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BLOG-90: A Treatise on Navigating Extension and Advisory Services through Digital Disruption

Digital disruption can seem like a threat, but it can truly be a game changer for Extension Advisory Services (EAS) opines Dr Shaik N Meera.

Context

If you are an extension professional involved with the field demonstrations, you must have observed that extension advisory services are being disrupted, and we are at the receiving end. Apparently the disruption will be happen not only due to digital technologies (please see my blog https://www.aesanetwork.org/disruptive-technologies-big-data-and-internet-of-things-in-strengthening-extension-advisory-services/), but also through farmers’ centric approaches that offer retail like extension services (advisory & supply chain coordination) specifically designed to meet and exceed expectations of farmers.

Extension Advisory Services (EAS) delivery in India have limited scale, sustainability and impact. Globally, it is estimated that public extension systems’ outreach does not exceed 6.8 per cent of farmers (GFRAS, 2012). NSSO, 2014 has indicated that of the 40.60 per cent households who received extension assistance, only 11 per cent of the services came from public extension machinery most of which were advisories. Farmers expect much more than access,quality and affordability of  knowledge (advisories) and services (financial inclusion, supply chain and marketing). Seldom have we dared asking ourselves what farmers want. This shows how prepared EAS systems are!    

Perhaps, the current thinking process of EAS does not take into consideration (not delivered if already considered) personalised, exceptional, retail-like experience: time and mission criticalness of extension services. It is about providing these services as how, when and where it is most convenient for them, not us.

I argue that digital technologies may help us achieve this. Not digital technologies alone! As was discussed in my earlier blog (Meera, 2017), the disruptors leverage digital tools and technologies to provide enhanced experience to farmers. The disruption in EAS should be caused with commitment to provide a superior farmers experience, not by our commitment to digital technology.

Digital disruption is happening across industries (agriculture is no longer an exception!) bringing significant values to individuals and organizations. We are spotting disruptive trends in commerce, health, hotel, governance, banking industries, but have seldom tried to relate them to rural

advisories and agricultural development. What could be done to leverage the strengths of digital disruption requires a bit of analysis. This blog is about this. This is presented in the following sections.

  1. Give Farmers what they want.
  2. Start-up Digital disruption – where do we stand?

               2.1. Current avenues for digital disruption from pilots from public sector.

               2.2. Start-up based digital disruptions models

               2.3. Strategies to redesign practices public extension systems.

  1. Winning the game of disruption – extension way.
  2. Navigating through Digital Disruption – Conclusion.

Extension Systems were impactful in the past when there was an information and technological disequilibrium between farmers and service providers. Over time, as increasing numbers of farmers become aware of a specific technological thrust, the impact of such extension diminishes, until the opportunity and need for more information-intensive technologies arise. This situation warrants extension systems to focus on disequilibria shift from production technology to market linkages and information access issues. This paradigm shift poses real threat to the conventional understanding of extension philosophy (though one can find literature related to market led extension etc,). Performance of extension system is monitored in terms of budgets, staff levels, and other bureaucratic, rather than substantive indicators. Accountability to the farmers is nominal, as typically there is neither a mechanism nor incentives, to actually induce accountability tofarmers (e.g.,Howell 1986, Farrington et al. 2002). This is ironic, as farmers are the only ones who can relatively easily observe the quality and effectiveness of the extension service they receive. This could not be done, perhaps due to the lack of standards and inability to handle personalised data from farmers. Sooner or later, one of the indicators that an extension professional has to deal with is his/ her ability to provide information and technology that farmers want – in a time and mission critical way. (Think about the definite success indicators of a private extension professional though not similar to the public extension professional). I believe that, to be relevant – we need to define to what extent ‘can EAS provide farmers what they want’.

