programs. Don’t you ever visit the Department District or Circle office? Where do we have the time and luxury to visit and what guarantee that our visit would be fruitful? they answered back. 
Today we live in the so called 21st century in the midst of the Information and communication (ICT) revolution which has changed the way people interact, communicate and connect. Even the agriculture space has also not been left untouched by this revolution. In fact the Ministry of Agricuture is rolling out the 2nd Phase of the its ambitious National e-Governance Plan for Agriculture(NeGP-A), which aims to put agriculture in a new growth trajectory. Does my encounter above give me reason for optimism or disappointment since I will be in the forefront of this program? Is my glass half full or half empty?

The objectives of NeGP-A is to provide relevant information and services to the farming community through the use of ICT. This program is an ambitious country wide initiative which is being rolled out to 22 States and UT in a mission mode. The first phase of the pilot was carried out in 7 States and lessons learnt and best practices have been captured during the first phase.

In my 22 years of serving the department, I am of the firm opinion that the time has now come to address change in a fundamental way, i.e. to take people from a traditional stage, which they are comfortable with to the desired stage, through sustained communication and motivational campaign in order to change the way they think, behave and act. There is an art to communication which involves psychology, philosophy and sociology. Just doling out freebees and routine aids instead make the farmers more dependent on the system.
The question I ask myself “Can ICT bring in the desired change and improve the livelihood of the farming community in the present state of affairs? I take courage from the book by John Kotter, “Our Iceberg is Melting - Changing and Succeeding Under Any Conditions.” We need to reduce complacency and increase urgency! We need to create a short term win, in the least and ensure that the change would not be overcome by stubborn and hard to die “traditions.”

(The writer works in the Directorate of Agriculture, Meghalaya as Agriculture Development Officer (Information and IT) and can be reached at csshabong@gmail.com)

 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

IASF wins in 4th eNorth East Challenge Award 2013



Certificate of Recognition under the category e-Livelihood and Enterprise

Intelligent Advisory System for Farmers (IASF) www.iasf.in,  a project of CDAC Mumbai in collaboration with Department of Agriculture Meghalaya, Manipur and Central Agricultural University, Imphal wins in 4th eNorth East Challenge Award 2013 under the category "Livelihood and Enterprise" at the Award Summit held on 13th December 2013 at Itanagar, Arunachal Pradesh.
The e-North East Award platform is created to scout, review, select, felicitate, award and nurture best practices in information communication technology for development and governance in North East India. The Award concept seeks to bring into focus practices in as many as 12 categories that have impacted development and governance processes for good. The Award platform has so far a repository of more than 200 best practices from the region.
The eNorth East Award Summit since 2010 (the first award summit launched in 2010) has established itself as a unique platform and a movement to contribute to the emerging ICT environment in the region.
The e-North East Award seeks to create an ecosystem of digital innovations and best practices in North East India by recognizing and celebrating practices that has contributed to desirable development and governance outcomes. The Award is given out in 12 key categories each year. For details you can visit http://enortheast.in. The Award platform has been launched in 2010.

About e-North East Award Summit
The e-North East Award summit is an annual multi-stakeholder dialogue and consultative platform in the field of Information Communication Technology, Internet for Development and Governance in North East India. The thrust is on exchange of ideas, knowledge, and best practices, demonstrate examples and share experiences from mainstream India and from the region for better learning and replication in the region. It is being designed as a policy forum towards policy and programme declarations for further follow and action steps. It is a platform for Government-Industry-Civil Society and Academia stakeholders to enter into dialogue in deliberating on governance and development challenges in the region and exploring sustainable solutions through ICTs and information mediums.

About North East Digital Festival
The focus of the annual digital festival is on best ICT and digital practices for development including innovations and solutions that has been implemented in the region or has potentials to implement with desired results. The festival is an exhibition of such solutions that can facilitate overcome existing challenges in service delivery, e-infrastructure, content and services and networking with security. Exhibitors from the public, private, civil society and academic sector demonstrate their innovative deployment of solutions and practices.

