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Space-tech for India’s agrarian woes : Odisha has a head start

Food, Farmers and Frenzy have for a year been the mainstay of India’s news-cycle as well as public discourse. While there can be longer debates on the implementation of the new farm laws, the case of rising Minimum Support Prices, sustained food grain procurement and middlemen remains a challenge for policymakers across the board. Farm To Fork: Devil In The Details India’s food security programs have garnered attention, acclaim and accolades from international agencies for the mammoth reach and the scale at which some of its operations are conducted on a day-to-day basis.

For example, an average Kharif season in Odisha will see farmers register themselves with the Food Supplies & Civil Welfare Department of Government of Odisha to sell their produce. Odisha has a decentralized paddy procurement system and not only become a rice-surplus state but also one of the top five contributors of rice to the PDS system. When Odisha launched its Paddy Procurement Automation System in 2014-15, it came as a promise to the farmers who had struggled in getting an optimal price for their produce and had bene influenced by middlemen to engage in distress sale of their crops.

The ICT intervention, that included farmer registration and paddy procurement automation, soon was followed by supply chain management system, digitization of ration card management and automation of fair price shops’ management. The layers of IT stacked upon each other are unique for this nation and remain an example to be followed.

However, the state’s policymakers kept their ears close to the ground and were surprised to find more leakages and some of them were in a blind spot of the IT interventions. These were the anomalies in land registration, where traders, middlemen and rogue elements made their way into the system by registering residential properties and non-agricultural kisam lands as farm lands.

Then, these elements procure paddy from the open market or distress sales by farmers and sell them to the Government at MSP rates. What does this lead to? Government reaches procurement targets by procuring from such middlemen and eligible beneficiaries are left out. The left-out farmers now go on a distress sale of crops and keep this cycle of fraudulence running.

Guided By Satellites, Powered by Data Being developed by Odisha Space Applications Centre (ORSAC), the cutting-edge Crop Monitoring System could be a blessing for many of India’s agrarian crises. The system is a stack of IT tools that take hi-resolution photographs of agricultural plots (registered by farmers), conducts image analysis on presence/absence of crops through algorithms, a compass-enabled tools for surveying of plots (all registered plots are geo-fenced for use by the application) and an analytics solution to create patterns in farmer registration and crop yields.

Progressive photographs are taken of the farm plot across an entire crop season, and the images are then analysed to detect crop growth. In absence of any crop, the farm is flagged as ‘invalid’ while doubtful crop patterns are tagged with an application which then tasks an official to carry out a survey of the ‘suspected’ land. The mobile app used for this purpose has a compass feature that ensures the survey is completed only inside the actual field, and additionally ensures that a visual of the field must also be attached to the survey report.

The analytics platform then aggregates historical data from farmer and land registrations, satellite imagery analysis and survey reports to understand change in land parcel reporting, crop yields on plots, erratic reporting and positive/negative patterns from procurement till yield.

Instead of placing farmers in a precarious position where they may be labelled as frauds based on a report, the State Government is positioning as an enabler, a tool for empowering the eligible farmers. If you look closely, it is a pro-farmer ICT intervention that looks at lifting India’s farmers than putting them down. As debate heats up in the streets on what Governments must do to protect interests of our farmers, officials in important offices can take a leaf out of Odisha’s books.

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