Contemporary information and knowledge management: impact on farming in India
Farming is an important part of Indian economy and it involves a wide range of stakeholders, of whom the small holder farmers are the largest group. Information sharing on new production processes with farmers was prominent in the ‘sixties which was key to the success of the Green Revolution. Agricultural extension, the process of enabling farmers and experts to exchange information with each other, has since been institutionalized to a high degree and is assessed to be not as effective as it had been a generation back. The advent of digital, technology-mediated information and knowledge management was thought to offer significant new opportunities for knowledge exchange in Indian farming as a whole. These hopes led to the launching of a number of initiatives in different parts of India, which has emerged as the host of the largest number of rural development projects where contemporary information and communication technology (ICT) play a pivotal role. While analyzing the outputs of such initiatives, many studies have pointed out that farming is not a priority concern of most of them. On the other hand, we can notice a noncomplimentary strand of ICT in agriculture projects operated by a number of institutions with ICT resources playing a key role in some of them. These efforts, generally speaking, do not promote user participation in information flows quite unlike the contemporary trends. Almost two decades later, the original hope remains unfulfilled. The nation-wide availability of digital content in relation to the farming sector is small when compared to equally important development sectors such as public health. This has considerably limited the opportunities for various stakeholders to build viable online services on production, marketing and meteorology for farmers and other stakeholders. What we now have is a collection of projectized activities that are fragmented in their overall understanding and approaches. What we need is an approach that can bring together the two strands, namely, of ICT in rural development and ICT in agriculture. Such an effort, however, needs a new IT architecture to be developed for aggregation of content and to make services available in multiple modes. Two groups of projects in India, namely, the Agropedia and the KISSANKerala, have built large prototypes and human capacities using unprecedented innovations in web technology areas and in integrated services delivery (including mobile telephony). With their advent, a wider range of solutions to the challenge of developing a novel architecture for information services for farming in India are now feasible and need to be researched upon. Countries that offered extension models for India in in an earlier generation do not require innovations for mass outreach for prosperity through farming and are thus in position to offer models for the present India needs to build solutions, processes and structures of its own so that the advantages accruing from its rapidly advancing ICT and mobile telephony infrastructure and export-oriented IT sector can flow to the benefit of its farmers. Formation of synergies with non-traditional partners such as those in ICT sector will be essential. There is a task to be accomplished, and it is contrary to the prevalent understanding in the leadership of farm education, research and extension sector that all the ICT solutions needed are available.