Objectives of the 4the-North East Award Summit 2013

The key objectives of e-North East Award Summit includes:
    • Recognising best practices in ICT for development & governance in North East India;
    • Dialogue & networking on the scope, opportunities and challenges in ICT, Internet technology, Information broadcasting in Development and governance in the region;
    • Showcasing ICT / IT solutions, best practices and examples from the government, industry, civil society and academia – from national, regional and state levels;
    • Exploring areas of convergence, partnerships and agreements among stakeholders.
4theNorth East Award Summit 2013Programme Flow:

The One Day 4th-eNorth East Award Summit 2013is designed as follows:
    • 4the-North East Award Summit 2013 Congress (Inaugural Session)
    • Working Session I (2 Parallel Track sessions)
    • Working Session II (2 Parallel Track Sessions)
    •  Working Session III ( 2 Parallel Track Sessions)
    • 4the-North East Award 2013 Gala Evening
    • One full day North East Digital Festival (Exhibition & Showcasing of ICT solutions)
Plenary Areas
  • Connectivity & Access towards digital inclusion Governance & Public Service Delivery & ICTs Education, Human Resource Development& ICTs
  • Business &Enterprise Development & Livelihood Generation& ICTs
  • Digital Media, Community Broadcasting & Community Empowerment
  • NGOs & ICTs
  • Health Service Delivery & ICTs
  • Financial Inclusion & ICTs

Outcomes
  • Recognizing 33 finalists with best ICT practices in the region for 2013
  • Itanagar Declaration : an action based agenda to address challenges and explore scope towards sustainable ICT policy and programmes in NE
  • Consolidation of factors limiting ICTs and technology initiatives in NE
  • Consolidation of best possible solutions in ICT and technology for NE
  • Consolidate role and scope of stakeholders in ICTand technology in NE
  • Consolidate the need and role of community participation and involvement in ICT and technology for development initiatives
  • Consolidate scope in policy areas and suggest workable framework
  • Developing a partnership framework among stakeholders.
Stakeholders
The 4the-North East Award Summit 2013  saw attendance of stakeholders and representatives from Ministry of DONER (India), Ministry of IT, Ministry of Information & Broadcasting, State Departments, academia, corporate stakeholder, civil society and others. The Government of Arunachal Pradeshwill have its wholesome presence and participation through its key functionaries and key departments.

Organisers
The 4the-North East Award Summit 2013 is organized by North East Development Foundation and Department of IT, Govt. of Arunachal Pradesh, & North East Information Communication Technology Association (NEICTA).

Co-organising Partners: Internet Society, Internet & Mobile Association of India, PIR, NIXI, Digital Empowerment Foundation, READ India, IGNOU, Sikkim Manipal University,
The Event was inaugurated by the Hon'ble Chief Minister of Arunachal Pradesh on 13th Dec 2013 at the Banquet Hall, Niti Vihar, Itanagar in the presence of Ministers, Chief Secretary of Arunachal Pradesh, top dignitaries and officials from DIT, Arunachal Pradesh. There were 2 parallel sessions during the day. The Award Ceremony was held on the same day in the evening where the winners in various categories were felicitated. This was followed by a gala dinner hosted by the CM including entertainment by different cultural troupe, singers and artists.

The event was hosted by the Department of IT, Arunachal Pradesh in collaboration with NEDF, Guwahati.

(Written by C.S.Shabong, Agriculture Development Officer(Info & IT) and State Co-ordinator, IASF Meghalaya)

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Intelligent Advisory System for Farmers- A Quicker Solution to Farmer's Problems

- Canning S Shabong
Canning S Shabong, IASF Co-ordinator, Meghalaya and Ranjan Yengkhom, CDAC Mumbai giving a demo to farmers of East Khasi Hills district

