Agriculture is a sector with strong economic growth potential. Enhancing the productivity and incomes of smallholder farmers through knowledge and technology is vital for harnessing this potential. The ongoing pandemic serves as a wake-up call to emphasize the importance of digital technologies in improving services to producers in Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka introduced its E-Agriculture Strategy in 2016 and the Sri Lankan government is strongly committed towards a rapid introduction of digital platforms, systems, and applications in agriculture.
Recently, the EU-funded ‘Technical Assistance to the Modernisation of Agriculture Programme’ (TAMAP) organised a webinar on ‘International Experience on e-Agriculture to Revolutionise the Agriculture Sector’, with the aim of understanding and discussing how digital tools and best practices have accelerated India’s agriculture sector growth benefitting farmers and the nation.
Welcoming the participants, Chandana Hewawasam, Programme Manager from the Delegation of the EU in Sri Lanka noted that, with the financial assistance from the EU, TAMAP has been providing technical support to many initiatives including e-agriculture interventions leading towards agricultural modernisation in Sri Lanka
The moderator for the event, Bandula Nissanka, TAMAP’s E-Agriculture Expert, highlighted that several elements from India’s e-agriculture strategy contributed to improve farming income. For example, India’s biometric scheme Aadhar has been used as a platform to roll out for a series of services to smallholder farmers in addition to welfare payments. Moreover, different structural, policy, and regulatory interventions relevant to digital agriculture were put in place in India and serve to better understand how Sri Lanka can benefit from similar policy interventions.
The invited speaker of the webinar was Dr Ashok Dalwai, CEO of the National Rainfed Area Authority (NRAA) of India’s Department of Agriculture and current Chairman of the Commodities Derivative Advisory Committee (CDAC) of the Securities Exchange Bureau of India (SEBI). Dr. Dalwai’s knowledge, reputation, and experience in implementing several reforms in the rural agrarian sector with an emphasis on e-agriculture and its implications for farmers, identified him as the ideal candidate to discuss the topic.
Drawing parallels between India and Sri Lanka, Dr. Dalwai said, “I see many similarities in agriculture between Sri Lanka and India, especially when it comes to the people dependent on the sector. When I look at your agriculture policy, with particular reference to the challenges and issues, we are all talking about similar problems. How do we ensure that agriculture not only produces food security but generate profits for farmers? We should be re-orienting our agriculture system to produce gainful employment and profitable incomes so that they stay in agriculture as a profession and not as a default occupation.”
Dr. Dalwai explained that it is vital to deploy science and technology in improving the efficiency and effectiveness of agriculture, to help smallholders practice agriculture as an enterprise, and support them to become agri-entrepreneurs. “Digital technology helps us to reach out in real time and help with challenges that beset the agriculture value system,” he noted. He observed that “if Sri Lanka puts in place all elements included in its e-agriculture policy, it will be able to achieve landmark progress bringing efficiency into the country’s agriculture sector.”
Elaborating on India’s experience in electronic-driven agriculture practices, he explained how India promotes literacy in digital appliances by connecting farm gates to consumption centers. India adopted its National Agriculture Policy over 15 years ago, with nine pillars bringing in digital electronic systems to the national agriculture systems. “India has committed to practicing digital technology, not just for agriculture but for the nation’s social and economic segments,” he explained.
To date, India has developed over seventy services which focus on ensuring that fundamental agriculture products can be grown thanks to continuously updated and available information. Dr. Dalwai said, “What we needed was that everybody has access to the same information and same data.”
Further expanding on the importance of integrating diverse systems, he said, “When talking about digital technology we should amalgamate a host of technology in a meaningful manner, going from basic ICT to emerging technology – Internet of Things.” He provided examples related to using technology for weather and climate forecasting, and crop estimates supported by space technology and emphasized that “Upgrading science and technology improves farming productivity and focuses on continuously creating new markets.”
Dr. Dalwai introduced eNAM (electronic National Agriculture Market), India’s online trading platform which at national level operates through an open architecture framework. National Agriculture Market is able to integrate with other platforms and is interoperable. He introduced the Indian Direct Trade Act, which was set up to ensure platforms adhere to basic trading standards. Thanks to all these frameworks, he noted that “India has become one nation and one market in the truest sense.”
Dr. Dalwai highlighted the importance of introducing blockchain technology, which he believes is ‘the way forward in every segment of agriculture’. He said “We are now defining the national standards of technology which allow everyone to adopt the same architecture.”
Elaborating on India’s Aadhar, the 12-digit unique number used by all Indian residents, he said, “120 million farmers have a unique identity number like all other citizens. By using Aadhar, all land, soil, and crop-related data is stored onto one single platform. A centralised database of farmers together with a trinity of mobile, bank, and unique identification numbers contribute to accurately pinpointing the farmers and ensuring that all subsidies and entitlements are transferred correctly.” Dr Dalwai believes that “You need to impart electronic and financial literacy, strengthen digital platforms, integrate interoperability, and enable the sharing of real time data, to ensure that farmers become part of the agriculture value system both domestically and globally.”
Dr. Ajantha de Silva, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture said, “I thank TAMAP for the initiative taken to organize a workshop of this nature and to share India’s knowledge and action taken in the e-agriculture sphere. With the emerging COVID-19 crisis, the Sri Lankan government has realised the importance of domestic food security, and the need to develop a sound database for smooth agriculture production and value chains. The Sri Lanka government is now providing all the support towards e-agriculture and the Ministry of Agriculture has highlighted the importance of developing an e-agriculture platform.”
“Both the public and private sector have already introduced several e-agriculture initiatives, but the problem is that it these remain scattered. India has been able to integrate and collaborate with all organisations involved to develop a solid platform and create a special place for farmers, while maintaining uninterrupted supply chains. I believe we can learn many lessons from India,” Dr. Ajantha added.
The webinar was attended by a large number of participants from the education, science, and civil society sectors, as well as public and private sector organisations keen to learn more about how technology is driving change in Indian agriculture.
Thanking all participants, Bart Provoost, TAMAP Project Manager concluded, “I think it is clear that there is a great interest in the agriculture community in Sri Lanka on e-agriculture given the overwhelming response to this event. It is part of TAMAP’s mission to support innovations towards the modernisation of the sector including digital technology. We look forward to continuing to do so.”