My team at Rice Knowledge Management Portal (www.rkmp.co.in) at the ICAR-Indian Institute of Rice Research (ICAR-IIRR), Hyderabad has analysed around 11,000 queries of rice farmers from the database of Farmers’ Call Centres during 2011 (Meera, 2013 and www.rkmp.co.in ). We found that there was a clear shift from production oriented questions to protection and postharvest market related questions. Specifically, there is and will continue to be a shift from crop diagnosis and pest/disease management towards prediction and prevention. Can we really handle simple personalised pest management that includes pest surveillance and forecasting at individual field level, if not village level? That means to be effective an extension professional has to elevate his job role from giving knowledge advisory (bulletins /POPs) to retail like personalised predictive analytics. While diagnostics immediately should be followed up by management options (pesticides delivery and spray),predictive analytics should be followed by precision advisories. Both require huge amount of data from the farmers (if not comprehensive, at least representative). That is exactly what a data driven extension is all about. Linking the data and organizations to enable time critical supply of pesticides and other inputs is happening in the private sector, but not comprehensively (please refer to my earlier blog). Empowering farming communities in handling diagnostics and predictive analytics in a simplistic way will bring disruption in pest management. Providing farmers with the diagnostics and management options – when, where and how it is convenient to farmers (even field delivery experience of Amazon) will be the next game changer. Pest diagnostics is only a small component of a whole range of extension deliverables. Consider providing farmers personalised, exceptional, retail-like experience: time and mission criticalness of extension services related to every single enterprise (crop or allied sector) they are dealing with. It is about providing these services how, when and where it is most convenient for them, not us. Sounds challenging? 

If not done by traditional extension advisory systems, the incumbent extension organizations will become vulnerable to those farmer-centric ventures that offer the same or similar services, but with a delight to the farmers. To prevail – EAS must acquire and implement digital tools for a truly modern, farmer-centric, retail-like operating model that integrates available and emerging digital technologies to meet and exceed the expectations of agriculture sectoral needs.

Sooner or later we need to answer the 10 difficult questions in effectively harnessing digital technologies in EAS (Meera, 2013). Currently the digital pilots while providing extension advisories do make use of digital technologies, but within the traditional operational models that may not provide an exceptional experience to farmers. In such cases we end up with the digital extension, but not with the digital disruption.

2. Start-up Digital Disruption – Where Do We Stand?

A report by Derrick McCourt (2017) on digital transformation in public sector from UK indicated that nearly half of public sector organisations (41%) think that their industry will  be disrupted within the next two years and there is  no roadmap – only 35% of public sector senior and middle managers said their organisation has a clear digital transformation strategy.

It is difficult for the large organizations such as public sector extension systems (State Departments of Agriculture in India per se), to embrace digital strategies that would quickly bring disruptive innovations. The pressure further mounts when governments expect the organizations to work in the same way as a small digital start-up. We need to address this by analysing existing start-up digital models from the private sector, try to understand the current avenues for digital disruption, identifying the processes where disruption could be planned (?) and working out strategies for redesigning the EAS processes for improving the disruptability.

This brings us to a point where we need to analyse 2.1. What are the current avenues for digital disruption from pilots in public sector 2.2.what are the digital disruption models that are start-up based – but lack the scale 2.3. What are the strategies to redesign practices, simulate innovations and crowd source within existing public extension systems?

2.1. What are the current avenues for digital disruption from pilots from public sector?

In India like many other Asian countries, National e-Governance Program – Agriculture component (NeGP-A) aims to provide an integrated and seamless interface to the farmers for making informed decisions. The NeGP-A mission mode projects envisaged providing Information to farmers on seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, government schemes, fertilizer recommendations, crop management, weather, and marketing of agriculture produce. Most of these mission mode projects have either of the one – scale or comprehension, not both. 

Agriculture Information Portal of Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, Government of India (http://agrionline.nic.in/) features various platforms such as Farmers’ Portal, mKisan Portal, State Specific Agrisnet Portals, Direct Benefit Transfer- DBT, Agriculture DBT Portal, DBT-Agriclinics and Agribusiness Centers, Forecast Weather and Agromet Services Information, RKVY Management Information System, SeedNet Portal, Soil Health Card Information System, Industry Specific Projects like Plant Quarantine Information System (PQIS), Fisheries Input management System, National Agriculture Market (NAM), Agriculture Census, DBT in Agriculture Machinery, Farmer/Public Centric Projects, AGMARKNET Portal, Computerised Registration of Pesticides (CROP) and Seed Export Import System etc.

Most of these initiatives are aimed at creating platforms without much emphasis on comprehensive, up to date and real time data/ information/ knowledge sharing. They appear to have scale in terms of frameworks, but do not have substantial quantities of data that would make a difference. The Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) platforms (please see https://dbtdacfw.gov.in/Home.aspx) are more like G2G kind of initiatives that aim to faster expedite fund transfers and monitoring of progress under each category.

