Impact of Internet on agriculture

Sukhwinder Singh is a re-born farmer from district Sangrur in Punjab – from conventional to organic farming. Born in post green revolution era which specialised in usage of fertilisers and pesticides, he had never thought of farming without using urea, the popular chemical fertiliser in the rural hinterland of Punjab and Haryana. Urea is popularly known as ray-spray in Punjab. His father and three uncles had nearly 100 acres of farm and enjoyed the surplus from green revolution and were able to send Sukhwinder and his cousins to study in good colleges and universities. Sukhwinder became the first generation university student to graduate in his family.

But by 1990s, when he came back to help is old father in his 25 acres farm, which remained after sub-division among brothers after inheritance, the downfall in the agriculture economy was clearly visible. The productivity of land had been steadily declining over the years due to repeated usage of chemical fertilisers and pesticides. The surplus from sale of grains was inadequate after meeting costs of chemical fertilsers and pesticides. He considered the farming to be no longer a remunerative proposition for his family. It was better for him to give the land for contract farming or share cropping as is the custom in this part of India. He did so and started a trading business and became a grain intermediary also known as adhtiya. He, along with his not so old parents, shifted to the town area, got married and had two children. Twenty-five years have gone and in terms of finances they are considered to be a well to do family who took the right decision at the right time. However his father, now in late seventies, was not so happy with the treatment being meted out to his land – ‘Ma-dharti’ or ‘ land is mother’. With the increased use of insecticide, pesticides and other growth enhancing chemicals, the land productivity is going down and profits are decreasing. Farmers feel that such practices are is economically killing the farmers. Farmers are going under debt due to such farm practices. Even Suknwinder and his grown up and educated children used to feel the same pain.

A few seasons ago Sukhwinder’s life took a U turn. He came to know about green farming practices, which do not use any chemical fertilisers and chemicals. Thanks to the internet, which has opened a new gate of knowledge in the area of environment, eco system and social consciousness, Sukhwinder learnt about to the organic farming and decided to devote his land to Organic farming. He gives credit to the role of internet, which provided the self education and now both father and son are happy organic farmers.

The views expressed by Sukhvinder are corroborated by a study conducted by Consumer VOICE, an NGO working in the field of consumer awareness and protection. The study, which was based on sample 52,000 internet users spread in 18 states of India, shows that around 90 per cent confirmed that internet has impact on the development of the rural area. In fact the views were strongly supported by people in the age group of above 35 years having graduate or postgraduate degree.  

The evidence on role of internet in enhancing the consciousness of people is indisputable. However, use of internet as an engine of change and growth in agriculture sector and rural India is still far away. There are many aspects of rural areas which are highly impacted by quality of internet service. Consumer VOICE, in its study, has listed eight factors which are significantly impacted by quality of internet service.  These are bridging gap with urban areas, bridging gap with other rural areas, better access to higher education, access to public services (transport, health etc) and latest information, enhancing employability of rural people in urban areas, growth in scope of earning, improving farming processes and rural farmers access to new markets.

According to Sukhwinder, it is not only the information on the organic farming which helps him in understanding and learning the technique and processes involved in organic farming. The information available is very generic in nature may not be suitable for specific areas and even specific farms. What is required is day-to-day interaction with other organic farmers when a problem arises. This is only possible with a good quality of internet service, having reliable and good speed. Farmers have learnt to communicate using internet tools. 

The role of quality of internet was also supported by other organic farmers and organisations working in the area of organic farming. For instance, Kheti Virasat Mission (KVM), involved in spreading awareness about organic farming which is termed as Natural farming or ‘Kudrati kheti’, uploads many videos on its web page and social networking sites on new ideas for the farmers who generally require daily updates on various kinds of pest attack on organic farm crops and how to protect crops without using chemical pesticides.

Without the reliable network and good internet speed in the rural areas farmers are unable to use interactive mode of communication with the KVM or other farmers who could suggest viable solution for their day to day requirement. Organic or natural farming considers the importance certain pests as the protector of their crops, which requires continuous awareness and education. KVM in Punjab is fulfilling this role through daily updates on their Facebook page and occasional YouTube videos containing lectures and discussions. There are many farmers who can only understand this process though live interactive videos. Good quality of service also ensures that farmers get instant solution rather than visiting KVM office or others farmers who may be located far away. It is not possible for the farmers to leave the crop unattended in time distress. 

(Dish Negi is research fellow consumer VOICE; Parminder Singh is director research, consumer VOICE and Sri Ram Khanna is principal researcher and managing editor, Consumer Voice and former dean and head of commerce, Delhi School of Economics, University of Delhi)