A New Jersey-based finance executive developed 10 parameters to rate the apps, and the outcome was poor on all parameters.

Are Modi govts snazzy Kisan apps really helping the Indian farmerImage for representation: Flickr/Mckaysavage
news Sunday, May 14, 2017 - 13:22

They were meant to be the ultimate farmer’s wiki, needing nothing more than the flick of a smartphone button to put an unending stream of real time data at the service of India’s farmers. However, nearly a year after their launch, a slew of Kisan-centric mobile apps floated by India’s Union Ministry of Agriculture, are unlikely to meet their intended purpose due to the huge gap between intent and execution, according to Suresh Ediga, a New Jersey-based agrarian activist who works closely with farming communities in India.

Ediga, a financial services executive in New York, also runs a non-profit, i4farmers, that fosters fundraising and volunteering efforts to help India’s farmers, especially in suicide-prone Vidharbha. He has been evaluating the apps, on a constant loop since their launch. “When deployed by farmers, they need to work under extremely demanding and volatile conditions and these apps fail to meet most parameters,” says Ediga who has devised a ten-point functionality scale on which the apps were measured. They tested poorly on each of the ten points.

Launched with much fanfare by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in April of last year, this set of apps - available for free download at mkisan.gov.in - includes Kisaan Suvidha, Pusa Krishi, Shetkari Masik, Farm-o-pedia, AgriMarket and Crop Insurance. Among other reasons, the apps were found to be lacking in the following ten areas:

1) They don’t support an offline mode, a criticality given unreliable mobile internets in rural areas

2) No interactive capabilities, restricting real-time communication

3) No multi-language support, which means the farmer cannot learn about crop prices in other States

4) No peer-to-peer networking capabilities

5) No resilience (if, for some reason, the app gets interrupted, it cannot resume from where it left off)

6) No access to real-time data

7) No inter-agency communication, forcing the farmers to rely solely on one government agency at a time

8) More text than visuals, a serious handicap when used by illiterate farmers

9) No voice support, and

10) Inadequate multimedia support.

The endgame is that the apps remain ‘for the government, of the government and by the government’, leaving farmers out in the cold.

Kisan Suvidha, the most popular app, for example, does give out region-specific weather information but leaves out crucial aspects like what crops are ideal for such conditions and what is the best time of the day to be out in the fields. The section on dealers does not contain information about seed dealerships in all districts.

Likewise for fertilizers, pesticides and farm machinery. Though a lot of data is contained in the Market Price section, the way the information is displayed makes it virtually impossible to fluidly access the various high, low and average prices for a particular commodity in the various markets of a district.

Pusa Krishi is mostly a static app and displays only as much information as contained in a government brochure. The Crop Insurance app, whose intended purpose is to compute premiums and provide insured sums for each crop, almost never returns valid data outputs, only ‘No Crop Insurance details found’ for even the most commonly used fields.

Combined with the fact that India has the largest number of rural mobile internet users in the world, had these apps met the purpose for which they were deployed, it would have made for a resounding e-governance success story. However, the devil is in the details, or lack of them.

Government statistics shows that, till date, Kisan Suvidha has been downloaded by nearly 2.75 lakh users, followed by a distant second by Pusa Krishi and Crop Insurance. These apps, mostly meant to be agglomeration of five critical parameters such as local crop prices, weather, dealers, plant protection and expert advice - with a Kisan Call Centre thrown in, for good measure - are meant to give real time updates. However, no data is available on how farmers have actually benefited. The only concurrent data available so far has been that till date, various government agencies have sent out nearly 10 crore SMSes to farmers throughout the country. “Each of these SMSes would have contained a lot of very useful metadata and put together, they could provide an invaluable repository of information. However, no one seems to know of any way to access all that data, even on a piecemeal basis. No one even seems to know where all the data has been stored,” alleges Ediga.

He cites an example: On 28 April 2017, tomatoes were being sold for a meager Rs 500 per quintal in the Gudimalkapur market, not too far from Hyderabad, and for Rs 3800 per quintal in another market in Kerala. The logistics of cold storage and transportation notwithstanding, such crucial data, if relayed properly to farmers, could have leveraged prices positively in the Hyderabad market.

“Despite the huge government outlay on these apps, they are practically worthless because they don’t meet the standards of excellence that could have helped farmers in distress. Instead, they remain mere e-governance show pieces of no practical use. The apps need a constant recalibration process to ensure they remain relevant and this too has never been done so far.”

Though Ediga has been trying to collect information on how many farmers actually use these apps and their efficiency aspects, such information has not been forthcoming from government sources.

“Apps meant for farmers cannot afford to fail, since it is a question of life and death. As of now, none of these apps have anything in them that can really benefit farmers. Even supporting data is largely unavailable,” says Ediga, who is now gearing up to file an RTI petition to harvest the data.


 

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