Different extension approaches have been used to bridge the knowledge gap between researchers and farmers. A mix of different channels and modes works best in bringing developmental change in the farming communities’ practices as it involves a change in their behavior.
In Odisha, over half of all farmers fall under marginal and smallholder category. These resource-poor farmers generally rely on the farming advice passed on to them by their forefathers and their peers. This, however, results in farmers having limited exposure to advanced agricultural technologies. To improve their productivity and profitability, we need to transfer new and improved technologies to them to complement their indigenous knowledge.
E-agriculture: Taking farming into the future
In the last decade, Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in agriculture or e-agriculture, has been widely used as a tool for disseminating advanced knowledge and information. The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) has developed many e-agriculture tools to deliver advances in rice science to the end users. These tools are developed in different regional languages to break the literacy barrier and deliver the information using simpler terms that are easier for the target users to understand.
One e-agriculture tool, Rice Crop Manager (RCM), is being used to improve the crop management practices in rice fields in South Asia. It provides farmers with tailor-made field-specific crop management recommendations. In India, this tool caters to rice growers in Bihar, Eastern Uttar Pradesh, and Odisha.
In Odisha, after its successful evaluation in 2016, RCM is being widely disseminated among the resource-poor farmers in the state. To date, around 90,000 farmers in the state have benefitted from the tool.
Different extension channels have been identified and a mix of these is being deployed to reach out to even more farmers. IRRI provides the technical know-how and builds knowledge partnership with different implementing agencies to ensure that knowledge gaps are filled through different networks and modes.
Government: Strengthening existing network
The extension channel of Odisha’s agricultural department is the most robust and widespread in the state. IRRI, in collaboration with the Government of Odisha, is investing in developing the capacity of extension workers to ensure the sustainability of the usage of RCM. The extension workers at the block and village level have been trained through Training of trainers (ToT) program to operate the tool, interview the farmers and to transfer the crop management advisories to them in a printed one-page format.
Currently, the field staff members are reaching out to the farmers at their doorstep and providing them with the RCM recommendations. Using the learning-by-doing approach, farmers are being motivated to use and compare the recommendations with their traditional practices to see for themselves the benefits of using RCM.
Along with the push strategy going to their doorstep, extension workers also conduct awareness through demonstrations to create a demand for RCM recommendations from farmers before the start of every rice cropping season. To cater to those demands, service kiosks, known as RCM Kendra, equipped with ICT devices have been established at every block to serve as one-stop providers of RCM agro-advisories
Non-government organizations: Reaching out to poorest of poor
Non-government organizations (NGOs), like government agencies, have a wide network and serve large rural communities. Their approaches include establishing self-help groups, farmers’ clubs, model villages, etc. making NGOs an important channel for information dissemination. Generally, NGOs share a strong and close association with farming communities which gives them an upper hand in motivating farmers to try new technologies. However, they lack the technical knowledge and in-depth understanding of modern agricultural techniques.
IRRI has formed symbiotic partnerships with many leading NGOs in Odisha where experts from the institute help the NGOs expand their knowledge base on rice farming. At the same time, IRRI utilizes the NGOs’ capacity to mobilize and motivate farming communities in adopting better crop management practices through RCM. The NGO’s community resource persons are trained to use RCM and reach out to the rice-growing farmers within their areas.
Mobile technology: Better farmers’ decision-making through SMS and voice calls
The Indian Farmers Fertiliser Cooperative Limited (IFFCO) Kisan Sanchar Limited works to empower farmers and people in rural India with relevant information and services through a sustainable and affordable communication network. Precision Agriculture for Development (PAD) is an organization that harnesses technological and research innovations to improve the lives of smallholder farmers in India and other countries. IRRI collaborated with IFFCO Kisan and PAD to improve farmers’ decision-making with improved techniques, fertilizer rates, weather forecasts, and soil health.
Farmers who registered their mobile number through the RCM app receive customized voice messages and SMS on crop management practices specific to their field. Farmers have responded favorably to the system saying it provides them with additional guidance on making agricultural management decisions for their rice crop.
Delivering scientific knowledge to the farmers
Adoption of new technology requires time, effort, and the right approaches using the appropriate channels. IRRI, through its innovative ways of using e-agriculture tools to deliver the scientific findings to the farming community, is working towards exploring, strengthening, and establishing a mix of agricultural extension channels in the agricultural system. By doing so, it will ensure the sustainability and scalability of RCM—and other e-agriculture tools— that aims to contribute to better soil health, promote the balanced use of nutrients, and increase the productivity and profitability of rice cropping systems in Odisha.
Ms. Bharti is an agriculture research and development specialist at IRRI India, Dr. Sharma leads IRRI’s research in design, evaluation, and dissemination of soil and nutrient management technologies for the rice-based systems of South Asia, and Ms. Dela Torre is an assistant scientist at IRRI.