Enabling digital inclusionAs we explore 5G’s penetration, we have had a chance to delve deep into rural economies. There are always a few unintended but very prevalent notions. The first is that villages are a standalone unit but one thought around this clearly reveals that this is not true. The second is that of simplicity we associate with rural lives. We think and feel lives are simple. But let me illustrate how agriculture is as complex if not more than corporate decision making.
In Orchha in Tikamgarh district, which lies in Bundelkhand region of Madhya Pradesh, a farmer has to make a few critical decisions before the planting season every year. Orccha, by the way, is surrounded by picturesque monuments built by Bundela Rajputs, but destitution touches this region on a daily basis.
Let’s take the soil here. Bundelkhand soil covers an impervious rock found at depth of 6-15 m. it has little in terms of moisture retention or organic content. Some varieties called Pahari are totally unsuitable for farming due to it being over granite with little nitrogen and phosphorous content. Parua Soil has little clay but considerable sand which is a huge challenge. One of the best is Kabar, which has high retention, clay content and ideal for Jowar and Bajra. Mar is another variety with good organic content and water retention is high enough to support rice and grams.
Agri strategies vary with different soils. As corporate Executives, we tend to have loads of data for us and analyse it to make a choice like this. Farmers rely on nothing but their hunches and what we may call as “bhed-chaal”.
To complicate matters further soil erosion is a huge factor. Rainfall is concentrated only in Monsoons and averages a mere 930mm. Farming here is a skilful activity and risky activity. Again, look at how we solve problems and how a poor farmer solves his dilemma.
Decisions are many/ Should you plant annual crops: the ones that produce seed and die within the season (like rice, maize, wheat)? Should you branch out to perennial crops like sugarcane living for 3-4 years. Or do you want a crop like pulses which take 75 days to mature or cotton and mustard which are 150 days crops?
When should a farmer time his initial tillage?Does any crop-selection decision depend on soil, the money you can make, input costs, choice of how much you want your land to be occupied? With sugarcane, for example, you make a long term commitment but what if you get stuck with sugar mills not paying you as is the case currently in UP? In district Shamli in UP, the situation is so bad right now that farmers have taken over mills and simply not allowing them to function. They simply have had enough and now are saying we just won’t let this run. If you go with pulses, it requires more work. Cotton being a cash crop is a different deal altogether and you better know who to sell to and know how to get money out of them.
Crop choice is also a way to control the quality of your land. Pulses, for example, fix nitrogen into the soil. Soil erosion can be prevented by crops like groundnuts and sweet potato. (you may have seen an increase in the amount of sweet potato in the market and its due to both increased demand but also due to soil erosion increasing tremendously and farmers choosing sweet potato to exacerbate the impact of erosion).
A slight mistake in any dimension can wreak havoc.
Having seen this first hand, we are convinced that digital technology and decision support systems are the way ahead in farming. Imagine an AI tool to allow making choices.. an IoT system to allow precision agriculture and all empowered with Fibre and backbone to enable making better choices.
So next time all of us sit down with hoards of data and excel sheets with analysis to make a corporate decision, do wish and hope that Sterlite Garv reaches the farmers who could greatly benefit from the offerings.