Access to ICT4Ag in India

An advantage of having a peer coach is that you may never know what they might lead you to in your own sector. My WhyDev peer coach Eric Couper introduced me to the budding ICT4Ag industry in India when he was in Ethiopia! ICT4Ag means Information & Communication Technology for Agriculture. This introduction is for readers outside of the agriculture and rural development sector.  ICT4Ag in India largely comprises of mobile agricultural advisory services (mAgri) with Digital Green being an exception. Thanks to Eric, I listened to the webinar by Mr. Jawahar Kanjilal of Nokia India on how Nokia is making inroads into the agriculture sector with it Life Tools.

mAgri is the 21st century’s answer to 20th century TV shows like ‘Amchi Mati, Amchi Manasa’ (Our Soil, Our People). DD Sahyadri’s agriculture extention education show was undoubtedly one of the first ICT4Ag ventures witnessed by India and many Marathi families would without fail tune into the show 6:30 PM every evening before the arrival of cable television in India. The show continues till this date.

I decided to get the farmers we worked with to use these services and to know what they think about such services. Here is the story of the roadblocks I faced for the 2 services that I talked to farmers about.  On being explained the use of mobile advisory services for information on weather, crop inputs and market prices, farmers say that they will willingly buy these services. My mAgri popularization flight faced numerous logistical snags in the town of Mandla. It clearly isn’t easy to access mAgri services of several companies. My account here is that of someone operating from a tribal area of Madhya Pradesh, specifically the districts of Mandla and Dindori.

1)      Nokia Life Tools

I had seen this video of Nokia a long time ago but had completely forgotten about it and had never bothered to check out how they were going about it.

I explained Nokia Life Tools and its uses to some farmers in the Ghughri block, Mandla, Madhya Pradesh. People were keen on accessing such a service but here is the hurdles.

1. You have to buy a Nokia phone to be able to use Life Tools. Given that most people I had met already had phones, (Lava/ Micromax), there was no way they were going to buy a Nokia phone just for the sake of the Nokia Agriculture Life Tools service. Villagers say that they prefer the Lava and Micromax phones because they have long-lasting batteries which are necessary given erratic electricity supply in rural areas.

2. Nokia Life is not supported by BSNL cellular services. BSNL is the mobile network available in Ghughri, Mandla. Nokia will face this problem across India where BSNL is the only cellular service provider.

3. The non-availability of Nokia Life in the higher end Nokia phones is problem no.3. A wealthy farmer who has profitable business(es) apart from farming, or a rich sugarcane farmer who can afford a Nokia Lumia model cannot access Nokia Life despite being a Nokia phone owner.

2)      Reuters Market Light

Given that people have to buy a Nokia phone to access its ICT4Ag service, I searched for services that did not require the purchase of a cell phone of a specific brand. I found Reuters Market Light (RML).

RML provides agriculture related information on weather, market crop prices, insect and pest management details during the period for which the farmer has subscribed to RML. The customer has to buy RML direct cards just like mobile talktime recharge cards and activate the service on their existing cell phones.

I explained how RML works to some women’s self-help groups in Mandla block. They did show inclination to buy the RML service because they said that they would go to Jabalpur to sell their sugarcane stock if the prices were higher there as compared to Mandla. Moreover, the Mandla block does not have network connectivity problems as much as the Ghughri block does due to its mountainous and forest terrain. I checked the website of RML to know where one could buy RML cards. You can buy them only in Aadhaar stores.  The closest Aadhaar store was in Indore, 610 kms away from Mandla!  I decided to explore other ways of getting RML to our women farmers.  I found Mr. Manav Khosla of RML on Twitter.

I called up the RML toll free number. They put me in touch with their distributor for the Jabalpur division. This gentleman explained that customers will have to make the payment to the nearest branch of State Bank of India (SBI). The RML service will be activated on the basis of this payment. Nice!

Instead of sending the whole village to the SBI office in Mandla, I decided to visit SBI myself to understand the procedure. Turns out, that the SBI officials weren’t very sure themselves about proceeding with this and how to accept payments. Their lack of information ensured that I was turned into a shuttle-cock for a quarter of an hour as they sent me from one manager to another. After being tossed from here to there about 5 times, I finally got to the right person. Here is what he had to say.

“The RML people had visited us some months ago to make a presentation about RML. We do accept payments for RML but only if the customer has a SBI bank account.”

My question, “So if a person does not have a SBI bank account and wants to subscribe RML service, they’ll have to open a SBI bank account first?”

SBI Bank officer said, “Yes, madam.”

The problem over here is that the more popular bank in Mandla is the Central Bank of India (CBI), not the State Bank of India. Most villagers have accounts with CBI . RML should have kept the option of subscription via CBI open. People aren’t going to open bank accounts in SBI to access RML.

Moral of the story: SBI gets to decide whether RML can have more customers or not in areas that have no Aadhaar stores.  Methinks this marketing and sales strategy needs to be updated.

Given the logistical difficulties for getting the people we worked with to use ICT4Ag services, I decided to leave ICT4Ag alone and focus on the work I already had on hand.

Now for the famous LEARNINGS:

1. Purchasing ICT4Ag services in India is not yet as easy as subscribing to a mobile connection & buying mobile recharge.

2. Certain ICT4Ag services are dependent on specific cellular network providers.

3. Farmers across India aren’t yet aware of the existence of ICT4Ag services and this calls for better advertising and marketing.

4.  Indian farmers are keen to pay for ICT4Ag services for accessing market prices, weather information and insect & pest management information.

The Indian ICT4Ag sector is still setting itself up. Access to these services will simplify in the next decades. While there are studies on the content delivered by ICT4Ag services in India, a lot more feedback is needed from the customers for their perspectives on the ease of purchasing these services.

P.S.: Thank you WhyDev & Eric!

Edited on May 1, 2014 to include a better code for the Nokia presentation from Slideshare thanks to Nalini Kumar Muppala.


