ODISHA, INDIA — The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), in collaboration with the Department of Agriculture of Odisha, is working together toward increasing rice farmer productivity and incomes through site-specific crop management recommendations of Rice Crop Manager (RCM), a web-based ICT tool.

“In Odisha, 53% of rice farmers are small-scale and marginal, with broad differences in soil types, varieties grown, crop establishment methods, irrigation types, fertilizers and pesticides used, and crop residue management,” said Ranjitha Puskur, senior scientist and outcome theme leader of IRRI based in Odisha, India. “Many farmers continue to utilize traditional practices learned from their forefathers or peers. In such a context, a blanket recommendation for nutrient application based on area is neither appropriate nor effective.”

The Rice Crop Manager service for Odisha, developed by IRRI and accessible online through laptops, tablets and smartphones, is introduced to farmers through extension workers. The extension worker will interview the farmer and ask a set of questions on crop establishment and management practices carried out on their plots. With that data, the application will generate best-practices recommendations about doses and timing of the application of fertilizers (N, P and K in variable quantities), as well as other helpful information.

The interview commonly happens at the doorstep of the farmer, and to date around 100,000 recommendations have been generated in the state of Odisha. Channels for dissemination include extension staff of the Department of Agriculture, and partner NGOs like Precision Agriculture for Development (PAD) and IFFCO-Kisan.

However, for the continued provision of this service to the farmers, the dissemination mechanisms/models need to be improved to be more viable and sustainable. Establishing dedicated service centers with a trained RCM operator across the State was considered but deemed uneconomical. And while there is the option of the farmers themselves using RCM, the low teledensity and number of smartphone users in rural Odisha is a serious constraint.

A successful option has been tapping Common Service Centres (CSCs), which are e-service facilities for government services located at the Gram Panchayat (village) level across India. Established by the Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology and run by Village Level Entrepreneurs (VLEs), there are over 16,670 CSCs across Odisha, serving as access points for delivery of essential public services, like social welfare, healthcare, financial, educational, and agriculture. Farmers in remote and rural areas regularly visit the nearest center to access various services, like registering for crop insurance.

IRRI provided hands-on training to the district managers of CSCs, who in turn trained the VLEs, allowing for the Rice Crop Manager service to be available at the CSC portal. Rice farmers visiting these centers are interviewed by the VLEs and given a printed copy of the RCM recommendation. Print media, demonstrations, field-days, and banners and leaflets also are being used to create awareness on the availability and benefits of RCM. This initiative aims to create demand among farmers, encouraging them to use the service when they visit CSCs. To date, around 20,000 farmers have received recommendations through CSCs for their Kharif 2019 crop.

In addition, IRRI is planning to pilot-test payment-based recommendations with CSCs, to ensure the economic viability of the service provision. According to IRRI, social research has shown that farmers attribute less value to recommendations they receive for free, while following and valuing more the recommendations that they have paid for.

To reinforce RCM’s recommendations and promote timely usage, printed recommendation can be supplemented with voice calls or text messages through existing government programs for agri-advisory services. IRRI is working with the Department of Agriculture and Farmer Empowerment of the Government of Odisha, and other public and private sector partners, to test and promote efficient, viable, and sustainable dissemination channels and models.

“Greater dissemination of the RCM service through the CSCs can be an accessible and cost-effective way to help the smallholder rice farmers of Odisha benefit from modern science-based knowledge and practices,” Puskur said. “Used correctly and regularly, rice farmers can increase their yields and income, reduce production costs, and improve environmental sustainability.”