The Rural Challenge

Despite rapid urbanization, as on date, 65% of India’s population is scattered and lives in far-flung rural areas. Inevitably, they face challenges in availing goods and services at affordable prices through traditional methods. How can a single farmer facing a soil issue or a milkman facing health problems of his cattle in remote areas get timely help, keeping in mind the cost and distances? Without the advantage of large volumes, door delivery of goods and services through traditional methods become expensive. We must look beyond these, to serve this vast segment. The problem assumes further complexity due to additional factors. One is the large variety of vocations involved. Although the rural economy is predominantly agriculture-based, there are several others, such as aquaculture, floriculture, beekeeping, poultry and animal husbandry, not to speak of handlooms, pottery and the like. A second factor is the variety of support systems such as financing, logistics, communications and technical support that must all work in tandem to facilitate and promote the rural economy. Is it possible to find solutions in this scenario?

The advent of a variety of technological solutions offers scope to address many of these problems economically and expeditiously. Commencing from simple solutions such as an electronic market place where buyers and sellers of vegetables, flowers or milk can meet and exchange information on demand and supply to maximize profits, a plethora of innovative solutions have been conceived and created to solve many of the problems that afflict the rural economy. A few examples will indicate the remarkable potential of such tools.  A dairy with considerable cattle strength faced a problem of administering a specific and customized diet for each cow, based on its health condition. Manual methods were hopelessly inadequate, and hence an innovative solution was employed. RFID tags on each cow will activate a simple fodder machine that releases elements of the animal’s diet, in the prescribed proportion, when the cow approaches the gadget. Likewise, a farmer can send a picture of his soil to an expert with the aid of his cell phone and receive advice based on Artificial intelligence or Data Analytics on actions necessary to improve the yield of his crop. Solutions can cover the whole range of questions and options such as predicting diseases, pests, the best time to harvest and actions to improve yields. A drone can detect any abnormality with crops over a wide area expeditiously. Besides, there are several solutions capable of adding value such as the use of sensors in water and energy conservation, solar-powered cold boxes, application of Internet of things (IoT) to check the status of various equipment and spectral imagery which uses high-resolution images of plants to enable right decisions.

Such innovative technologies and techniques can be employed to tackle issues at both perspectives, as well as the grass-root level. For instance, experts from far off areas can advise on a macro issue such as the kind of crop that should be planted, using technical tools that can analyze dozens of parameters such as availability of water, precipitation, chlorophyll content, humidity, temperature, condition of the soil, weather pattern and costs. Equally, such tools can assist in deciding specific issues such as remedial action for fungus formation on a particular fruit.

Technical tools must be supplemented by infrastructure such as financing, cold stores, warehousing, logistics and information on solution providers. It is proposed to provide many such details to make this forum comprehensive in content, and all these can be accessed through the ubiquitous cell phone. With around 40 crore cell phones in use for a population of 138 crores, the majority of Indian families even in rural areas can access information instantly. Due to the unfortunate pandemic, a large contingent of migrant labour is returning to its roots in the rural areas. Many in this group are technically savvy and can operate smartphones. They will now have an opportunity to learn about these techniques and gainfully leverage their skill to help the development of the rural economy.

Mr. Srinivasan Sadagopan

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