Intelligent Advisory System for Farmers(IASF) is an advisory system for answering queries related to farming activities carried out in Northeastern states of India. The system can be extended with inclusion of any other crops from any State of India. The project covers five major farming activities (Insect Management, Disease Management, Weed Management, Rice Variety Selection and Fertilizer Management) which required expert’s advice relating to diagnostic and remedial measures.
IASF aims to improve and strengthen existing agriculture extension services by integrating Information Technology with mobile services. Sharing of knowledge among experts, farmers, students and research scholars are very important to the growth of the agriculture sector. The farmers’ queries are stored in a database along with its relevant solution (called CASE) in database. A farmer can ask a question related to the above mentioned farming activities supported by IASF and the system automatically produces a highly probable solution from a large database containing collection of queries and expert opinion given by a team of agriculture experts and subject matter specialist. IASF is also a self learning system that acquires new problems and corresponding solutions. The system can help farmer in critical times where access to an agricultural expert is not forthcoming or due to unavailability of agriculture extension worker in the field. The system is specially useful in States and rural areas where the ratio of extension worker to farmer is very wide.
This system networks registered agricultural experts from various agricultural domain like Plant Protection, Horticulture, Agriculture Extension, Marketing, Agronomy, Soil Science, Seed Technology etc. from the Department of Agriculture, Government of Manipur; Department of Agriculture, Government of Meghalaya; Central Agriculture University (CAU), Imphal; Krishi Vigyan Kendra (KVKs) of Meghalaya in playing an active role as contributor and knowledge engineers for building the knowledge component of the advisory  systems.
 
The main objectives of IASF are:
  • Provide improved services to the farming community through the use of ICT.
  • Advice and help farmers to solve problems related to their farming activities. Otherwise, they need to contact agricultural experts and private extension workers.
  • Providing vital and generic information to farmers so that they get periodic alerts on important/useful tips, ideas, knowhow etc.
  • Updates farmers on latest technology in Agriculture sector for improved productivity and quality farming.
  • Developing an advisory system which can be extended with any other types of crops in any State of India.
  • Improving agricultural extension service by using mobile services so that farmers can send queries about their farming problem from their mobile device.
  • To develop an educational materials to be used by students for their practical experience with real case scenario.
 Beneficiary of the Project:
  • FARMER:Farmers from North East Region of India mainly farmers from Manipur and Meghalaya: Farmers can get direct or indirect advice from agricultural experts for his/her query related to their farming activities covered by IASF. Farmers can also communicate their problems with agricultural experts by sending an SMS text message in a predefined format.
  • AGRICULTURAL EXPERT: Experts can advise to farmers’ query from anywhere using Internet or mobile SMS. Experts can also share knowledge among themselves by suggesting to other expert's advice given to farmers.
  • DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE(DOA): DOA can broadcast periodic alerts and useful information to registered users via mobile SMS and email. Department of Agriculture can use IASF as a tool to train new officers and extension functionaries.
  • STUDENT: One of major objective of IASF is developing educational materials to be used by students of agriculture for their practical experience with real scenario.
  • RESEARCH SCHOLAR: research scholars will be able to study diversity in farmers’ problem across north east region of India and how agricultural experts are suggesting remedial measures on various field problems.
Presently, IASF is benefiting 1886 registered farmers in 6 districts of Meghalaya and 9 districts of Manipur who uses the platform for redressal of their farm problems. 50 Subject Matter Specialist are also registered in the portal to respond to farmer's queries in real time. An agriculture expert can reply to any query from his/her registered mobile phone via SMS by sending his reply to 51969. Farmer/Student can also register themselves to the IASF portal via SMS by sending their name, address in a specified fomat to 51969. The project can be easily scaled and rolled out with localised content and languages. This is the first of its kind project in North East India, where ICT has come to the rescue of resource poor farmers residing in remote and inaccessible part of the country. The integration of web technology and mobile service delivery gateway has been a boon to this project, where the reach and scale of the project can have a multiplier effect on the agriculture scenario of geographically remote and inaccessible rural areas of India.
To know more about this project, please visit this link http://iasf.in

(The writer is currently working in the Department of Agriculture Meghalaya as Agriculture Development Officer (Info& IT) and also functions as the State Co-ordinator of IASF Project, Meghalaya) 