Similarly on ICAR website one can find links to 100 mobile apps (https://icar.org.in/mobileapp), KVK Portal (https://kvk.icar.gov.in/),other knowledge initiatives such as Agricultural Education Portal, ICAR-e courses, CaneInfo, Compendiums, Consortium for e-Resources in Agriculture (CeRA), KRISHI, Knowledge Innovation Repository of Agriculture in the North East, National Innovations on Climate Resilient Agriculture (NICRA) and Rice Knowledge Management Portal. While these are comprehensive initiatives in terms of scientific and validated knowledge for different crops, the knowledge is not customised to suit a specific village/ land holding. Some of the platforms are not directed to be used by extension systems.

Even though one can find a number of digital initiatives in agriculture sector, such initiatives are not comparable with the digital disruption models experienced in other sectors. While these are all push based platforms (with few exceptions), the ability to provide customised and personalised information and services all along the value chain is questionable. For a crop based enterprise, farmers may require at least 14 different information and service assistance at multiple stages that would make a difference in informed decision making (please see fig.1).
Fig 1: Radar chart representing Data driven services accessible through mobiles

Fig 1: Radar chart representing Data driven services accessible through mobiles

 

A study conducted in Indian rice industry (Meera, 2018) revealed avenues for digital disruption when data driven services are provided by extension functionaries. While there is a huge gap between perceived and realized utilities of various data driven services, disruption is remotely realized by the current mobile extension initiatives. Among the extension advisories, diagnostic and crop management advisories are the only available knowledge services through the public extension systems. Not to mention the personalised advisories on every single avenue for digital disruption in rice sector.

The flagship digital pilots in public sector such as farmers’ portal, mKisan portal, eParwana, AeFDS, RKMP, Krishi Portal etc., have made much dent in developing repositories of scale, but have not reached a level of digital disruption. The reasons are several – one of which is lack of comprehension and inability to provide personalised retail like experience to farmers. You name any publicly funded digital project in Indian agriculture; it has limitation to disrupt the incumbent processes. While the public sector EAS has an advantage in terms of scale, reach and data; they have limitations in terms of rigid workflows and inability to bring innovations abruptly. This necessitates analysing some alternate examples from digital start-ups and then trying to map the functionalities for deployment in public sector. Let us see what could be learnt from digital start-ups in agriculture from available models.

2.2. Start-up based digital disruptions models

In several sectors it is not the incumbent organizations but the new entrants and entrepreneurs who are creating new waves, meeting consumer needs in novel ways. The job charts of professionals are changing fast with strong digital skill sets. Their work styles and ways of approaching  a problem are different. If we are sceptical about this for agriculture, it is probably because we have seen many digital projects before, without much ‘wow’ factor.

2.2.1. Digital Start-ups and Data Driven Extension Perspective

I prepared an analysis from Coffee book 2017 of a-IDEA (Association for Innovation Development of Entrepreneurship in Agriculture), a Technology Business Incubator(TBI) hosted by ICAR-National Academy of Agricultural Research Management (ICAR-NAARM) & Department of Science & Technology, Govt. of India (DST, GOI).

Table 1: Digital Start-ups and Data Driven Extension Perspective

Digital Start ups Agriculture related information, access to agri inputs Buying & selling of agri outputs Predictive analytics Big data Process automation LBM  IOT Mobile / cloud Social media/ networking Ai others
Agrowbook Yes Yes No No No Yes No
Scope for DEAS LD, ID ID, ED LD, ID, ED, AD LD,ED ED, AD ID, ED AD
Agmart No Yes Yes No No Yes No
Scope for DEAS ED ED AD ID, ED, AD ED, AD ED, AD ID, ED AD
Bharatrohan No No Yes No Yes Yes No
Scope for DEAS LD ED LD, ID, ED, AD LD ID ED LD, ID, ED, AD LD, ID, ED LD, ID, ED, AD
StampIT No No No Yes Yes Yes No
Scope for DEAS LD, ID, ED, LD, ED, AD LD, ID, ED, AD LD, ID, ED LD,ID,ED,AD LD, ED ID, AD

*DEAS Data driven extension advisories – data types (Please see the text box for details)

(LD: Localized, ID: Imported, ED: Exported and AD: Ancillary data)

a-IDEA aims at fostering innovation and entrepreneurship in agriculture in India. Out of 12 start-ups being mentored by a-IDEA, four are digital start-ups that have potential to serve farmers in a better way.

The following analysis is not to suggest what should be done by these start-ups. Rather what could be learnt by the extension advisory systems (preferably under public sector). The analysis is carried out based on the two publications (Meera, 2018; Maru, 2018).