The Futility of Penalizing the 3rd child

Here is a reproduction of a blog post I had written back in 2008.
There are talks in the Kerala government circles these days regarding the imposition of the ‘two-child’ norm for couples failing which they will be penalized Rs. 10000 per ‘extra’ child and disqualification of the 3rd child for of free healthcare and education. This rule might be forced to bring down the birth rate further. Kerala already has the lowest birth-rate in India. I sincerely appreciate and approve of their intentions but sadly, they have missed the point. I wish to know whether beggars, commercial sex workers and slum dwellers will be made to shell out the fine for it is always this category of people who seem to have a gaggle of kids with them. Making something compulsory will make people resent it. Moreover, it will add to the workload of our sufficiently stressed law enforcement agencies. Instead, there should be higher emphasis on sex education so that people started making educated choices in their sex lives. We must adopt a sensitive approach towards educating the masses about safe sex and use of birth-prevention methods. Experiments in Uttar Pradesh are already bearing fruit. In Lucknow, a youth-oriented initiative, called Saathiya, is working closely with chemists to educate clients, especially those from weak economic sections of the array of birth control measures available and even reducing the awkwardness associated with the sales of condoms. This has lead to an increase in condom sales, some areas even reporting a 300% jump in the sales of condoms. This project was launched by Private Sector Partnerships for Better Health and USAID, the development funding arm of the US government. A 2006 project called “Condom bindaas bol” was intended to tackle a fall in condom sales in 8 Indian states that represent 45% of the Indian condom market. The more recent launch of the “Condom Condom” ringtone to popularize condoms in These states – BiharChattisgarhDelhiJharkhandMadhya PradeshRajasthanUttar Pradesh and Uttaranchal – constitute 40% of India’s populace of more than 1 billion. The Kerala government can take a leaf out of these initiatives and promote them instead of cooking up stupid money-minting schemes. The more recent launch of the “Condom Condom” ringtone to popularize the word ‘condom’hits bull’e eye. It will undoubtedly help deflate the shame associated with the word in popular usage.
We cannot blindly imitate China and impose a ceiling on the number of children couples can have. China is slowly confronting problems related to an ageing population and low number of youngsters. The one child norm created a preference for boys, which in another 10 to 20 years may translate into higher crime rates by testosterone charged single males unable to find partners. The situation is also grave in countries like Japan, Russia and Germany where employment might take a hit if there aren’t sufficient numbers of young men and women to replace those who retire from active work life. The Japanese Health minister, Hakuo Yanagisawa, went overboard by saying that he wants ‘birth-giving machines’, aka women, to have more babies. It is easy to imagine the outrage he managed to cause! Germany is concerned about 30% of its adult women being childless by choice; the figure touches 40% in case of female who have completed graduation. The Germans have also debated compensating working parents with €3,000 annually for childcare costs against tax, urging women to have more children. A number of other countries facing declining birthrates have offered similar incentives. Australia offers a $4,000 additional benefit for each child and in recent times has proposed to reimburse all child care expenses for women who desire to work. Numerous European nations, with France, Italy and Poland, have offered some arrangement of bonuses and monthly compensation to families. Closer home, Singapore has a principally bountiful plan: $3,000 for the first child, $9,000 in cash and savings for the second; and up to $18,000 each for the third and fourth. Several Japanese regions, in the face of almost calamitous population loss, are offering rich incentives. Yamatsuri, a 7000 strong municipality, north of Tokyo, offers parents $4,600 for the birth of a child and $460 a year for a decade. In a throwback to the Stalin era, the Duma intends to tax childless couples either to encourage Russians to have more children, or make childless Russians help absorb the costs of the government’s maternal capital program, which gives 250,000 rubles (9,200USD) to mothers for the birth of another child. In fact, for every sixteen Russian deaths, only 10 Russian tots join the population. All the mentioned countries are now confronting the challenge of supporting the retirement of its seniors who are turning into an unproductive, economic burden in the absence of youth.

These nations mentioned here are naturally at the other extreme of the demographic spectrum, their problem being the antithesis of our problem. The irony of demographics across different continents should teach everyone some lessons. Undeniably, we do need to stop our people from having very large families but that does not imply that we start imposing fines. The countries with low birth rates also have 97 to 99% literacy amongst their women. The government can do much good by improving sanitation and other facilities in schools so as to keep girls in school. The lack of toilets is often cited as a reason for girls dropping out early from schools. According to a survey conducted by National University of Educational Planning and Administration, only 37.42 per cent of the 11,24,033 schools in 604 districts had toilets for girl students. The absence of toilets can be a major disincentive for pubescent girls to pursue schooling. If local governance bodies like Gram Parishads and Zilla Parishads start ensuring that the local schools have separate functional toilets for girls and boys, that may help keep girl longer in schools, thereby increasing literacy and decreasing the chances of early marriage, often responsible for high fertility. All Indian states should adopt the scheme in Bihar, Mukhya Mantri Balika Cycle Yojana (Chief Minister’s Cycle for Girls Scheme), and provide cycles to girls for going to school so that transport between their residences and schools does not prove to be a hindrance for education. The Indo German Watershed Development Programme in Maharashtra has shown that watershed development in villages leads to reduction in migration due to lack of employment and leads to women’s empowerment. This also leads to improvement in literacy levels as children get to go to one school for an academic year and do not have to miss out on school due to their parents’ search for employment form town to town. The IGWDP has successfully shown that within 2-3 years of the implementation to a watershed management program, the demand for education amongst women rises. Higher levels of education do transform fertility rates as well as income levels. Better facilities for women will encourage more women to pursue careers. Dividing time between work and family, inevitably calls for a small family. That will predictably cause people to have just one or two children. Even if some families opt for bigger sizes that should not pose a problem.

Improvement in literacy levels cannot certainly be the only solution to high levels of fertility. There must be adequate efforts to improve the perception of the girl child. If people continue to consider daughters as liabilities, then early marriage to get rid of the ‘burden’ will be inescapable. The preference for sons also leads people to keep having more girl children in order to beget a boy. There also lies one cause of high fertility. But urbanization of semi-rural and rural areas may help curb such extremist reproductive behaviour over the coming decades although it may not reduce the bias against girls. Affluent areas of BombayBangalore and New Delhi continue to have some of the worst sex ratios in the country, but at least the families remain small. There must exist efforts at the grassroots levels to convince people that educated women are beneficial to the family. Very often, people favour less educated girls for a daughter-in-law as they believe that better learned girls are disobedient and headstrong. This is far from the truth. Educated women take better care of their families as compared to uneducated women.

