A picture taken on August 5, 2010, shows Indian grape and tomato farmer Sanjay Sathe placing a call to a dedicated agri-call center to check out the weather forecast, on his vineyard in the village of Naitale in Nashik District. Farmers like Sathe are increasingly being seen as key customers in India’s competitive mobile phone market, as the number of subscribers across the country grows at staggering rates. (Indranil Mukherjee/AFP/Getty Images)

India is on the brink of a techno-institutional revolution and integration of mobile apps, broadband connectivity and new banking systems will act as a big differentiator for the rural economy, especially for small farmers, renowned economist Montek Singh Ahluwalia said, writes Uzmi Athar. – @Siliconeer #Siliconeer #India #EconomicDevelopment #Technology #Mobile #Banking #Broadband #Internet #MontekSinghAhluwalia @NaMo #NaMo #narendramodi @narendramodi #DigitalIndia #Farming

“In India, we are on the brink of a major techno-institutional revolution, where a number of things are coming together mobile phones, telecom and broadband interconnectivity to get into enough areas, regulatory changes being made in the banking system that allow a lot of news forms of banking to flourish,” Ahluwalia, the former deputy chairman of the erstwhile Planning Commission, told PTI in Rome.

Calling technology a big “differentiator,” he said, “four to five different things have come together. One is the technology of mobile phone, second is the regulatory changes in banking system, making it possible for banks to perform all these things, third is UIDAI and the fourth is DigiLocker.”

A key initiative under ‘Digital India,’ DigiLocker is a platform for issuance and verification of digital documents and certificates, thus eliminating the use of physical documents. It enables one to put all documents online and use an electronically certified version of the document in their applications.

DigiLocker was recently integrated with UIDAI (Unique Identification Authority of India), as a registered issuer.

Elaborating on the how the exploitation of middlemen could be reduced, Ahluwalia said that the reason why middlemen are playing an important role in the rural sector is “because middleman is the person who is your moneylender.”

“If he lends you money and you have to repay him then he has a big control over you. But if you are getting money through a banking system directly then you are not dependent on middlemen,” he said.

He was speaking on the sidelines of a three-day conference on ‘Investing in Inclusive Rural Transformation: Innovative Approaches to Financing’ in Rome, organized by the International Fund for Agricultural Development, a specialized agency of the UN dedicated to eradicating rural poverty in developing countries.

Echoing his views, Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare Shobhan Pattanayak said that through mobile phones the farmers can access finance and also a large number of apps to get all the information without the involvement of middlemen.

“You have seen the power of mobile phones and recently the government has found many different ways for accessing finance through mobile phones. This is a big transformational tool in the hands of farmers,” Pattanayak said.

Pattanayak called small farmers the “backbone” of food production and said the “trinity” of UIDAI, mobile phones and bank accounts is a very “powerful” tool available to them.

“It is like a swiss knife. Through this tool you can get advisories, check market rates. It is a huge tool,” he said.

He said that the government has launched apps to give more information to farmers about crops, suitable climate conditions for cultivating a crop among others.

“We also have large number of apps which can be accessed by farmers which will provide all the information about crops.

There is an app where the package of practice and the cultivation requirement are made available to farmers. This app is available through the KVK (Krishi Vigyan Kendra) and basically transfers knowledge to farmers about what chemical he should use, at what interval it should be used,” he added.

Pattanayak talked about another app called ‘Kisan Suvidha,’ which gives market information in a 100-kilometer radius.

Through these apps, the weather information is made available, the list of suppliers is displayed and farmers can make use of it in directly getting information without the involvement of middlemen, the official said.

Expressing confidence in the future of India, Pattnayak said India is miles ahead of others in technology.

“We are using space technology for monitoring floods, drought. We get periodic reports and farmers are warned about it through SMS and Kissan channels. We also make a contingency plan, in case your crop fails, then what is the other crop which you can grow which requires less moisture. We prepare a contingency plan for each district for the entire country but mostly for the vulnerable districts,” he added.

“We have identified 150 vulnerable districts and we closely monitor weather situation of these areas and farmers are regularly informed of the situation,” Pattnayak said.