Agrowbook (http://agrowbook.com/) features a list  of services that enable a rural farmer with agriculture related information, access to agri inputs through door delivery services for agriculture, these include AgrowTube, AgriOnMobile, Video extension service, soil testing service, farm mechanization /automation service, Agrowbook Suite, Agrowlist, and Agri Contests. The data dimensions are unclear on – how – personalised extension advisories will be achieved based on the four types of datasets.

The challenge lies in collection and micro utilization of localised data and imported data while dealing with the production management advisories. Critical to this challenge is coordination with the door delivery of inputs to the farmer’s fields. Taking cue from Agrowbook, if public EAS wishes to bring digital disruption, they need to focus on both scale and comprehensive solutions. The limitation denial of small start-ups is understandable for not involving themselves in  process automations, use of location based monitoring and use of Internet of Things. But their ability to use social networks is something worth emulating. For strengthening similar pilots/ roll outs, public EAS need to focus on dynamics of various data types across the value chain components while using disruptive digital tools.

AgMart (http://agmart.in/) is a classified portal for buying & selling of Agri outputs, including Niche commodities like medicinal, tuber crops etc. It is an ICT platform enabling transactions of farm Produce and other value added agri products by registering the crop details of the farmers and facilitating buyer linkages. It is a classified ICT portal and mobile App connecting farmers with buyers like traders, processors, retail chains & wholesalers. AgMart is also involved in statistical analysis of gathered data to generate timely reports on future arrivals, crop mapping, agri input demand prediction etc.

This start-up essentially focuses on buying and selling along with predictive analytics. This combination can really bring disruption. The advantage – this kind of initiatives currently have (especially when we have operational e-National Agricultural Market) is their ability to bring the complementor stakeholders and aggregation ability of niche commodities. Surely they have scale problem.

Public EAS may like to focus on developing similar strategies with eNAM and start piloting using their exported data and ancillary data from a cluster of villages. Clubbing these efforts with social network analysis and location based monitoring would bring better market realization to farmers.

BharatRohan (https://bharatrohan.in/)  is an exciting start-up that empowers farmers with precise information about the status of crop and land through applications of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). It is a platform that provides actionable information to apply fertilizers and chemicals only where they are actually needed and prevent crop losses even at the onset of pest and disease outbreaks. BharatRohan has a capability to survey more than 10,000 acres of area in a single day using fixed wing UAVs. The technology enables them to identify biological changes that occur in the plants once a pest starts to affect the crop which otherwise are only identifiable when their effects become visible to human eyes.

Providing highly personalised advisories and linking it to supply of inputs can never be as exciting as it is in the case of this start up. Predictive analytics, Big data, Process automation, LBM, Mobile / cloud, Social media / networking can easily be harnessed with exported , imported  and ancillary data. If public EAS has constraints to experiment with the use of UAVs on their own, then public private partnership models can be explored.  uberization (like Uber Eats, you can have Uber Inputs) on a real time basis will bring unimaginable benefits to the farmers. The time series data of two to three seasons from each landholding will bring predictive analytics into the forefront of EAS.

StampIT is a start-up (http://www.stampit.biz/) that enables business process automation for farms especially plantation crops. They focus on niche business process automation solutions for industries such as agriculture, seed, retail, and marketing services. Crop Terrain is a full module, online/offline, mobile and browser based application that provides a streamlined information flow between field level activities and management vision. CropPro 360 is a trendy offline/online information system designed to run on Android based Mobile Tab devices to collect real-time farmer and plot details from the field. Application facilitates agri companies to collect details of associated farmers, which include farmer socio-economic details, bank details, plot details; GPS based automatic area measurement, water, power, irrigation, crop, inter-crop details, harvesting, transportation details and picture of the farmer and crop. Falog is a self-service comprehensive field agent/ sales force management solution designed for sales & marketing teams of industries such as retail, real estate, agriculture, seed, manufacturing, banking & financial services. The application’s main functionality is to track sales people on the field based GPS co-ordinates with no clue to the sales person.

With support from various stakeholders and public EAS, this can be a good model to showcase the impact of data driven extension. The digitised localised data (that’s incorporated into the same field after processing), imported data, exported data and ancillary data will flow/ flows freely when this start-up moves with the public EAS that has rich sources of much of this data. A strong scientific back up with different tools – Agriculture related information, access to inputs, market access, predictive analytics, big data,, social network analysis, LBM, virtual aggregation may help public EAS to a great extent.

