By Prashansa Srivastava
The Indian government on 1st August 2017, launched e-RaKAM—an online portal to facilitate farmers in their agricultural businesses and fuel the digital transformation of the most ancient of all industries. Introduced in joint collaboration with the Metal Scrap Trade Corporation (MSTC) and Central Railside Warehouse Co. Ltd (CRWC), e-RaKAM is a first of its kind initiative that aims to empower farmers and reduce the role of intermediaries.
For the farmers
E-RaKAM, through its online portal, will connect farmers, Farmer Producer Organisations, Public Sector Undertakings, suppliers and buyers on a single platform to ease the selling and buying process of agricultural products. Centers will be developed throughout the country to facilitate online sale so that bidders can buy quality agricultural products directly from the farmer. This will help to eliminate the intermediary layers prevalent in agricultural purchases.
At present, farmers buy inputs at exorbitant prices and sell their produce to middlemen at a price lower than the market price. With the help of a transparent portal, direct transactions with the merchants can help improve profitability for small and marginal farmers. Farmers would also be paid through e-payment for their produce that will be debited to their bank accounts. The e-RaKAM platform will help to address problems of exploitation by intermediaries and the lack of an organized agricultural market.
We need this technology
With the growth rate being at a dismal low of 4.1% in the current fiscal, it is evident that there are dark clouds looming over Indian agriculture. The incorporation of technology in agriculture has the capacity to accelerate growth by improving competitiveness, increasing farm yields and enhancing overall agricultural productivity. Information in the hands of farmers is not just a powerful tool but can be the difference between a bountiful yield and a disastrous harvest. This form of technological penetration in the sector can potentially usher in a second green revolution—one based on data and transparency. A holistic and inclusive digital platform may just be the first step to catapult Indian agriculture to the next level.
Apprehension is the challenge
Inclusion of technologies in agriculture faces many challenges in the long run. These challenges range from transportation hurdles, managing timely supply to handling last mile delivery to remote villages and generating adequate users for the technology. Currently, most farmers procure inputs on credit from local vendors; it is an uphill task to make them switch to digital payments.
Farmers also have a tendency of being risk averse. The longevity of such tech-savvy solutions thus seems questionable. Due to the vast diversity of Indian agriculture in terms of soil type, availability of water and prevalent local agricultural practices the platform will be meaningless unless it takes into account region-specific needs.
Bridge the digital divide
Technological agricultural innovations must ensure accessibility so as to avoid alienating of poor and marginal farmers. The high percentage of illiterate farmers may not be able to reap the benefits of such a platform, leading to their exclusion and putting them on the wrong side of the ‘digital divide’. There is also a possibility of a widening of socioeconomic gaps among the farmers as these innovations may only cater to already prosperous. Moreover, it may overlook the need for facilitating measures like provision of broadband connections, digital literacy and electricity access.
In order to revitalise agriculture, the government is digitalising it, and the e-RaKAM platform is only the first step. The true success of the government’s Digital India campaign will be when it helps the most marginalised and neglected 70% of our population- the agricultural workers and farmers.
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