Keeping in mind the myriad problems of gender and perception of education that we have in this country, a fine to bring down the birth rate with prove futile. Those living below, on and slightly above the poverty line will be de facto exempted from such fine. People will not be treated equally when it comes to imposition of such fines. The attempts to reduce the birth rate should be sustainable and must be implemented in such a manner that we do not end up like China, Germany, Japan and Australia in about 40 years. Otherwise, it is our generation that might become a burden for our children who may not be sufficient in number to support an ageing population.

Getting India subtitled

If I were to be given the choice to do just one thing for India’s development, then I would make it compulsory for every TV channel in India adopt same-language subtitling (SLS) for their shows. Live TV can be spared. This idea has compulsively played itself on a loop in my cranial development jukebox for the longest time now. Yes it sounds crazy but its ok. I had myself used SLS to learn French and had raved about its effectiveness on my old blog here. Having personally experienced the benefits of SLS, I have come to conclude that making SLS obligatory for TV channels will help India improve its HDI rank (136 out of 187 countries).

Dr. Brij Kothari, professor at IIM-Ahmedabad and an Ashoka Fellow, is the pioneer of Same Language Subtitling in India. He is the winner of the 1st Internation Literacy Prize of the Library of Congress that was announced last week. SLS was first used on the Gujarati programme Chitrageet in 1999. It immediately caught the fancy of the masses. Doordarshan being a laggard paid heed to Dr. Kothari’s patriotic idea only 4 years later in 2002.

The Problem.

  1. Officially, India is home to 778 million “literates” and 273 million illiterates, however an estimated 389 million “literates” are, at best early-literate.
  2. The results from the Programme for International Student Assessment of 2009 make experts estimate that an Indian class 8 student is at the same level as a …class 2 student from Shanghai when it comes to reading skills.
  3. The Education NGO Pratham’s Annual Status of Education Report for 2011 found that in Class 5, 51.8% of the students could not read a Class 2 level text.
  4. Studies conducted at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, confirm that over 50% of ‘literates’ in India cannot read the headline of a newspaper.

See Mr. Kothari inform Mr. Shashi Tharoor about this on Twitter:

So what is functional literacy?

There are varying levels for being literate. Here are the 3 important ones.

  • Baseline literacy: the ability to read and write at a level that enables self-confidence and motivation for further development.
  • Functional literacy: the ability to read and write at a level that enables someone to develop and function in society, at home, in school and at work.
  • Multiple literacy: the ability to use reading and writing skills in order to produce, understand, interpret and critically evaluate texts received through a variety of media and in many forms (print, digital, audiovisual)


What does SLS offer?

While watching a subtitled show, the viewer subconsciously associates the spoken word with the words displayed on screen, thus practicing reading in an unobtrusive and hassle-free manner. It involves no extra cost or time investment for the viewer. This method effectively increases literacy levels even with just 30 minutes of exposure to such programs every week. SLS on television shows unobtrusively gets TV viewers to practice reading thus helping viewers who can’t read properly to become functionally literate.

Planet Read – Film Kyun Ho Gaya Na Image copyright: Eros Entertainment

Which sectors will benefit from SLS?

  • Literacy for the sake of literacy.

Nielsen-ORG survey, conducted in 2002 and 2007 to measure the influence of subtitling, showed that only 25% school children could read a simple paragraph in Hindi after 5 years of education. However, this touched 56% if they also watched subtitled songs for 30 minutes a week on Rangoli. Subtitles can even help children acquire reading skills before they start school. The Freakonomics reports that “In Finland, whose education system has been ranked the world’s best, most children do not begin school until age seven but have often learned to read on their own by watching American television with Finnish subtitles.” (What Makes a Perfect Parent? Freakonomics) Trust the Scandinavians to pull off something like this! 148 million of the 231 million households in Indian (2012 TAM data) stand to gain from SLS. Out of these, 79 million households are in rural India. During my stint in rural Madhya Pradesh (Indian state with the most severe level of hunger), I noticed that rural folks do not have the time to follow TV soaps due to the agrarian nature of their work. What they do watch on TV when they have time are channels that broadcast films, songs and of course satsaangs. So if we leave out the general entertainment segment and if only movie, music, children’s and religious channels were to start subtitling their shows, the benefits would still be enormous. Pratham’s Annual Status of Education Reports will finally start recording huge improvements instead of the status quo.

  • Improved public health

A study conducted by the Department of Sociology of the University of Cambridge had found that the average income level is only a statistical red herring as an indicator of the state of public health. The literacy rate of a district was the truer indicator. Districts with lower average incomes but good levels of literacy tend to enjoy good health as compared to those with lower levels of literacy. The most significant impact of literacy is has been observed on the infant mortality rate (IMR). It is estimated that for a ‘typical’ Indian district in the early 2000s, a reduction of 25% in the poverty gap would have led  to the saving of 1 child per 1000 live births. The same effect could also have been achieved with only 4% increase in literacy rate! Even if one Hindi general entertainment channel (GEC) was to start SLS for its shows, it will lead to great improvements in functional literacy rates in the states of Rajasthan, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Chattisgarh, Punjab, Haryana & Himachal Pradesh which in turn can lead to a dip in the IMR of these states along with improvements on other indicators of public health as well. It must also be understood that SLS is not a panacea. IMR cannot touch a low of 2 per 1000 live births (Scandinavia, where else?) without significant investment and upgradation of neo-natal healthcare facilities across India and strong political will for the strict enforcement of the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006. SLS will lead to higher levels of functional literacy, which in turn will lead to better public health. What more can we ask for? Apparently a lot more.

  • Easier TV viewing for the hard-of-hearing

The estimated 60 million hearing impaired people in India will without a doubt welcome this move (well those who have TVs at home) as already experienced by Zee Studios. The Zee folks received a letter from students of an institute for the deaf-mute thanking them for the subtitles as they don’t have to lip-read now. 