2.3. Strategies to redesign practices simulate innovations and crowd source within existing public extension systems?

Some of the creative, innovative and entrepreneurial-inclined extension professionals who joined the public sector in the past, found that these qualities were not valued enough. Of late, many public sector organisations now form partnerships with digital and social enterprises blurring the lines between entrepreneurial spirit and public service (aIDEA of NAARM/ Agrinnovate of ICAR). But how effectively this convergence gets integrated into the public extension systems is something that is worth watching in future.

To realise the digital disruption in public EAS we need to create avenues for redesigning the extension processes (work on the frameworks not on the guidelines), stimulate new thinking (capturing innovations and start-ups within the system) and include crowd sourced extension innovations (allowing partnerships and local redesigning to certain extent).

For redesigning the extension processes, the EAS may draw lessons from these digital start-ups under four categories. They are EAS for Precision​ ​agriculture, EAS for Financial​ ​inclusion, EAS for Data-driven​ ​agriculture and EAS for Digital​ ​knowledge sharing /​ ​delivery. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has called for doubling of farmers’ income by 2022, India’s 75th year of Independence. Government of India initiated several moves some of which are Startup Agri India scheme, Digi Gaon (Digital Village) initiative, and Bharat Net project which can all work together towards making this a reality. Initiatives like agri-hackathons can also bring together aspiring entrepreneurs from diverse sectors.

3. Winning the Game of Disruption – Extension Way

Digital disruption can seem like a threat, but it can truly be a game changer for EAS. It throws open innumerable opportunities to rethink the way we handle extension. Across industries, the perception that disruption is imminent has many executives scrambling to launch digital side projects in the form of programs, products, and services that can stand on their own. Organizations like ICAR and SAUs tend to think about development of digital products in a linear way. In recent past, more than 100 mobile apps were developed in India that were mostly standalone apps. Moreover a careful analysis reveals that the offline CDs developed during the 1990s and the expert systems developed after the year 2000, transformed themselves into mobile apps adding nothing but ate in to  the cloud space on google play store. I am yet to see a smart phone user who has installed more than 100 apps for regular use and we expect farmers to do so. What we need is a single interface like BHIM (Bharat Interface for Money) or a wallet that pulls money like PayTM.

A critical review of 32 digital start-ups (Table A in Annexure) has been carried out to understand the functional core areas of digital services. The core areas are broadly classified into Precision Agriculture, Financial Inclusion, Data Driven Agriculture and Knowledge Sharing & Delivery. A qualitative Disruptability Index has been worked out on a specific extension function based on Performance, Efficiency, Innovation, Defences (barriers to adapt). These start-ups are judged qualitatively for indicative results, not empirically. Finally, based on the desk study, current status of public EAS is given (1 for presence of similar initiative 0 for absence).

Out of 32 digital start-ups, 11 have focused on precision agriculture tools, 3 focused on Financial Inclusion, 23 on Data Driven Agriculture and 12 on Knowledge Sharing & Delivery of inputs (multiple core areas).

Seamless integration and exponential thinking is required for bringing digital disruption in EAS. Basic lack of connection between digital start-ups and structural and functional frameworks of EAS is evident across the country. When you are facing disruption, or launching a disruptive effort, recognize the leverage that comes from finding unidentified gaps in the current service provision. A disruptive move will tend to undermine regulations and governance structures that have been built over time, wherein people internalize the behaviour and turn it into a norm. The real challenge for disruption in EAS is not only about capacity building and digital skill development but of attitude too (doing the right thing is wrong).

The basic principles to realize digital disruption in EAS remain;

1) Engaging farmers and providing them with retail like experience.

2) Empowering extension professionals to take up the challenges. Encouraging them to enjoy flexibility in terms of tasks and making them aware that they are judged by the outcomes/ impacts.

3) Optimising the extension systems with available digital start-ups, collaborations and partnerships. Recognizing the role of plurality in digital strategies and their complementarity is essential.

4) Transforming EAS in the digital era with structural and functional adjustments along with focus on collective action. The conventional job chart of extension professionals will undergo rapid changes.

