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ICT based PoCRA project in Maharashtra increases yield of eight major crops by over eighteen percent

Under the Project On Climate Resilient Agriculture (Maha PoCRA), the state has used a suite of ICTs like apps, IoT, remote sensing to improve the profitability of over 17 lakh farmers in the drought prone 5000 villages in Vidarbha and Marathwada

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Maharashtra suffered back to back drought years in 2014 and 2015. Ever since then, the duration of dry spells in Maharashtra has only increased. Weather experts have attributed this to climate change.

In order to build a roadmap to fight the consequences of climate change on agriculture and the associated stakeholders, the Government of Maharashtra in 2016 approached the World Bank with a project plan to use climate resilient technologies for mitigating the after effects of climate change and come up with ways to better manage major agricultural resources like soil, water, etc and increase the farmer’s profitability. This would reduce the reliance on the expected seasonal conditions like rainfall, weather, etc. The project would prove as a major support for the small and marginal farmers who bear the most brunt from climate change related consequences. The new manual for drought management released by the central Govt in 2016 listed five important factors to help state governments do a scientific assessment of drought: rainfall, agriculture, soil moisture, hydrology, and remote sensing (health of crops) and the Maharashtra Project On Climate Resilient Agriculture (Maha PoCRA) tries and work on most of these issues.

Under PoCRA, the Project Management Unit (PMU) was constituted to do a study based on village level data extracted from various census data conducted by the Government on a regular basis. The PMU has experts like agri-scientists, soil scientists, agri-business specialists, senior personnel from the department of agriculture, IIT Bombay, functions in consultation with World Bank.

The objective of the PMU was to enhance climate-resilience and profitability of smallholder farming systems in project districts of Maharashtra, most of them belonging to the drought prone Marathwada and Vidarbha region. The project aims to achieve the objective through promotion of climate resilient technologies and commodity value chain across approximately 4,000 drought-prone villages in 15 districts, namely, Jalgaon, Aurangabad, Jalna, Beed, Parbhani, Hingoli, Osmanabad, Latur, Nanded, Buldhana, Washim, Akola, Amravati, Yavatmal, and Wardha and approximately 1000 salinity affected villages in the basin of Purna river spread across Akola, Amravati, Buldhana and Jalgaon districts.

PoCRA powered by a suite of ICTs
ICTs have a possibility of strengthening the linkage between extension, research and farmers. Previously weak linkage between the tripartite parties is being strengthened by technology at large. In general sense, some directives and information on market rates is given from state or district level, but the farmer needs specific inputs with respect to the conditions in his area. Identifying this need, PoCRA has taken initiative in giving forecasts, and insights at hyper local level to the farmers. These steps help in changing the perspective of the farmers towards the farming profession and also leads to the digital literacy in farmers.

Aadhaar enabled payment system (AePS) for subsidy disbursals
The PoCRA has developed an online system and mobile apps with this objective in mind – this provides credible relevant information to farmers and those helping them in their betterment through this mission in the focus area of Marathwada and Vidarbha. POCRA has tremendous response as over 6 lakh farmers have registered themselves with POCRA through Aadhar linked mobile numbers. This facilitates an absolutely transparent process to give direct benefits to the registered farmers. In all, there are 17 lakh land holding farmers in 5000 villages. Out of this, there are 12.64 lakh small land holding farmers, and 3.02 lakh farmers who hold land of around two to four hectares. POCRA has opened its doors to all the farmers up to four hectares seek benefits under various schemes so as to adapt to the climate resilient agriculture.

After the project report was approved, the state Govt partnered with YASHADA, the state training agency to partner for doing the testing or PoC. The volunteers visited over 100 villages selected for doing the testing and subsequently the project kick-off was done in May 2018. Reaching out to over 17 lakh farmers in 5000 villages, in the shortest possible time to make the resources available when the season sets off is a big challenge and the use of information and communication technology (ICT) proved as a great enabler. The Aadhaar system was used for making subsidy payments to the farmers. It’s important the farmers have the requisite financials available to make the investments in the farm before the Kharif / Rabi season begins. “The issue has never been with the availability of money but of managing it and disbursing to the right person,” says Vikas Chandra Rastogi, IAS, Project Director, Maha PoCRA, Government Of Maharashtra. The Aadhaar Enabled Payment System (AePS) ensures that the subsidies are not given to the same person twice. The system also facilitates disbursements directly into the farmer’s bank account.