  • Crime fighting

This one can convince the reader that optimism has taken pathological proportions within the author’s head. I assure you, madness is my middle name. Jessica Aptman of the Melissa Institute for Violence Prevention and Treatment writes on Good that “up to 80 percent of incarcerated individuals are functionally illiterate; studies show that if a child reads on grade level by the end of 3rd grade, there is a 99 percent certainty that child will never be incarcerated”. Thanks to Ms. Aptman’s article I did some cyber snooping on the link between functional literacy and crime and here is what Wikipedia served me:

According to the paper ‘The Health Literacy of America’s Adults‘ of the National Center for Educational Statistics in the United States:

  • Over 60% of adults in the US prison system read at or below the fourth grade level
  • 85% of US juvenile inmates are functionally illiterate
  • 43% of adults at the lowest level of literacy lived below the poverty line, as opposed to 4% of those with the highest levels of literacy.

According to ‘Literacy Statistics’ page of

  • Two-thirds of students who cannot read proficiently by the fourth grade will end up in jail or on welfare.
  • Low literary costs $73 million per year in terms of direct health care costs. Pfizer puts the cost much higher.
  • 16-to-19-year-old girls at the poverty line and below with below-average reading skills are 6 times more likely to have out-of-wedlock children than their more literate counterparts.

This data is based on the United States of America so may be the US can also benefit if more of its citizens watch TV with the sub-titles for the hearing imparied turned on when the children are around. What needs to be studied however is whether there exists a causal relationship between low levels of literacy and crime rates in India. In all probability it does. I shall leave this to the experts. If funtional literacy can indeed help prevent crime, then SLS can also make society safer by turning TV viewers into TV readers.

  • More revenues for channels

A conversation regarding the introduction of Hindi subtitles on a popular Hindi GEC with a TV executive of that channel had him asking, “It’s good for deaf people but what’s in it for us?” Well, more viewership. Almost every English language channel that airs in India has English subtitles. Viewership of  Star Movies saw a 12% increase after the channel started airing English movies with English subtitles. One might argue that an English language channel is bound to gain in India as English is not the mother tongue of most Indians. However, even Hindi music shows Chitrahaar and Rangoli on Doordarshan saw a jump of 10 to 15%.  Since the subtitles garner more eyeballs, it is bound to make the whole triad – audiences, advertisers and broadcasters – happier.

Can there still be inhibitions for implementing SLS?

Some people in the TV business might still harbour multiple reservations regarding the adoption of SLS. Some might say that it is not their job to make up for poor quality of education in public schools. Some viewers might themselves consider SLS to be an ‘insult to their intelligence‘. Subtitling takes time and this can prove to be a hindrance for daily soaps and others might simply complain that this will hurt their bottomline. More importantly, only people who have access to televisions stand to benefit.

How can politicians take an interest in this?

SLS needs political support for widespread adoption and important policy directives can benefit from the implementation of SLS. The Prime Minister of India, Dr. Manmohan Singh, had stated in 2009 that literacy, especially female literacy,  was crucial for the successful implementation for the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, the National Rural Health Mission and the Right to Information Act that he had flagged off back then. In 2009, the UPA had aimed at achieving 100%literacy by the end of 2013. We stood at 73% according to census 2011 data and we plan to touch 80% by 2015. According to the 11th Five Year Plan, the literacy rate for persons of age 7 years or more was to have touched 85% by 2011-12.  However, this can change dramatically, even in a span of 6 months, if major GECs start subtitling all their shows or are made to adopt SLS.

The Human Resources Development Minister M M Pallam Raju has stated that India plans to achieve 80% literacy rate in the period between 2013 to 2015. In order to touch 80% literacy in 2 years, the HRD ministry is also willing to  undertake requisite administrative and if required legislative measures to integrate formal, non-formal and informal learning and to formally recognize forms of education other than formal. The HRD Ministry is presently developing a Core Curriculum Framework for adult education and is willing to adopt ICTs as a medium of instruction. SLS definitely fits in with this measure.

Politicians can definitely choose to make SLS a part of public policy as they help fasten the race to meet many of the MDGs for 2015. Infact, the Ministry of Human Resource Development, the Ministry of Rural Development, the Ministry of Women and Child Development and the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare ought to endore the implementation of SLS on Indian television. There really isn’t a need for endorsement from either Mr. Amitabh Bachhan or Mr. Shah Rukh Khan to popularize this as Mr. Kothari himself has regretted. 

Where will the money come from?

SLS is in itself a TRP boosting move and hence makes sense for the TV channel to invest in it. To make things easy, SLS can be woven in to the company’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) policy. The new Companies Bill recommends that companies with revenues exceeding INR 1,000 crore (roughly 117,658,130 Euros) spend up to 2 percent of their average net profits on corporate social responsibility (CSR) and the funds spent on CSR are to be mandatorily reported in company balance sheets.  I do not know if it is legally acceptable to use CSR funds for an activity that will also lead to profits for the company. This suggestion is open for debate.

Implementing SLS across all channels will be in tune with the 12th target for achieving the Millenium Development Goals for 2015. It is “to make available the benefits of new technologies, especially information and communication, in cooperation with the private sector.” India is already on track for the achievement of this track. This move will only strengthen the current efforts.

Smaller channels can be given the option of accessing government funds if necessary. A part of the yearly allocation for capacity building and job-led education can be set aside for the implementation of SLS. For the financial year 2013-14, Rs.65,869 crores were earmarked for this sector.  The SLS is very cheap investment since reports that every US dollar spent on subtitling a nationally telecast program (Chitrahaar) of Hindi film songs, gives 30 minutes of weekly reading practice to 10,000 people, for a whole year which is the equivalent of one paisa per person per year in India. In specific states or languages, it would range from 5-20 paisa per person per year. Implementing sub-titles across most Indian TV channels will provide a great boost to the subtitling business which is estimated to be a Rs 100-crore industry in India.

What can we do?

