India compiling farmer database for deploying technology tools

India is putting together a common database of farmers that will be ready by the year-end to provide targeted programmes for their benefit, including crop insurance, a senior government executive said Thursday.

Ashish Bhutani, head of the government’s crop insurance programme, said that the use of technology such as artificial intelligence would intensify for a variety of applications in coming years who will face the challenge of increasing crop productivity by around 50% to feed a growing population.

The government launched a $4.5 billion crop insurance program in 2016 which covers around 60 million farmers in the country. Around half of the country’s workforce is employed in farming, though fragmented landholdings mean that crop yields are among the world’s lowest.

Bhutani told a conference of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) that there are no spaces available to increase agriculture and therefore technological tools are the only means to increase output.    

He said that the government had set up a technology fund with a corpus of around $100 million to finance and increase penetration of technology in rural areas. Highlighting the importance of technology, Bhutani said that the government was able to ward off a massive locust attack only recently with such tools.

Gagandeep Singh Bedi, agriculture production commissioner and principal secretary of  Tamil Nadu state government, said that they have been able to deploy technology for effective use in several farming programs ranging from irrigation to crop disease control.

Since a majority of young farmers own smartphones, the government had launched an app for farmers through which they could access a range of advisory services.

Nearly 850,000 farmers were connected through the programme in the southern state effectively ensuring the reach of messaging to around 3 million.

He said farmers could get weather alerts such as an impending cyclone or pest attacks through the app. They could also get information on services such as the nearest fertiliser shop or identify and treat crop diseases that were boosting crop productivity, Bedi added.

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