Friday, November 30, 2012

Intelligent Advisory System for Farmers launched in Meghalaya

Director of Agriculture, Meghalaya Dr.R.B.Dympep speaking during the launch
The Centre for Development of Advanced Computing(CDAC) Mumbai and Directorate of Agriculture, Meghalaya today  the 29th Nov. 2012 launched an Intelligent Advisory System for Farmers (IASF), which is a web based advisory system for answering queries related to farming activities and IASF mobile service, at the Seminar Room of the Directorate of Agriculture in Shillong.
The Inaugural function was attended by Smt. V.R.Syiem, Joint Secretary Agriculture Department as Chief Guest, Dr. R.B.Dympep, Director of Agriculture, Meghalaya, Smt. Urjaswala Vora, Principal Technical Officer, CDAC Mumbai, Shri. Yengkhom Ranjan Singh, Senior Technical Officer, CDAC Mumbai, representatives from State IT Department, National Informatics Centre, Meghalaya and a host of State department Officers. 
Speaking at the launch function, Smt. V.R.Syiem congratulated CDAC and the Department of Agriculture, Meghalaya for the efforts to link farmers with Agriculture experts through mobile SMS. She said that with this launch, farmers will be able to reach agriculture experts on time, access issues related to pests and diseases including redressal to their farm problems via mobile phones.
Meghalaya is the second State after Manipur to launch this service, which also integrates web services along with mobile services as a delivery channel. 
This Intelligent Advisory System for Farmers (IASF), a web based Advisory system for answering farmer’s queries relating to farming activities in their own languages. IASF also contains local interface in Khasi language, which will help bridge the digital divide and connect with farmers in their language.
Developed by a team of Scientists and computer engineers from CDAC, the IASF also uses “Case based Reasoning” and “Rule based Reasoning” as the primary engine where repetitive and closely similar queries from farmers will get instant redressal, without the need for intervention by domain expert and agricultural specialists. 
 This system also has inbuilt provision for sending periodic advisories through SMS to the registered farmer’s mobile handset by various subject matter specialists (SMS) during the entire cropping cycle.
With the launch of IASF which can be accessed from this link
http://iasf.in, farmers/students and citizens need to first register on the site to be able to log in. Once registered, they can use the crop disease and pests interface to get expert advice on pest and disease remedial measures from agriculture experts, delivered on their mobile handset. 

Monday, January 30, 2012

Innovative propagation of Oranges - Lesson from Nongkwai Village
-By Canning S Shabong
Putting on our jogging shoes, we trekked our way to Nongkwai village, a distant of about 5 Km from Mawpran, a village near Pynursla. Situated on a hill slope at an elevation of 632 metres mean sea level before reaching Nongkwai, we made the 5 KM downhill trek to an Orange Orchard belonging to Sina Mawiong of Nongkwai. We had to go down a perilous steep hill which seems to go down endlessly and at times, we felt as if we were hanging between the sky and the deep valley below. With our legs trembling from the exertion of the calf muscles, we traverse through a steep slope lined with broomstick ready for harvest, and met women folk carrying wooden logs of about 2 feet in length on their basket climbing the steep slope with gusto.

Fig. 1. A view of the Orange Orchard which is heavy laden with fruit

Our team comprised of Barry Syiem, Col. Stephen, Vishu Singhania, Cliff and myself, all eager to witness with our own eyes, how an innovative method of multiplying oranges (propagation through air layering) can potentially help regain for Meghalaya its pride of place as the largest producer of Khasi mandarin orange once again. Due to citrus decline in the recent past, Khasi mandarin oranges have almost vanished from many orchards, especially those located in the southern slopes of the State. We had travelled this far to meet bah Steshon Mawiong, a progressive second generation farmer who’s orange orchard, comprising about 5 hectares has become one of the model orchard visited by many visitors and enthusiast alike. Steshon Mawiong has mastered an innovative method of propagating oranges by a process known as “air layering” or ‘bait soh’ in his native jargon. Layering is a process of propagation of fruit trees, which produce true to type progeny. In the conventional air layering, a thin plastic sheet is use to cover the portion of the branch which has been stripped of about 3-5 inches of its bark, patched with a handful of soil and then covered by this thin plastic sheet to make it air tight.