Television addles our brains in many different ways but Professor Emily Oster found out that Ekta Kapoor turned the TV into the Empowerment Box for rural India. Implementing SLS on all Indian TV channels will fire up the television driven progress of Indian society. Write or Tweet to your favorite TV channel to subtitle your favorite shows if you agree. Cheers to armchair development practice and more power to Dr. Brij Kothari!

Clarification – added on December 3, 2013

Some readers asked me if I meant all shows should have subtitles in Hindi or in English. What I meant is that the subtitles should be in the same language as the speech. For example, Marathi television channels should have subtitles in Marathi, Gujarati channels in Gujarati, Kannada channels in Kannada and so on.

Petition for Subtitles:

Do sign this petition created for implementing subtitles on Indian TV:

The Government of India: Implement Same Language Subtitling on Music shows in India for higher functional literacy

How caste interfered with Organic Farming

The Indian government, more precisely the NMSA, is very gung-ho at the moment to ensure that every farmer (well everyone who is willing to listen and experiment at least) takes to organic farming methods. Right now, most smallholder farmers are organic by default (lack of money and/or access to resources). The grand plan is to make them organic by design.  We, the loyal foot soldiers, are leaving no stone un-turned to get all the prescribed techniques across to our target beneficiaries or as the WhyDev guys will like it, people we work with. We are out to enhance food production and every Collector worth his/her salt is after agriculture departments and NGOs working in agricultural development to ensure that line sowing is done in as many fields as possible. Furthermore, the most repelling (not always) and complicated concoctions have been formulated to enhance soil fertility and slay pesky bugs. The way one is supposed to go about preparing them might convince on-lookers that we are out to give the grand old Getafix a run for his money. See Nimastra, Ghanajeevamrutam and Beejamrutam via DigitalGreen. Nonetheless, we are determined to ensure that our agricultural GHG emissions do not help accelerate the drowning of Venice, Tuvalu, Bangladesh and of course save our own bums. Hence our target is that every smallholder farmer in the country is taught the tricks and that he/she starts implementing it in their fields. After all, our land area is not to increase but the productivity can.

Potions for work: Chilli Garlic potion as an insecticide

Potions for work: Chilli Garlic potion as an insecticide

Me being a lover of organic agriculture since the age of 10 (thanks to a certain Mr. Captain Planet and his Planeteers) took to all the prescribed ideas with mucho gusto, thank you very much and decided to go about it in an even more thorough fashion in order to educate farmers about various options for organic manures. I revised my beloved Bible, the Handbook of Agriculture and came to the conclusion that apart from the various seemingly magical potions that we expect our farmers to cook up, there are many other locally available thingamajigs that they ought to be adding to their land but are unfortunately (more like due to the lethargy of agriculture departments?) not aware of the uses. So what are these seemingly in our face but notoriously mysterious crop yield enhancing goodies? Well there are many. I zeroed down on several of them but I chose to concern myself with two soil fertility enhancers keeping in mind my work area – Mahua oil cakes and bone meal. More about mahua and its multiple uses in another post. Farmers, especially elderly farmers (men and women) often express their displeasure with urea (they call it ‘ooria’) and SSP. They report that urea kills the land or that urea brings down the land (quality). The complaint is that if they happen to add 7 bags of urea this year, they are bound to obtain increased yields. However, the following year they need to add almost 14 bags of urea to obtain the same level of yield. Hence, many have stopped using urea, di-ammonium phosphate (DAP) and single super phosphate (SSP) altogether.

To resolve their problem in a sustainable fashion, this recently graduated enthusiast stuck to a textbook prescribed method. I made it a point to inform every group of farmers I interacted with about the uses of concentrated organic manures like bone meal, hoof meal and horn meal. These are abundantly available, especially near the periphery of the forest (as per the villagers themselves), are very cheap and being slow release fertilizers, provide benefits to the soil for up to 3 years (residual effects included). Bone meal is rich in calcium and phosphorus and has low but decent amounts of nitrogen and potassium.  After having given this lecture about half a dozen times, I became accustomed to the reactions it evoked and learned to be cautious as the last manner in which I would want to die is being lynched. Talk about security concerns in the field. Here is why. Everywhere, people looked offended by the very mention of bone meal and point blank refused to use it. They throw a look that kind of suggests that they were looking at a blasted, little louse that is out to contaminate them with leprosy and in turn make them social outcasts. I risked my neck a little more and probed into the root of the problem. It turned out that our beneficiaries do not care two hoots for Article 17 of the India Constitution that abolishes untouchability and are very positively ‘My Foot!’ about the Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955. This is the scence. A certain caste whose name I shall not mention since it is possible that my respected readers might happen to know someone by that surname and then tag them as untouchables in their heads (I am such a Miss. Goody-Two-Shoes!). I shall instead call them  the dead body cleaners (DBCs). They are responsible for cleaning up the carcasses of cattle. People simply throw away their dead animals in open fields and the DBCs then come to take away the hide. The animal is allowed to rot and then the DBCs descend upon the plot again to collect the bones. Problem is that DBCs are considered untouchables. The DBCs make their living by selling animal hide and animal bones. Traders send trucks to villages where DBCs have their collected stock. Entire trucks filled to the brim with animal bones leave our area. The bones are later taken to factories where they are crushed and sent for further processing. Now I was of the opinion that people could simple buy these bones by the quintal, crush them themselves and use it in their farms. You see this is optimal utilization of local resources without relying on fertilizers of an industrial origin. Besides providing good amounts of phosphorus, the bone meal will also provide micronutrients (I don’t know which) that Indian soils are notoriously deficient in. I tried to feed all the scientific facts I had mugged up about bone, horn and hoof meal to our farmers and also the economic logic of obtaining it withing the village. But alas! All in vain! They staunchly told  me that if they start handling bones, they will be ostracized and get declared ‘untouchables’ themselves. Tribals, merchant castes, oil extracting castes, fisher folks, Brahmins all in the same boat! Make no bones about that. They are fine with handling bulls***, i.e. cowdung but no bones. Thank you very much. I tried to reason with them that by this logic all doctors (human and vets) can be termed untouchables. No use.

