In spite of several reforms, the public-sector extension in India continues to be ‘supply and subsidy driven’, often failing to address the genuine needs of farmers. The ICAR-JSS-KVK, in 2013, developed a model to address this problem by creating a demand driven Agri Clinic extension service at Mysuru, Karnataka. Dr Arun Balamatti shares the experience of JSS Agri Clinic here.
Agriculture today is extremely knowledge intensive and mere information/advice/ alone is not enough for farmers to embrace new technologies. There is a need for comprehensive support in the form of personalized guidance on how and when to use various inputs, so as to facilitate sustained yields by farmers. While Indian agricultural extension system is striving to enhance outreach of technologies to farmers, Krishi Vigyan Kendras (KVKs) offer training programs in addition to assessing and demonstrating frontier technologies to farmers. However, studies show that technology uptake is disappointingly slow across India. Conventional approach to technology delivery has not been effective, since many agencies offer training programmes, on topics of ‘their choice’ through lectures, PowerPoint presentations, etc. These trainings are not very effective and fail to provide farmers with any opportunities to discuss specific issues and avail end-to-end solutions. Lack of personalised services on the part of extension professionals/departments is resulting in farmers approaching input traders, many of who are neither qualified nor have the necessary knowledge and skills. With their sales being profit oriented, input traders encourage farmers to purchase more products/inputs than the actual requirement. This causes increased input costs (incurred by the farmers) and an indiscriminate use of agro-chemicals causing environmental degradation as well.
“Agri Clinic” was conceived as an innovative social enterprise and built as a ‘Demand-driven Rural Advisory Service (RAS)’ where the Krishi Vigyan Kendra (KVK) positions itself in the ‘input market’. Agri Clinic is meant to provide twin services, ‘Agri Doctor’ and ‘Agri Pharmacy’. The technical staff of KVK (Agri Doctors) provide diagnostic services, free of cost, by studying the affected plant specimen brought in by the farmers and provide written ‘prescription’; the other service i.e., “Agri Pharmacy”, involves selling agri inputs to farmers, based on the prescription. In this process, the
KVK staff is ensuring that the farmers are provided with appropriate diagnostic and advisory services, and are also educated on buying and using only such inputs that are absolutely necessary, particularly the chemical inputs.
A social enterprise is an organization that applies commercial strategies to maximize improvements in human and environmental well-being—this may include maximizing social impact alongside profits for external shareholders (Source: Wikipedia).
Krishi Vigyan Kendras (KVKs) are frontier agricultural extension centres created by ICAR (Indian Council of
Agricultural Research and its affiliated institutions) at district level. The mandate of KVK is to take up Technology Assessment and Demonstration for finding out location specificity of new technologies for their application and to undertake necessary Capacity Development.
The goal of Agri Clinic is to meet the farmers’ information and input demands on time, at competitive price and to make them available at an easily accessible location. This will also help in bringing down farmers’ production costs and reducing the indiscriminate use of agro-chemicals. The Agri Clinic is meant to provide these services ‘on demand’.
Agri Clinic: The KVK innovation
JSS KVK, in Mysuru district of Karnataka state, India (ICAR-ATARI Zone VIII), started the pilot programme “JSS Agri Clinic” in July 2013 at Suttur village, about 30 km from Mysuru city. The naming of the centre as ‘Agri Clinic’ and a tagline, ‘A health centre for crops’, in local language, was specifically meant to communicate a strong message that there is now a clinic for plants. The brand value of JSS added to its popularity since JSS is a popular spiritual institution offering education as well as health services, especially in rural areas, through its many institutions.
While the clinic started attracting many farmers, it was mostly farmers from the two closer taluks of Nanjangud and T. Narasipur, who started frequenting the clinic. These two taluks are predominantly paddy growing areas. It was soon recognized that the service of the Agri Clinic needed to extend its outreach to the entire district and to the neighbouring districts as well. Therefore, another outlet was opened in Mysuru city, in June 2015, in order to make the services accessible to more farmers in Mysuru district and reach out to farmers visiting Mysuru for agricultural inputs from neighbouring districts of Chamarajanagar, Mandya, Hassan and Coorg.
Technical staff of KVK -as Agri Doctors
The nine technical staff at KVK are postgraduates in various disciplines of agriculture, namely, agronomy, horticulture, plant protection, seed technology, soil science, sericulture, extension, home science and fisheries sciences. Six of them are competent in carrying out basic diagnosis and providing advisory services by virtue of their education and hands-on experience at KVK. Deployed to the clinics on a rotation basis they are available from 10am to 7pm, to assist the farmers. The timetable and the list of Agri Doctors are prominently displayed at each centre. The Agri Doctors tend to learn new things by discussing complex issues with peers, experts in the field and by ‘trialand-error’ method, as the farmers visiting the Agri Clinic tend to judge them based on their knowledge and confidence in resolving issues.
Access to quality inputs
It was decided that the Agri Pharmacy would sell inputs only on prescription from the Agri Doctors. Also, considering the fact that the market is flooded with a vast range of products sold by different companies and brands, at varying prices, KVK decided that the Agri Doctors would study the market and deal with only reliable products, brands and such inputs which are affordable. This would ensure that farmers get quality inputs at reasonable prices and safeguard them from possible confusion and exploitation due to their ignorance.
Thus the KVK staff screen the market periodically for quality agricultural inputs, reliable brands having reasonable price; procure and display such inputs at the Agri Clinic outlet. The inventory is expanding each day as the Clinic is growing popular. KVK has also established a rapport with private input dealers and distributors and started procuring products on credit from them. This way, the Clinic operated even without huge capital investment.