Fig. 2. A one year old orange fruit tree propagated through this method 

Steshon Mawiong is the eldest of 8 family members of Late Shri. Jrui Nongrum, who single handedly terraced his entire orchard with stone chips and stone boulders in order to plant oranges. He is also the pioneer of this innovative method of air layering, which was subsequently passed on to his son, who has now become a master trainer in this indigenous method of air layering. At present, the mother Sina Mawiong, son Steshon and Phruin Mawiong and their family lovingly maintain the orchard, which we witnessed is heavy laden with a bountiful harvest of low hanging orange fruit, ready to be plucked and transported up the hill slope of 2500 steps to the nearest market.
“This year has been a very good year”, quipped Steshon, with a gleeful smile. One of the best orange tree in his orchard is producing about 240-300 well rounded oranges.  At present about 500 trees are of bearing age and is providing him with an income of Rs. 400-450 per ‘bhar’ (64 number of oranges = 1 bhar). In a single market day, he is able to send about 60-70 bhar to the nearest market located at Mawpran from his orchard. The only drawback is the lack of a motorable road, as the load has to be carried on head load or in bamboo baskets up the steep hill.

Fig.3.  Close up view of a branch which is being propagated through layering 

Steshon proudly told us that his orchard consists of about 3000 number of orange trees at various stages of formation. He also pointed to us a 1(one) year old propagated tree already fruiting in his orchard. This was made possible through his innovative method of air layering, where the branch from which the progeny was multiplied through air layering was already in the fruiting stage. This technique is a very innovative method in orchard propagation, where the fruits can be harvested only 1-2 years after planting.    
Steshon Mawiong also demonstrated to us this layering technique which he has learnt from his father. In the beginning, he dug out soils from his garden, pounded this soil with a stick and then pass it 2-3 times through a fine sieve, so that he could get very finely graded soil. He then collected this fine grained soil into a bag, and carried along “sla met” or Phrynium pubinerve leaves in lieu of plastic sheets normally used in layering. The use of ‘sla met’ leaves is his novel method used in this indigenous propagation through air layering. In order to contain the soil used in layering, he used the traditional thin bamboo strips as threads, which are used in traditional packaging methods.  A thumb sized branch is carefully selected from a mature tree, where two circular cuts are made with a knife keeping a distance of 3-4 inches from both circular cuts. The space between both these circular cuts is then scrapped of its barks with the knife. Then, the leaves are tied in the shape or a cone and then the fine soil is inserted into the cone shaped leaves. A small stick is use to push the soil firmly into the cone shaped leaves, such that the soil covers the entire part of the scrapped portion of the branch. Then, the bamboo strips are then used to tie up the entire contraption to make it air tight.

Fig. 4. Steshon Mawiong demonstrating his innovative method to the visiting team 

The best time for layering, according to Steshon is during the months of December-January. Root formation will take about 6 months (May-June) and planting can be taken up during the month of July-September. He also informed that the normal fruiting will take place by the 2nd year onwards, which is a faster way of propagation method compared to grafted, budded or seed propagated plants.
Both Steshon Mawiong and his wife, Sina Mawiong and their 2 children went about their work of harvesting the fruits of their labour and to our amazement, gifted us about 2 basket full of ripe oranges for the team – we wondered how on earth are we going to carry back this gift up the slope. To our utter surprise and relief, one of the family members also offered to carry it for us; we not only experienced hospitality at its best, but also had a firsthand experience of the generosity of this simple and hardworking family.     
(The writer is working as Agriculture Development Officer(info), Agriculture Information Wing, Directorate of Agriculture, Meghalaya and can be contacted at csshabong@gmail.com )     
 

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Agricultural Marketing in Meghalaya – Problems & Prospects

In simple words, Marketing involves finding out what the customers want and supply it to them at a profit. A classical definition is the series of services of services involved in moving a product or commodity from the point of production to the point of consumption.
Agricultural Marketing involves the movement of agricultural produce from the farm till it reaches the consumer. This covers physical handling, consolidation, transport, packing, grading, sorting, cleaning and quality control to simplify sales transaction and meet different consumer’s requirement. For the farmer, the strategic function of marketing system is to offer him a convenient outlet for his produce at remunerative price.
                                               