Our soil science professor had very clearly and concisely taught us how to use various concentrated organic manures . What the man forgot was that all that is permissible in science is not permissible in society.  Just because one has their heart and head in the right places does not imply that everyone else does. I learned a lesson again. There is little use picking up a bone with that sacred cow called the Great Indian Caste System.

Hurdles for climate change mitigation in Indian agriculture. Do we know them?

India is a major contributor to climate change and at the same time is highly vulnerable to climate change. To put the latter in the words of Shri Jairam Ramesh, Minister, Rural Development, “there is no country more vulnerable to climate change than India, on so many fronts.” (Ramesh, 2011)  More precisely, India’s long coastline, high dependence of agriculture on the monsoons, the Himalayan glaciers and highly natural resource dependent livelihoods of rural people make us very susceptible to the projected consequences of climate change. The National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) was set up in 2008 by the Government of India to meet the expected challenges of climate change. The NAPCC has a total of 8 missions to address this subject in various sectors of the economy. With regards to agriculture, the NAPCC has clearly stated that India needs to devise strategies that will make Indian agriculture more resilient to climate change and especially to increase the productivity of rain fed agriculture. The National Mission on Sustainable Agriculture (NMSA) was created under the NAPCC to address the threats to agricultural sustainability due to climate change by focusing on dry land farming, strategic planning at agro-climatic zone level, customizing interventions to enhance productivity, simplifying access to information and institutional support and creating more lab to land linkages. The NMSA has 17 goals and has decided the deliverables to be achieved by 2017 i.e. by the end of the 12th Five Year Plan. More information on the deliverables can be found here. The NAPCC is keen upon the protection of the poor and vulnerable sections of the society through an inclusive and sustainable development strategy which is sensitive to climate change and to deploy appropriate technologies for both adaptation and mitigation of greenhouse gases (GHGs) emissions extensively and at an accelerated pace. The task is ambitious and we might well say Herculean. The government has already taken numerous steps towards the implementation of the NMSA at the state and national level in the form of many programmes that are currently underway examples of which are the MKSPRKVYNFSM and many others. In order to address the challenges stepping out of the effects of climate change on sustainable agriculture, the National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture has defined 10 mission interventions for sustainable agriculture in India. The planned interventions are:

  1. Improved crop seeds, livestock and fish cultures.
6. Agricultural insurance
  1. Water use efficiency
7. Credit Support
  1. Pest management
8. Markets
  1. Improved farm practices
9. Access to information
  1. Nutrient management
10. Livelihood diversification

Convergence with the other national missions is also a key feature of the task undertaken by the NMSA. Convergence has been planned with the National Mission for a “Green India” for the promotion of agroforestry, the National Water Mission for achieving better water pricing and water efficiency, the National Mission for Enhanced Energy Efficiency and the National Mission on Strategic Knowledge for Climate Change for knowledge management. The NMSA has also clearly stated that the need of the hour is to synergize modern agricultural research with the indigenous wisdom of the farmers to enhance the resilience of Indian agriculture to climate change. The Mission would also promote preservation of Indian Agricultural Heritage to integrate in-situ conservation of genetic resources based on traditional knowledge for Natural Resources Management. There are and there will be roadblocks – known and unknown – for achieving the climate change mitigation goals laid out in the NMSA. The challenge will be to identify the unknown hurdles, document them and then attack the same. There is a pretty simple way to identify potential problems – ask farmers themselves. A field assessment can be carried out to

a)      Identify hindrances towards implementation of the mission interventions;

b)      Collect data from farmers to understand hitherto unknown agricultural innovations and adaptation strategies devised by them;

c)      Contribute to the documented knowledge of traditional and contemporary Indian agriculture so as to meet the objectives of convergence and;

d)     Obtain gender-differentiated data on climate change adaptation and mitigation.

The need for such an assessment stems from the fact that there is almost no study that has been carried out in India to understand the smallholder farmers’ perspectives of perceived changes in weather and climate. We need to understand how they innovate to adapt to changes and how they maximize or waste local resources in a bid to change their agricultural practices and maintain their levels of production if not to increase them. Nearly 700 m Indians are agriculturalists or to describe it better, are dependent on natural resource based livelihoods. 60 to 80% of our farmers are women. Very little is known about how rural farmers view climate change and global warming or whether they are even aware of what is taking place. Most studies concerning agriculture and climate change that are found online are scientific papers concerning field studies related to effects of climate change on specific crops or in specific regions. Besides, a lot of these papers are very expensive for the public to access.  Just feed ‘India climate change agriculture’ on Google Scholar and you shall know. While little is known of what rural farmers know and understand, it is important to mention that it is definitely known what urban India thinks about climate change. The paper ‘Climate Change in the Indian Mind‘ by Anthony Leisorowitz and Jagadish Thaker and the one that follows up on it, ‘Global Warming’s Six Indias: An Audience Segmentation Analysis‘ are precisely the places to start. The respondents were 75% urban and 25% rural.

Keeping in mind the main target group and the objectives of the NAPCC and the NMSA, an assessment needs to be carried out of farmers in varying agro-climatic zones (ACZs) that have been identified as the most vulnerable to climate change. The study can be carried out by using focus group discussions to discover traditional and contemporary agricultural practices of farmers and a set of 10 gender and climate change research tools as prescribed in the FAO –CCFAS training guide – Gender and Climate Change Research in Agriculture and Food Security for Rural Development. The tools have been categorized as climate analogue tools, weather forecast tools and tools for understanding and catalyzing gender-sensitive climate-smart agriculture initiatives. The questionnaires in these tools can be modified to suit the exact needs of the study so as the assessment to extract precise information w.r.t. to the 17 goals of the NMSA. The results of this study can then help to pinpoint the progress that has already been achieved through past and present initiatives by public and private bodies towards climate change adaptation and mitigation, or more specifically the 17 goals of the NMSA, the roadblocks towards pending progress and how government initiatives can be more fine-tuned to ground realities.

Where the study should be conducted?