We need to comply with both essential and sufficient conditions for disruption to happen. The disruptions in each of the EAS services will take place when a complementors ecosystem is evolved. For a better understanding I would like to give an example of eNAM and how disruption like Amazon could be possible with (or within) an ecosystem.  Amazon= eNAM+ Complementors (aggregators + retailers+ courier+ payment gateway). While eNAM per se cannot be a disruptive force in EAS, a combination of complementary organizations will help bring n disruption in the way agricultural marketing has seen in recent past. These kind of expanding opportunities could be captured when organizations are flexible and role of other agencies are valued.

From the analysis carried out from the Table in Annexure 1, a qualitative assessment of various disruption dimensions in EAS have been worked out. The Fig 2 indicates disruption ideas from digital start-ups on x axis and the scope for redesign of EAS process on y-axis.

Fig 2 : Scope of redesign/ Integration in EAS from Start ups

If we need to incorporate  digital start-up ideas in EAS in knowledge sharing, data driven agriculture, financial inclusion and precision agriculture, Fig 2 will give an idea as which start-up would give best suited strategy to readily embrace.

Big data and predictive analytics (PA) at EAS level (not at farmers level) can help farmers to access and apply crop choice, market recommendations, pest modelling, soil test value, and crop yield predictions, as well as nutrient management — all across varying field conditions. The advantage that public EAS have over private start-ups is availability of huge quantity of data. But absence of action would lead to experiences of likes between Skymet and Indian Meteorological Department.

Better market price realization (Mkt) is difficult to achieve by simply establishing eNAM kind of online platforms. We require real disruption in the way farmers market their produce. The complementors that were discussed in my earlier blog (http://www.aesa-gfras.net/admin/kcfinder/upload/files/AESA%20Blog-68-March%202017.pdf) will help realise the benefits. Many digital start-ups are approaching this issue with different models (direct marketing apps are increasingly seen now a days). The EAS can consider this as a low hanging fruit for bringing about digital disruption.Prima facie the words reforms and redesign sound threatening to many extension professionals. But if we look around in every sphere, several departments are re-aligning the way they carry out their activities. State Departments of Agriculture (SDA) are requested to redesign few activities as pre-requisites for eNAM. In order to facilitate unification of market and online trading, it is necessary for the states to undertake reforms such as a single license to be valid across the state, a single point levy of market fee, and provision for electronic auction as a model for price discovery. Only those States/UTs that have complied will be eligible for assistance under the scheme.

Knowledge Transfer (KT) through personalised advisory and multiple delivery channels have been tried out by digital start-ups. This is another strong area for public EAS. All we need is to sit together and understand what structural and functional changes are required.

It is important to link up advisories with the inputs and other services. eFresh pvt Ltd., is trying to develop a model in Telangana where door delivery of inputs/ services based on personalized needs are worked out. Public EAS can work out a series of collaborations and partnerships to realize this.

Aggregation model all along the value chain (Agg) brings together small farmers for accessing numerous services (mechanization, bulking, input buying, markets etc.,). A careful analysis of several start-ups reveals ways and means achieving this using digital technology.

Financial Inclusion (FI) of small and marginal farmers includes credit and insurance. Quite a few models are available across Asia and Africa on this front. Digital financial services (DFS) are fundamentally about saving money, accessing credit and insurance, and performing transactions via digital channels like eNAM.

Social Networks (SN) and Media analysis in EAS has to move forward from mere perception studies. The ability to synthesise the results of network graph theories and social network behaviour would bring customised services to the door steps of farmers

Aadhar enabled Services (AeS)- Unique Identification Numbers enabled Services – is proven to be quite successful in public distribution systems and many other public sector endeavours. Aadhar Enabled Fertilizer Distribution System (AeFDS) is being executed in Krishna district since March, 2016 with an objective to effectively monitor the distribution of fertilizers across the value chain from manufacturers till farmers to ensure timely and correct distribution of fertilizers based on biometric authentication of farmers. The AeFDS is a change management initiative that has the potential to streamline subsidies to actual beneficiaries and also facilitate in releasing subsidies to fertilizer companies based on the actual sales made. There are umpteen avenues for public EAS in Indian agriculture awaiting disruption.

4. Navigating Through Digital Disruption – Conclusion

Powering Extension and Advisory Services (EAS) with disruptive technologies such as mobile/cloud computing, Internet of things, location-based social networks etc. is a new game changer. Use of digital technologies in rural advisories has been documented well in the past two decades. While most of the digital pilots reported success, the empirical evidences of such digital extension strategies on farmers’ income and in adding value to the extension advisory systems have not been sufficiently deliberated upon.

