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From Digital Divide in Agriculture to Digital Opportunities for Farmers

Article by: Dr William Dar, DG, ICRISAT

From Digital Divide in Agriculture to Digital Opportunities for Farmers[1]

William D Dar[2]

Information and communication technologies have revolutionized many aspects of the way we live. However, like any new technology, the benefits from using them have been enjoyed mainly by a chosen few - the rich, the literate and the influential. The poor and the marginalized are left behind. They have no or little access to tools and technologies of information and communication to improve their livelihoods.

Things, however, have started to change in the past decade. And they are changing for the better.   With the massive penetration of mobile phones in the recent past, majority of the rural households are now “connected”.  With this, many  developmental agencies are in a better position to serve the poor and the underprivileged more effectively than ever before. 

Many developing and less developed countries have recognised the importance of ICT for development and have started making increased investments on IT infrastructure. In India for instance, the government is implementing the National Knowledge Network (NKN) project to provide gigabyte level connectivity to over 1500 institutes of higher learning. Already over 800 academic institutions have been given high speed connectivity. This is expected to enhance sharing of data and information between organizations and foster collaborative research. According to Sam Pitroda, the Advisor to the Prime Minister on Public Information and the man behind the communication revolution in the country in the 1990’s, the NKN will be a game changer, revolutionizing the way we connect, collaborate and deliver. Similarly, through another scheme, broad band fibre optic connectivity will be provided to over 250,000 local governing bodies (Panchayats). Over Rs 300 billion has been allocated for this ambitious project, which is likely to be completed in 18 months time. Setting up of over 100,000 common service centres (CSCs) under Public-Private Partnership is already underway. This will serve as single window delivery point for many services to the public.

The importance given to “Information” by the Government of India can be gauged better, when Sam Pitroda, in his famous press meet over Twitter three months back, called “Information” as the 4th pillar of democracy along with the Legislature, the Judiciary and the Executive. In his now famous “democratization of information”, he talks about how information brings about openness, accessibility, transparency, accountability, networking and decentralization.

Information is critical for development, hence it should be made readily available to people. There are those, however, who regard information as a source of power and a tool for control and domination and therefore restrict its dissemination.

With about six billion connected people in the world, the challenge is to create a new paradigm for development. It requires innovation, partnerships, new business models, process re-engineering, new products, and new services. It should also take into account the free flow of information and sharing of ideas between people. Investments, infrastructure and technology are very much needed but they will not make much impact if there is no matching participation of the public. Relevant information and applications can only be developed with the participation of public.  It should be for the people and by the people. Mobilizing the public however is the biggest challenge and is not easy to come by. Big changes in the mindset of the people and in work culture will have to be brought about. Strong leadership and enabling policy guidelines are urgently needed to bring about this great cultural change.

In order to effectively mainstream ICT in the agriculture sector we need to put in place a number of things:

  • A conducive policy environment is necessary to foster the use of ICT to enhance rural livelihoods.
  • The use of standards and common or compatible systems is beneficial to make information easily accessible for end-users.
  • Awareness on the potential impact of ICT on poverty alleviation must be raised.
  • Evidence of impact and on-the-ground experiences of ICT pilot projects must be collected, documented, and shouted from the rooftops.
  • Multi- stakeholder networks to bring in experiences of ICT projects and user perspectives from the agricultural sector must be involved.

ICRISAT has been a leader in the area of knowledge management. Quite early on, it realized the importance of digital content and the requirement of an information architecture for content aggregation and management. It became a reality when ICRISAT together with IIT-Kanpur conceptualized and developed Agropedia in 2009.

Agropedia was created under the NAIP as an innovative knowledge sharing platform, expected to serve as a one-stop-shop for things related to agriculture. It has been widely acclaimed the world over. It is built on open access, has a digital library and a social networking site, besides other features. ICRISAT and IITK had a major role in the development of the Rice Knowledge Management Portal which was launched by the Prime Minister of India last year. Similarly, by using the Agropedia framework, ICRISAT and IITK are working jointly in developing KM Portals on Fisheries, Oilseeds and Horticulture.

The great vision of Agropedia is to have several ‘mini’ agropedias, one for each and every crop, animal, commodity and discipline.  We count on ICAR to step up its efforts to adopt Agropedia in a big way.  Each of its institutes has a definite mandate to cover a crop, animal or a particular discipline.  Each institute should develop a Digital Knowledge Repository related to its mandate using the agropedia framework. The vast amount of data, information and knowledge found in different places, forms and in different languages should be collated and organised in a scientific way for easy access and quick retrieval of needed information.  The participation of the academia, civil society organizations, farmers and other stakeholders in content development will make the content more refined and wholesome. The co-development will also make the content more relevant and localized.

Although many ICT4D initiatives have been launched in the past, very few have survived beyond their project period.  The success and the sustainability of an open access public portal such as Agropedia is dependent on the commitment and participation of the user community.

What we are doing today is to raise awareness and build capacity which are critical in achieving success for ICT4D. I am happy that the KSI has organized this sensitization workshop involving the research scholars and fellows of  ICRISAT.

This activity will not only benefit you immensely, but I believe that your participation will also benefit Agropedia as well. I urge you to enrich
Agropedia with your contributions, inputs and suggestions.  

Hand in hand, let us together shatter the digital divide in agriculture and create new digital opportunities for our farmers particularly in the semi-arid tropics of Asia and Africa.


[1] Address as Chief Guest at the inaugural session of the Sensitization Seminar on Agropedia, 13December 2012, at ICRISAT, Patancheru, Andhra Pradesh

[2] Director General, ICRISAT


Article by: Dr William Dar, DG, ICRISAT


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Please note that this is the opinion of the author and is Not Certified by ICAR or any of its authorised agents.