India has a total of 15 agro-climatic zones (Planning Commission Khanna , 1989). Under the National Agricultural Research Project (NARP) each agro-climatic zone was divided into sub–zones totalling 127 based on rainfall, existing cropping pattern and administrative units. The country has been delineated into 21 agro-ecological regions, using physiography, soils bioclimatic types and growing periods by the NBSS & LUP, Nagpur.  As the NMSA has identified Rajasthan, southern Gujarat, the Indo-Gangetic Plains, Madhya Pradesh, Northern Karnataka, Northern Andhra Pradesh and Southern Bihar as the most vulnerable areas to climate change or as the high-risk areas, it will be a good idea to carry out the study in these regions. The agro-climatic and agro-ecological zones that can covered by the assessment are:

Serial no. Region Agro-climatic zone Agro-ecological zone
1. Rajasthan 14. Western Dry Region 2. Western Plain and Kutch Peninsula
2. Southern Gujarat 13. Gujarat plains and hill region 2. Western Plain and Kutch Peninsula and 5. Central Highlands and Kathiawar peninsula
3. Indo-Gangetic Plains (Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal) 3.Upper Gangetic Plain Region4. Middle Gangetic Plain Region5. Lower Gangetic Plain Region 4. Northern Plain and Central Highlands9.Northern Plains
4. Madhya Pradesh 7. Eastern Plateau and Hills Region8. Central Plateau and Hills Region9. Western Plateau and Hills Region 4. Northern Plain and Central Highlands5. Central Highlands and Kathiawar Peninsula10. Central Highlands11. Deccan Plateau and Central Highlands
5. Northern Karnataka Southern Plateau and Hills Region 6. Deccan Plateau
            6. Northern Andhra Pradesh 7. Deccan Plateau and Eastern ghats
            7. Southern Bihar 4.Middle Gangetic Plains 14. Eastern Plain

A total of 11 agro-climatic zones and 8 agro-ecological zones can be covered under this endeavor and surely more can be added.


1. Focus group discussion for traditional agricultural practices.

These focus group discussions can be carried out in a pre-decided number of villages of the selected districts to understand traditional and contemporary agricultural practices of the area. Participants will be asked to give details of cultivation of each crop (agronomic, horticultural and vegetable) that is cultivated by them. The precise information that is to be gathered regarding each crop that is cultivated is as follows:

  1. Seed selection (old and new varieties)
  2. Seed treatment
  3. Seed rate
  4. Sowing time
  5. Sowing methods and machinery used.
  6. Nursery bed preparation (only for paddy and vegetable cultivation)
  7. Land preparation (time of preparation, inputs used, machines used, labour, etc)
  8. Sowing / transplantation
  9. Fertilizer management
  10. Water management(irrigated / rainfed, source of water, machines used, labour, etc)
  11. Pest and disease management(time of action, inputs used, machines used, labour, etc)
  12. Weed control
  13. Harvesting, threshing and yield.
  14. Storage
  15. Grading and marketing

Responses to these questions will provide:

a)      Aggregated data on traditional cultivation and rearing practices.

b)      Find out indigenous adaptation measures or innovations if any.

c)      Understand the reach / lack of reach of governmental extension education services and private agricultural companies.

d)     Understand the varieties (old/new) that are favoured by agriculturalists and why. Would they like some of the old varietiesto be revived? Why? Do they favour newer variants? Why?

e)      Adoption of chemical inputs.

f)       Access to inputs.

g)      Major uses of cultivated crops (domestic use or sale).

h)      Discussions with farmers to introduce them to technologies (for e.g. SRI) and whether they can be implemented in their fields? What are the possible advantages? What are the hindrances? What are the difficulties that they faced earlier when they had been introduced to improved technologies? What kind of assistance is required for better adaptation? – What are the risks that they face?

i)        How much of the produce is used for domestic consumption? Do they have surplus? How long do their food stocks last?

2.       Gender and Climate Change Research in Agriculture and Food Security for rural development

Gender must be integrated into the discussions so as to find out perceptions regarding climate change, agriculture and socio-economic impacts from the points of men and women. The CGIAR and FAO have developed the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security-FAO Training guide – Gender and Climate Change Research in Agriculture and Food Security for rural development.  The methods prescribed in the guide can be effectively used to gather information on the climate change and adaptation measures. All the listed tools will be used in group discussions with farmers (men and women) in the selected villages and the responses obtained from these sessions can be aggregated for further research and for analyzing the possible roadblocks towards the achievements of the goals of the NMSA. Listed below are the 10 tools that are to be used and they have been categorized according to their uses. They haven’t been described in detail as the explanations are available in the guide itself.

Climate analogue tools

i)                    Village resources Map – Helps to learn about a community and its resource-base and provides useful information about local perceptions of resources by men and women.

ii)                  Seasonal calendar tool and iii) Daily activities clocks–The calendar is used to understand farmers’ perceptions of typical seasonal conditions as well as key dimensions of food security and livelihoods. The clock is used to illustrate all of the different types of activities carried out by an average individual in one day.

iv)                Farming systems diagram – Helps to clarify how rural household livelihoods are assembled and the flow of resources to and from the household and who is involved, by gender.

v)                  Capacity and vulnerability analysis matrix – It is used to understand the resource and needs of men and women.

Objectives of these sessions:

1)      Extent of farmer mobility – Are farmers mobile or not? Can exposure visits help? What and how do they wish to learn from visiting climate analogue sites.

2)      Better understand how the use of other information and communication technologies may be ways in which to effectively share knowledge about what people are doing now in places with similar future climates for these different groups.

3)      Test the usefulness of gender-differentiated participatory resource maps in helping to enhance understanding of the potential of using the climate analogues tool in potential action research.

4)      Better understand the factors helping and hindering male and female farmers in learning from others about adaptive strategies for dealing with climatic uncertainties.

Weather forecast tool

i)                    Seasonal food security calendar – Documentation of connections between seasonal climate conditions and food security over the course of the year.

Objectives of session:

1)      To better understand how we make weather information more useful and equitable to rural women and men including youths;

2)      To better understand which types of weather information is available to women, men and youths;

3)      To understand how and from where women, men and youths get information on weather.