As discussed in the blog, disruption does not happen only because of digital technologies, but through farmers centric approaches that offer retail like extension services (advisory & supply chain coordination) specifically designed to meet and exceed expectations of farmers. This lengthy blog aims at presenting a perspective in a single go, so that the future EAS will be empowered to give farmers what they want.

Because, the large organizations such as public sector extension systems (State Departments of Agriculture in India per se), find it difficult to embrace digital strategies that would quickly bring disruptive innovations, there is a need to analyse existing start-up digital models from private sector. Based on this blog, the policy makers should try to understand the current avenues for digital disruption, identifying the processes and working out strategies for redesigning the EAS processes for improving disruptability.

In terms of digital disruption, public sector is uniquely positioned in terms of scale, reach and data, if only proper strategies are adopted. To realise digital disruption in public EAS we need to create avenues for redesigning the extension processes (work on the frameworks not on the guidelines), stimulate new thinking (capturing innovations and start-ups within the system) and include crowd sourced extension innovations (allowing partnerships and local redesigning to certain extent).

Digital disruption follows an understandable pattern. The starting point for the leaders in agriculture is to understand where in this pattern their organization is positioned and why that is the case. A public extension professional today may be happy serving farmers with the linear flow of knowledge and services (mostly it is because of their position in hierarchy, rather than the quality of services they provide), sooner or later new players will disrupt the linear flow of services and will try to provide retail like experiences.

Epilogue

A case study of Kodak’s response to digital technology (Lucas and Goh 2009) revealed that inability of Kodak’s rigid, bureaucratic structure and middle managers prevented them responding fast to emerging technology which dramatically changed the process of capturing and sharing images. By the way, the first prototype of a digital camera was created in 1975 by Steve Sasson, an engineer working for Kodak. Unfortunately it could not capture the new opportunities (Lucas and Goh 2009). We have missed out many opportunities in agriculture / EAS as well in past. Remember hybrid rice development in China as a disruptive force! Way back in 1954, two scientists from Central Rice Research Institute (CRRI), Cuttack, India – S. Sampath and HK Mohanty were the first to draw attention to the possibility of developing hybrids in self-pollinated crops like rice. But it was China that surged ahead, we followed suit.

Organizations often see the disruptive forces affecting their industry. They frequently divert sufficient resources to showcase their presence. Their failure is usually an inability to truly embrace the new business models / processes that the disruptive change opens up. Kodak created a digital camera, invested in the technology, and even understood that photos would be shared online. Where they failed was in realizing that online photo sharing was the new business, not just a way to expand the printing business.

The response to digital revolution is not many pilot projects and large scale investments in digital extension projects. Rather, a systematic approach to bring new learnings and incorporate them to next generation EAS. As per Registrar General of India & Census report 2011 the total farmers or cultivators population of India is 118.7 million (2011) & 144.3 million agricultural workers/labourers which consists 31.55 of total rural population. More than 20 million farmers must have taken birth after 1990s. They are all digital natives and this number is increasing exponentially. We need to remember, among many others, EAS will have to cater to these farmers.

References

Maru A, Berne D, Beer  JDe, Ballantyne NPG, Pesce V, Kalyesubula S, Fourie  N, Addison C, Collett A, Chavez J. (2018). Digital and data-driven agriculture: Harnessing the power of data for smallholders. Rome: Global Forum on Agricultural Research and Innovation. https://cgspace.cgiar.org/bitstream/handle/10568/92477/GFAR-GODAN-CTA-white-paper-final.pdf?sequence=3&isAllowed=y

Meera S N. (2017). Disruptive Technologies – Big Data and Internet of Things in Strengthening Extension & Advisory Services. Agricultural Extension in South Asia P.11 http://www.aesa-gfras.net/admin/kcfinder/upload/files/AESA%20Blog-68-March%202017.pdf

Meera S N, Kumar GAK, Pandey PS, Arun KS  and Viraktamath BC. (2013). Empowering Farmers through Rice Knowledge Management Portal in India. Agricultural Information and Knowledge for All: Success Stories on ICT/ICM in the Asia-Pacific Region. Asia-Pacific Association of Agricultural Research Institutions (APAARI). FAO Regional Office for Asia & the Pacific. Bangkok (ISSN 0858-6063 – circulated to developing countries). p 15-50.

http://www.apaari.org/wp-content/uploads/downloads/2013/07/ICT-Success-Stories_09072013.pdf

Meera S N. (2018). Powering Disruption in Extension Advisory Services. Geo Agri Conference of Geospatial World Forum. Hyderabad. 15-19 January 2018. https://geospatialworldforum.org/speaker/presentions2018/Powering-Disruption-in-Extension-Advisory-Services-Shaik-N-Meera.pdf

Omar A. (2018). Disruption need not be an enigma. https://www.accenture.com/in-en/insight-leading-new-disruptability-index. Retrieved on 05.9.2018.