Why Marketing is important?
The importance of good marketing can be conveniently considered from 4 different perspective of the economy, the farmer, the product and the consumer.
As societies and States developed there is a movement of people from the rural areas into towns and cities. Urban population on an expanding average grow about 4% annually. This implies that the number of people needing to be fed by the agricultural sector will double in 16 years. In addition, since the amount of food eaten by each individual normally increase as people becomes wealthier, the supply of food to towns and cities double approximately every 10-14 years.
Therefore urban markets will inevitable become bigger. In addition to improved agricultural skills, the farmers will have to take on greater commercial skills as well. This includes understanding consumer’s preferences, delivering quality produce, market oriented production etc.

Problems and Constraints in agricultural marketing:
Farmers are unorganized and have no voice to air their grievances. They are simple and are also easily exploited. Although most of the agriculture production in our State is subsistence in nature, on the other hand, if farmers are to increase production, more attention needs to be paid to the fact that their output must be marketed at a rewarding price. Therefore commercialization of the small farm sector requires the development of market oriented production as well as development of modern marketing infrastructure and facilities to handle the movement and marketing of produce in an efficient manner.
Some of the major constraints related to the development of marketing of agricultural produce in the State can be outlined below:-

1. Lack of organization: The striking feature of agricultural marketing is the lack of any kind of collective organization among  the producers. The buyers of agricultural produce usually operate in an organized way. Under the circumstances, it is common to find that the producers of agricultural products are being exploited by the purchasers.

2. Forced sales: The farmer in general sells his produce at an unfavorable place at an unfavorable time and usually gets unfavorable terms. Because of poverty and subsistence nature of his farming, he usually disposes of his produces even at unremunerative prices. Specially when there is a glut in the market immediately after harvest,  the prices offered are generally low. The nearest place where the farmer disposes of his produce is his village. The effective price realized by the farmer is further reduced by malpractices like under weighment, unauthorized deductions etc.

3. Superfluous Middlemen: Majority of farmers dispose of their produce in the village itself. The result is the intervention of a host of middlemen between the producers and the final consumers. This in turns create a long chain of middlemen in the marketing channels which results in higher prices for the consumers, while the producer share in consumer rupee also decrease substantially. 

4. Multiplicity of market charges: The marketing charges payable by producers are numerous and varied in unregulated markets and they tend to reduce considerably the return to the producer from the sale of his produce. For instance, the farmer has to pay entry toll before his produce can be taken inside the market. Next, he has to incur carrying charges, weighing charges, commission charges etc. Further, the producer has to depend on the broker/dalal to get into contact with the commission agent/buyer. For their services he has to pay some commission. In addition to the commission, he also has to pay a number of other charges like carting /haulage, unloading the cart/basket etc.

5. Malpractices of markets: In unregulated markets, malpractices tend to be common. These are: 

·         Scales and Weights are manipulated against the seller. This practice is rendered easier by the fact that non-standardized weights are often used and due to absence of regular inspection by concerned authorities.

·         There are all kinds of arbitrary deductions and the seller has no effective means of protest against such practices.

·         Large quantities are taken away from the produce as sample and the cultivators are not paid for them even when no sale is effected.

·         Bargain between the agents who acts for the seller and the one who negotiates on behalf of the buyers are sometimes made secretly such that the seller remains ignorant of what actually takes place.

·         The broker who sells on behalf of the producer is most likely to favour the purchaser with whom he comes into contact daily.

·         When disputes arise, the producer has no means of safeguarding his interest.

6. Adulteration: Adulteration is often resorted to while marketing crops and one of the most important reason is the high amount of refraction  allowed. In most of the wholesale markets, a fixed deduction is made for impurities (say 5%) and the terms are non mutual i.e. a producer offering cleaner produce which has only 1% impurities receives the same price as the producer containing 5% impurities. Naturally when this is the case, the seller takes interest to adulterate his produce to the maximum limit.

