A rampant, but less talked about challenge in Indian agriculture is information asymmetry. From awareness of relevant schemes to information on pest attacks and how to prevent them, crop insurance, seed and fertilizer availability, the average Indian farmer is constantly struggling to get the right information at the right time. While agriculture extension workers act as conduits between the government and farmer, the strength of this workforce and its effectiveness is not ideal.
To illustrate this better, according to research, India has a total of 0.12 million agricultural extension workers to serve a net cropped area of 141 million hectares and 158 million operational holdings . This translates into few extension workers juggling multiple responsibilities and catering to more farmers than they can help effectively.
In Odisha there are 3,500 extension workers catering to more than 70 lakh farmers. In some cases, an extension worker has to cover more than 15 Gram Panchayats by themselves. There are clearly vacancies for extension workers which need to be filled. Given that government recruitment is a long-drawn process and the support farmers need is time-sensitive, the agriculture department had to find a way to ramp up the workforce with immediacy. To mitigate this challenge, the Government of Odisha designed a unique solution to supplement its extension workforce.
In July 2019, the Government of Odisha launched the Krushi Unnat Sahjogi Program (Agriculture Development Associates Program) which recruited 487 3rd and 4th year students from 3 agricultural universities to carry out extension activities for the Department of Agriculture. This is a first of its kind initiative in the country given the scope and scale of its operation. Samagra’s ADAPT team supported the state government in designing and implementing the programme.
The Agriculture Development Associates programme was aimed at strengthening the extension ecosystem during the peak agriculture season, which is Kharif in Odisha. The detailed programme design included induction training, a weekly activity calendar and even performance evaluation metrics for student associates.
Samagra’s technology team created an app, using open source technology to capture data and outputs of every activity assigned to student associates. This helped in objectively evaluating their performance and making them accountable. Performance-linked bonuses over and above the basic stipend also helped in improving the motivation levels of the associates.
- The Associates were involved in multiple activities at the block level related to various schemes and programmes of the Department of Agriculture. This included:
1) Scheme adoption
2) Field assessments
3) Impact assessments
4) Data collection
5) Farmer profiling
- To train the Associates, a detailed onboarding instruction manual was prepared by relevant department heads, which included the role of the associate.
- An in-person training programme was conducted by the Department for all the associates split into two batches.
- A weekly action plan was shared with Associates every week through Whatsapp and a Google drive, which delineated their responsibilities for the week.
- The Associates profiled 1 lakh + farmers who are now enrolled in the government’s customised agro advisory service initiative called “Ama Krushi”
- With the help of Associates, The department was able to successfully conduct pest surveillance in 50% of the total 6,798 Gram Panchayats in the state as compared to 33% GPs in the preceding years.
- The state was able to reduce the area under preventable pest attacks to 10,000 Ha in 2019.
- The department, along with the support of student associates, was able to conduct 1000+ farmer awareness campaigns on topics such as plant protection, correct usage of agri inputs and mobilised over 20,000 farmers through these campaigns.
- The Department of Agriculture was able to receive feedback from blocks on the design and implementation of key programmes and schemes
- Additionally, based on the feedback collected from farmers by the associates, officers conducted surveys of dealers of agri inputs and were able to track sale of spurious inputs as well as unauthorized sale.
- This is a unique, hands-on, paid experiential learning opportunity for students in agriculture universities which gives them practical knowledge of agricultural practices to supplement their theoretical training.
- A structured performance appraisal system, which includes feedback from the Assistant Agriculture Officers they work with, helps in their professional development.