Lucas C, Goh HM, Jie. (2009). Disruptive technology: How Kodak missed the digital photography revolution. The Journal of Strategic Information Systems. 41. 46-55. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0963868709000043

Meera S N. (2013). Extension, ICTs and Knowledge Management: The 10 difficult questions, AESA Blog 15, Agricultural Extension in South Asia http://www.aesa-gfras.net/admin/kcfinder/upload/files/Blog%2015%20Extension%20ICTs%20and%20Knowledge%20Management%20The%2010%20difficult%20questions.pdf

Meera S N. (2016). Collaboration on Rice Data Interoperability – an Interview with Shaik N. Meera. Agricultural Information Management Standards. FAO, Rome. http://aims.fao.org/node/118813http://aims.fao.org/community/interviews/collaboration-rice-data-interoperability-interview-shaik-n-meera

Howell J. (1986). Accountability in extension work, In G.E. Jones, ed., Investing in Rural Extension: Strategies and Goals, Elsevier Applied Science, London, 213-217

Farrington J, Christoplos I, Kidd A, Beckman M and Cromwell E. (2002). Creating a policy environment for pro-poor agricultural extension: The Who? What? And How? Natural Resource Perspectives 80, ODI, London. https://www.odi.org/sites/odi.org.uk/files/odi-assets/publications-opinion-files/2796.pdf

Start up Stories adapted from;

https://yourstory.com/2018/06/tech-transformation-agriculture-redefined-digital-innovation-startups/

https://inc42.com/features/watchlist-agritech-startups-2018/

 

Dr Shaik N Meera is a Principal Scientist at the ICAR-Indian Institute of Rice Research, Hyderabad and is a pioneer in digital extension movement in India. He is a Digital Optimist and is involved in creating an ecosystem for shaping ICTs; knowledge & innovation management, capacity building and large scale demonstration strategies for Indian rice sector. Contact him at shaiknmeera@gmail.com, meera.shaik@icar.gov.in.

 

Annexure

Index for Table A

  • * Disruptors -1 Performance -1 Efficiency – 1 Innovation -1 Defences – 0(judged qualitatively for indicative results)
  • # Acc- Access to inputs, supply chain
  • Mkt – Access to markets
  • PA – Predictive analytics, Process automation, Personalisation, Forewarning advisories
  • Agg – Aggregated services – Uberisation
  • SN – Social Networks – Local sharing
  • FI – Financial inclusion credit insurance
  • AeS – Aadhar enabled Services like AeFDS

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  • It is always an education to read publications from Dr. Meera. I know him for many years particularly when he served PI of Rice Portal Project under NAIP. He is no doubt pioneer, unsung hero in digital extension movement in India in general and rice sector in particular. It is a pity that his talent, creativity and enthusiasm is not optimally utilized by our own system except granting PS position which he would have got anyway. I can feel his emotional burden when he states that some of the creative, innovative and entrepreneurial-inclined extension professionals who joined the public sector in the past found that these qualities were not valued enough. But with invisible pain as rightly said he being a digital optimist provides the road map for disruptive EAS. I wish he gets leadership to steer this digital extension movement to transform it to disruptive EAS movement.
    He has a clear vision of the gaps and what is needed to reach the target.He finds that many of our public funded digital projects have limitation to disrupt the incumbent process because they are all without much “Woh” factor. He pretty well knows that a disruptive move will tend to undermine regulations and governance structures that have been built over time wherein people internalize the behaviour and turn into a norm. His diagnosis is thus real and revealing that the real challenge for disruption in EAS is not only capacity building and digital skill development but of attitude too (doing the right thing is wrong!).I wonder whether such an attitude be imported? I liked his Figure 1 which is too good but very simple to grasp the GAP.To make the complicated things simple is his capacity! There may be many more Meeras’ in India but I wish and pray that they continue to contribute so that their vision come true somehow for the good of EAS and welfare of our farmers! Congratulations to Meera for the Blog and wish many more such Blogs from him.