7. Lack of information regarding prices: Absence of market intelligence as to prices is another defect that contributes to farmers being unable to take timely and effective market oriented decisions.
Good market intelligence helps farmers to
·         Reduce the risk associated with marketing
·         Check whether or not offered prices are in line with market prices
·         Decide whether or not to store
·         Decide whether to grow produce out of season
·         Decide whether or not to grow different products

8. Distress Sales: The farmer on many occasion has to resort to distress sales specially when there is a glut in the market or whenever the market prices are depressed. Since there are no storage facilities for the farmers in the market, the farmer generally has to either carry back his produce or sell even at uneconomic or throw-away prices. 

9. Inadequate Storage Facilities in the village level: The most common problem faced by farmers is the absence of adequate scientific storage facilities at the farm level. The indigenous methods of storage developed by the farmer do not adequately protect the produce from dampness, insect pest secondary infestation resulting in very high level of post harvest losses. Farmers usually store potato in heaps on the ground usually adjacent to his house. As a result, considerable heat is generated inside the heap which aids in rapid degradation of  produce quality.

Role of Regulated Market:
The State has created considerable infrastructure in the Wholesale Regulated Market in terms of market yard with associated facilities like approach roads, modern auction and grading platforms, Cold Storage, modern trader stores and rural godowns etc. The market is also managed by a market committee with adequate representation from farmers, traders including government and local bodies. This has helped in addressing the myriad problems faced by farmers with orderly marketing of farmers produce thus resulting in faster turnaround time for all the functionaries involved, thereby creating efficiency in the overall movement of produce.
Marketing of Potato in the State was brought under regulation during the year 1996. Subsequently, minor forest produce like Broomstick, Bayleaf and Resinwood were also brought under regulation. Farmer’s participation in the market has also improved which is a step in the right direction. Studies done by experts have revealed that, on an average, farmer get reasonably higher prices by selling their produce at the regulated market yard compared to rural, village and unregulated wholesale markets. Regulated Markets have helped in mitigating the market handicaps of producer sellers at the wholesale assembling level. The regulation has also helped ensure fair play of trade practices and market forces. Besides in regulated markets, market charges are clearly defined and specified. Excessive commission and other charges have been reduced and any unauthorized deductions due to quality are prohibited.
                                                               

Conclusion:
Agricultural Marketing is an adjunct to agricultural production. The production function is complete when marketing is so arranged that the producer is assured of a fair return for the investment made. Unless the farmers get remunerative prices, there is no incentive to go for increased production.
The role of the regulated market in agricultural marketing also needs further strengthening by bringing more commodities under regulation specially fruits and vegetables  and market yards equipped with better and modern infrastructural facilities  like packing units, ripening chambers, electronic scales and balances, Weight bridge, electronic display boards to display current market prices,  Linkage with national markets etc. 
 It is therefore in the fitness of things that the primary consideration for the development of agricultural marketing is to organize the existing system so as to secure for the farmer his due share in the consumer rupee, thus lifting his economic status and improving his livelihood.

(The writer is Agriculture Development Officer, Directorate of Agriculture, Meghalaya and can be contacted at csshabong@gmail.com)

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

ONLINE Soil Health Card for Farmers - An AGRISNET G2C service

                                                                By- C.S.Shabong & Ian Saiborne


Fig. 1 - A view of a Soil Testing Laboratory

            Soil is a natural medium for plant growth. In addition to anchoring the plant, soil also acts as a reservoir for plant nutrients. There are sixteen elements considered as essential for plants by scientists, viz., Carbon, Hydrogen, Oxygen, Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium, Calcium, Magnesium, Sulphur, Iron, Manganese, Zinc, Boron, Copper, Molybdenum and Chlorine. These elements are considered essential because, in their absence or deficiency, the plant will not be able to flourish and complete its life cycle. All the essential plant nutrients except carbon, hydrogen and oxygen are absorbed by the plant roots from the soil.           

