Significance of ICTs in better farming

ACCORDING TO a report, in Pakistan each day approximately 500 acres of farmland out of total 80 million hectares cultivable lands are taken out of agriculture by the expansion of settlements, roads, factories and other non-agricultural activities, which is considered one of the potent factors behind the regular decline in per acre yield. In routine, farmers consider themselves as information poor, but even then it has been established that majority of small farmers appear too much eager to have crop/area specific information and need solutions tailored to their budgets. There was a clear need for advice on a yearly cropping plan. The advice of field assistants/agriculture officers was considered more reliable than that of input suppliers, but farmers also depend on the experience of fellow farmers who had early adopted the advice. Cell phone usage is quite prevalent in the rural areas of Punjab as mobile applications are extremely well suited for communication between farmers and extension service providers. Information about weather, seeds, trusted pesticide and fertilizer suppliers, pesticide sprays, crop diseases and their solutions, comparative pricing of crops and inputs, balanced fertilizers, marketing techniques, food storage to minimising post-harvest losses and agriculture economics was cited as most needed by the farmers. The concept of using mobile phones as a major tool for reaching out to farmers and transmitting timely and low cost information was highly appreciated in all the villages of the province. After demonstrating some features on smart phones, farmers agreed that voice-based messages or calls were best for disseminating information. Most farmers were comfortable with Urdu as the language of preference for audio as well as text messages. The mobile phone-based services including agriculture advisory services, business management, linking farmer to traders, monitoring extension worker activities, surveys, live market feeds, linking small holder farmer to exporters/buyers, voice blogging and online training can prove to be a potential factor behind enhancing the per acre yield. Contrary to a popular belief that farmers usually are stuck with the old fashioned mindset and prone to a rigid behaviour as far as technology adoption is concerned, the results of the research were different. Most of the farmers showed immense interest in getting latest information and learn techniques which could transform their age-old farming methods. While looking at the barriers to adoption of new technology it can safely be presumed that the problem does not lie with farmers approach and attitude, rather there is a need to address their economic and social issues besides equipping them with the necessary knowledge inputs. There is a need to restore their credibility of the efforts meant for them, assist them in translating this knowledge in to action by proposing need based solutions, and help them gain maximum advantage out of their yields.

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