4)      To better understand men’s, women’s and youth’s abilities to use this information, including the opportunities and constraints in accessing and using both daily and seasonal weather forecasts;

5)      To inform the design of action research to reach women, men and youths with weather and climate-related information that they can use it in making climate-smart agricultural decisions.

Tools for understanding and catalyzing gender-sensitive climate smart agricultural initiatives

i)                    Venn diagrams – Used to document the key local groups and institutions that are utilized by the target population or that are part of providing a specific service.

ii)                  Institutional profiles–Helps to learn about local organizations, including how they function, for what purpose and in clarification of decision-making roles.

iii)                Changing farming practices – Documentation of how a change in farming practices and changes in external inputs, impacts the activities of men and women.

Objectives of session:

1)      To explore how institutional arrangements can be strengthened to improve access to benefits of climate change-related interventions and,

2)      To understand gender difference in access to climate-smart agricultural interventions and opportunities.

Most of the objectives have been stated verbatim here from the CCFAS-FAO training guide itself. Details regarding the tools stated above and how to use them can be found in the training guide itself. It is available online at

Carrying out the study

The assessment can be carried out by NGOs on the field or research bodies. The NGOs can be selected for this work on the basis of their previous work in agriculture, environmental protection and rural development and thanks to the relationships that they have built with farmers in their work areas. Selected NGOS are to be trained in the use of the FAO – CCFAS training guide – Gender and Climate Change Research in Agriculture and Food Security for Rural Development. For the ease of functioning, partner NGOs may be those who are running women’s self-help groups in the selected areas. It is the mode of functioning of the National Rural Livelihoods Mission to carry out all development work through SHGs and hence it will be interesting to understand the workings on climate change and adaptation and mitigation activities from the perspectives of the SHGs and to compare them with people who are not associated to SHGs. As the NMSA recognizes the gender-differentiated impacts of climate, it will also help to carry out the survey with four groups in the village:

i)                    Women associated to a SHG.

ii)                  Husbands/ fathers of women associated to a SHG.

iii)                Women not affiliated to a SHG.

iv)                Husbands/ fathers of women not associated to a SHG.

Or else, the research body undertaking the survey collaborates with NGOs to carry out the study with the people the NGO is working with.


Outputs of the various tools shall vary in the kind of data and information that they will provide and shall serve different purposes. The major findings can then be put together from all of the above stated exercises and location specific concerns may then be discerned. Recommendations can later be made for research and development interventions that will have to be carried out by the NMSA and partner bodies for effective implementation of the 10 mission interventions. Listed below are the types of outputs that can be expected from each group of tools listed in the methodology and the goals or objectives of the NMSA that they will ultimately serve.

A. Outputs of the Focus Group Discussions for understanding agricultural practices

1. Creation of a traditional knowledge bank of existing and older agricultural practices straight from the field and from so many varying agro-climatic zones.

2. Understanding of the results and responses from the FGDs will help in the deployment of customised technologies and package of practices that are specific to regional requirements.

3. Identification of innovations, adaptation measures and good practices can help in their dissemination in other climatic zones and in further institutional research (Land to Lab transfer).

4. Assistance in customising training and capacity building efforts to suit regional needs.

5. Identification of problems with various systems – old and new.

6. Identify varieties that worked and those that did not. This will help customize hybrid or high-yielding varieties to the ACZ.

NMSA goals served by this activity

  1. The NMSA wants to preserve Indian Agricultural Heritage to integrate in-situ conservation of genetic resources based on traditional knowledge. The results of this activity will help in the documentation of traditional knowledge.
  2. Goal 4: Productivity enhancement in crop sector
  3. Goal 5: Improving seed varieties and efficiency of seed chain.
  4. Goal 7: Improved soil health management.
  5. Goal 8: Increasing level of farm mechanization.
  6. Goal 14: Research and Development.
  7. Goal 15: Capacity building of stakeholders

B. Outputs of the climate analogues tools

1. Development of Village Resource Maps that focus more on tracking farmers’ mobility and noting factors that help and/or hinder mobility and knowledge exchange regarding adaptation strategies.
2. Seasonal calendars will help to understand when mobility is possible.
3. Notes on responses, from the men’s focus group and from the woman’s focus group to a set of guiding questions aimed at the objectives of the use of this tool.
4. Better understanding of who may benefit from farmer to farmer exchanges based upon climate analogues, and why.
5. Recommendations regarding gender-sensitive strategies to incorporate in the design of action research based upon climate-analogue informed farmer to farmer exchanges and other possible approaches (e.g. use of films, cell phones) aimed at making linking climate analogue information with actions that help improve livelihoods of the poor in a sustainable manner.
6. Help in determining if using gender-disaggregated participatory village-level resource maps will help to inform all of the objectives supporting the use of this tool.NMSA goals served by this activity

  1. Goal 13: Easier access to information.
  2. Goal 15: Capacity building of stakeholders

C. Outputs of the weather forecast tool

1. An overview of the kind of weather information women, men and youths have access to, the source of this information and how they use it; and an understanding of the kind of weather information participants would like to receive and how they would like to receive it.

2. A seasonal calendar that demonstrates farming activities based on weather information.

NMSA goals served by this activity

  1. Goal 11: Developing safety net.
  2. Goal 13: Easier access to information.

D. Outputs of the Tools for understanding and catalyzing gender-sensitive climate smart agricultural initiatives

1. Information regarding the kinds of institutions, strategies and approaches that can support shifts to climate-smart agricultural practices by both men and women.

2. Better understanding of the kinds of climate-smart agricultural practices that have been taken up by men and women, how and why these changes have come about, including challenges and opportunities.

NMSA goals served by this activity

  1. Goals 1 to 10 and 13 to 16.


Data collection –  The data will be more qualitative that quantitative. Responses can be summarized and assembled into results for deriving conclusions regarding what is it that needs to be done and how can the findings positively impact the implementation of the interventions of the NMSA.

This ‘idea’ of the assessment definitely needs more refinement. There is a plethora of literature regarding what the scientific community understands about climate change, but what truly matters is whether this knowledge is reaching the people for whom it is meant and whether scientists and policymakers are in tune with the scenario at the grassroots level. Time to get there. What do you think? How can the NMSA be made a success?