Soil is a complex matter made of three basic components i.e., soil solids (both mineral and organic origin), soil water and soil air. Different soils differ in their physical and chemical properties as well as the life forms flourishing in it. These components are the results of various factors ranging from climate, organisms, parent materials and age of the soil. This complex natural property of soil governs how the plant nutrients are available to plant roots. In some situations, a particular nutrient is available in plenty, where as others are locked within the different soil constituents making them unavailable to plant roots.

            The soils of Meghalaya are dominated by the laterite group. The hilly soils are mostly derived from gneissic complex parent materials and the plains adjacent to the south and northwestern plateaus have alluvial origin. The soils are fairly deep to very deep and ranging from light to medium sandy loam to clay loam in texture. They are also generally characterized by low cation exchange capacity and low base saturation percentage. Because of their location in humid areas the soils are subjected to strong leaching of cations and other elements from the surface resulting in accumulation of clay and Iron(Fe), Alluminium(Al) oxides in the sub-surface horizons, which impart red and reddish brown color to these soils. The soils are also strongly acidic to mild acidic in reaction with pH readings ranging 4.5 to 6.0.

               The soils of Meghalaya are of moderate fertility, having high organic matter content, which is an important indicator of the nitrogen supplying power of the soils. However they are generally low in available phosphorus with medium to high ratings in available potassium status. The soils favor growing of a wide variety of forest trees, plantation crops and orchards like arecanut, cashewnut, tea, pineapple, citrus, black pepper and banana etc. If external source of nutrients are supplemented in the form of fertilizers or organic manure, these soils can support a continuous cultivation of cereals and field crops viz., rice, maize, millets, pulses, potato and different types of vegetables.  

            The Department of Agriculture has established Soil Testing Laboratory in 3 districts of the State viz. Shillong, Tura and Jowai. These laboratories provide free soil testing services to the farming community where soil samples are routinely analyzed for their different physical and chemical properties including their health and fertility status. Generally soil samples are drawn from arable lands by following certain laid down procedures, before being processed and tested. The results from these different tests are then interpreted, correlated with the soil capacity to support sustained crop production, and whether external inputs like fertilizers are required to be added to the soil. Soil testing is a pre-requisite for moving towards maximizing agriculture productivity and optimizing the use of precious inputs for better margins to the cultivator or farmers. The soil testing laboratory, apart from providing free soil testing service to farmers also issue them a Soil Health Card, a two page document which provides an overview of the laboratory soil test results, as well as a crop and fertilizer dose recommendation.

Fig. 2 - Online Soil Health Card Application


               
            This soil health card is a document which evaluates the health or quality of a soil as a function of its characteristics, water, plant and other biological properties. The card is a tool to help the farmer to monitor and improve soil health based on their own field experience and working knowledge of their soils. Regular use will allow them to record long term trends in soil health and to assess the effects of different soil management practices. This card is most effective when filled out consistently by the same person over time. It provides a qualitative assessment of soil health. The purpose is not to compare one soil type against another, but rather to use indicators that assess each soil’s ability to support crop production within its capabilities and site limitations.
            As part of its e-governance initiatives under the Meghalaya AGRISNET project, whose vision is to provide improved services to the farming community; the Department has successfully implemented a pilot project, online soil health card in East Khasi Hills district.  Developed and customized for Meghalaya by NIC, West Bengal, the online soil health card uses web services to process all the input data as well as deliver the final e-soil health card via the internet. The application also sends an automatic SMS message to the farmer’s mobile phone at the time of registration of soil sample and when the soil health card is ready for generation at the user level. The first SMS informs the farmer about his SHC registration number while the second SMS informs that the SHC is ready for generation by the user. The online SHC is expected to provide a service level of 15 days or less as compared to more than 30 days in the earlier manual system. Further, if the farmers send properly dried soil sample, the service levels will come down even to less than 7 days. Presently, the SHC can be generated both in English and Khasi language from any Common Service Centre (CSC) or any kiosk with internet connectivity. Work on a Garo version will also be taken up shortly.


(The Writers are working as Agriculture Development Officer (info) and Scientific Officer (Soil Survey) respectively in the Directorate of Agriculture, Meghalaya)