Not merely financial transactions are made using digital technology, but PoCRA has been, in a way, educating farmers about climate resilient agriculture as well as about the digital technology. Here is how- PoCRA has developed five mobile applications: DBT App, Training app, Micro Level Planning (MLP app), Farmer Field School (FFS app) and Staff Monitoring app.

PoCRA Direct Benefits Portal (DBT)
A PoCRA Direct Benefits Portal (DBT) was also created to disburse money under the PoCRA scheme. It provided services to the farmer without any need to leave his house. A Govt appointed cluster assistant would come to the farmer’s house and with the help of a mobile device, do the scanning of the 7/12 land documents and the caste certificate (if applicable) and the money was directly transmitted to the farmer’s account. More than 6 lakh farmers registered are in the system; The farmers can apply for multiple services from the PoCRA portal, which can be in the form of a farm pond, a drip system for efficient water usage, a plastic lining to save water leakage from the tanks, etc. Similarly there were various services under the PoCRA scheme for the farmers to apply for and it was demand led. There were no restrictions or caps for application. According to the latest figures, one lakh farmers have been given subsidies for 1.5 lakh service activities. The farmers are registered by the cluster assistant. They are all approved by the village level committee, representing the gram sabha. This is the social aspect of the scheme, which plays a major role in the success of such interventions. No technology can help without social involvement, wherein the village committee knows better about the local requirements.

Farm Field School app (FFS)
Under the PoCRA programme, the second major step was the creation of the farm field school app (FFP), which is a repository of farm related information of close to 8 to 10 thousand farms across five thousand villages covered under PoCRA. FFP app has information of various parameters of a farm, and it is managed by a village assistant, who is a BSc graduate. He attends the farms over seven to eight times during the cropping season. He monitors the crop to discuss and advise the farmer on the best farm practices of other farmers growing the same crop (either cotton, Soya bean or pulses).

Micro Level Planning app (MLP)
The village level detailed project report is prepared to create a village map, which is feeded in the micro level planning app (MLP) having information / data bank of major natural resources and assets that a village has and accordingly how the village community can come together to prepare a holistic plan for the farm practices.

The MLP app designed with the help of IIT Bombay also has a repository of the water table of all the villages covered under PoCRA. This helps the village community to plan in April or even before that on the steps to be taken to manage the water resources before the sowing for the Kharif season begins in June, July. The Govt has also partnered with the Groundwater Directorate Of Surveys & Development Agency in this regard. Morever, the IIT Bombay has a network of over 900 weather stations in the districts covered under PoCRA. The 900 auto weather stations give up to date information on the climate benefitting the farmers in deciding about crops. They provide real time information based on the data gathered using internet of things (IoT) technology about rainfall, wind speed, temperature, humidity, wind direction. This data helps in providing advisories to the farmers.

Apart from this minute details and guidelines for farmers are published time to time by PoCRA on its website, YouTube, and social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter. There, we also welcome queries, suggestions from farmers and experts. SMS notification service connects PoCRA directly to the individuals. WhatsApp broadcast messaging facility is also tapped through PoCRA which gives more personalized inputs, advisories to the farmers.

Task Monitoring app (TMA)
A task monitoring application (TMA) has been designed to monitor the movements and work of the over 500 cluster assistants who visits the village to assist the farmers, collect data, etc. The payments are made basis the performance metrics set in the app.

The profitability of the farmers will be measured only after three years of the completion of the project however the Government has created a farm field school of over eight thousand farmers, who are farming using the various agricultural technologies, under direct supervision by the Government vis-à-vis, there is a controlled slot, a small piece of farm adjacent to the farm field school, where the same crop is grown in a traditional manner without the use of any advanced technologies. “We have found that, within the same year, there has been an increase in the yield by over 18 percent in the farm field school compared to the farm under the controlled slot,” says Rastogi.

The Govt has partnered with two startups – Sapsure and Earth Analytics. They are assisting in the area of remote sensing. This technology has been used considerably and satellite data acquired through this technology helps to identify soil grade, crop condition and assessing the area under various crops. The data provided by these startups has proved decisive in sending agricultural advisories, doing different agricultural interventions for conducting the village plans, etc.

When asked about the plans to use drones, Rastogi says, “The Govt is framing a drone policy, which will provide guidelines for hiring drone operators and drone data management,”

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