Agriculture in Gujarat
Agriculture in Gujarat forms a vital sector of the state’s economy. The state’s agricultural productivity is low. The yields are poor and in most cases do not even approaches the low level of average yield for the country. Low yields result from poor soils, inadequate rainfall, frequent droughts and floods, bad drainage, and undeveloped irrigation facilities.
In terms of weather, there are many risks which affect agriculture such as irregular rainfall, drought, flood, temperature, cold wind, dew, etc. Amongst all, the major risk affecting the small and marginal farmers is irregular rainfall. This is because small and marginal farmers are mainly dependent on rain-fed agriculture. Due to the uncertain rainfall farmers have to face many problems like decrease in income, increased debt, impacts on household consumption, health, education and social life as well as migration.
The state produces a large variety of crops and its cropping pattern reflects the spatial variations in climate and topography. Groundnut (highest production in the country), cotton, tobacco (second highest production in the country), isabgul, cumin sugarcane, jawar, bajra, rice, wheat, pulses, tur and gram are the important crops of Gujarat. Some are kharif (monsoon) crops and some are rabi (winter) crops.
However, farmers face two major risks, Production Risks due to adverse weather shocks (monsoon, droughts) and Price Risks due to price volatility of both input prices (fertilizers, seeds) and output prices.
Four risk mitigating mechanisms developed by SEWA
SEWA − Self-Employed Women's Association (www.sewa.org), is a trade union based in Ahmedabad, India that promotes the rights of low-income, independently-employed female workers. With over 2 million participating women, SEWA is the largest organization of informal workers in the world and largest non-profit in India (Chen et al., 2015). SEWA’s main goals are to organize women workers for full employment, whereby workers obtain work security, income security, food security and social security (at least health care, child care and shelter); and to ensure that women should be autonomous and self-reliant, individually and collectively, both economically and in terms of their decision-making ability.
Sixty-five per cent of SEWA members are small and marginal farmers who are facing major problems of lack of finance, information, input and market linkages.
To address the above risks SEWA has launched four risk mitigating mechanisms for its members:
1. Agriculture Campaign
Through this campaign SEWA organizes the farmers in Farmers Development Group. SEWA’s small and marginal farmers are trying to make their agriculture sustainable with an integrated and holistic approach which includes:
- Organizing, capacity-building and technical services
- Access to agricultural inputs
- Financial services
- Market linkages
With a view to provide market linkages and ensure food security for the communities, SEWA has set-up RUDI, farmers-owned multi trading company which helps to sustain the village economy. RUDI procures agri produce from the farmers and the same is cleaned, processed and packed and marketed to the communities under the RUDI brand.
2. Rainfall insurance
SEWA is pioneering the provision of rainfall insurance in Gujarat since 2006. The policy is based on a rainfall index that uses a specified weather station to measure the rainfall in a particular region.
3. Future prices information dissemination
Since 2006, SEWA, in collaboration with the National Commodities and Derivatives Exchange (NCDEX) and the Centre for Microfinance Research (CFR), has provided commodity future prices information for cotton, castor and guar seed in three districts and over 1,000 villages in rural Gujarat. SEWA distributes prices information before the growing season (from June onwards) for both spot and future prices. Prices are on display on price boards in a central locality of the village.
The rationale for SEWA to become involved was to reduce price risks faced by small and marginal farmers. More specifically, the availability of price information can allow smallholder farmers to make more informed cropping decisions as well as receive a better price for their produce in the marketplace.
4. Voice Message base Mobile phone technology
Agricultural Advisory Services are required by the farmers to do better farming and get better returns. However, the farmer and extension gap is increasing day-to-day because of various constraints in the system. Particularly, the farmer looks for immediate help when some pest or disease attack the crop, otherwise he has to incur a huge investment loss. The farmer largely depends on the fellow farmers and input dealers to seek the advice on such problems. Farmers require immediate advice on such issues to avoid damage to the crop. Through the initial brainstorming sessions with the member farmers, SEWA has started using the Voice Message based Mobile technology to fill up the gap of Information regarding:
- Weather Prediction
- Crop Advisory
- Market price of commodity
- Government schemes related to Agriculture.
Benefit to the members and communities at large
Price Information dissemination
Grass root feedback from rural poor members with access to spot and futures prices revealed three key benefits of price dissemination:
- Cropping decisions were changed in anticipation of higher prices for certain crops. As a result, a number of smallholder farmers were able to attain a better price because they focused on producing the relatively scarcer crop for which prices were higher in the future market.
- Price information translates into more bargaining power for smallholder farmers vis-a-vis trader middlemen. Awareness of market prices ensures that farmers demand and receive a fairer price for their labor and expenses.
- Price dissemination enables farmers to jointly procure agricultural production at the village level, selling directly to the processor such as the local mill. Thus, price dissemination can assist in the transition from subsistence agriculture towards a surplus agricultural industry and towards improved livelihoods for smallholder farmers.
With good feedback from the price dissemination service, they are also expecting other agro based information at their doorstep in one click
Weather information dissemination
SEWA members find the advisory services very useful. The fact that they receive the information through use of mobile technology provides them timely access to the service. Initially SEWA had covered 1,000 farmers each from Chota Udaipur and Arvalli districts of Gujarat. The success ratio of the pick- up and listening of the message is more than 80 per cent which shows the need and importance of the timely information.
Some testimonies from SEWA’s members on the benefit of the mobile-based information dissemination
Kamlaben Balvantsinh Rajput of Kundia village says that in the agriculture related messages, farmers receive good information about the pest and the disease in the soybean crop. This helps the farmers to be cautious and get a good crop.
“I carefully listen to all the information that is provided to me through the voice messages and only disconnect the phone once it is over. I use the phone on my own and find the information related to agriculture and weather very useful. I will also share this information to the customers coming to my store so that they can also benefit by this. If these voice messages are repeated twice or thrice then I can make the other members also listen to the same.”
Sonalben Jayeshbhai Rathva from Khamva village of Kavat Taluka says that farmers get different information through the text messages, such as:
- In spite of less rainfall and depleting level of water in the water sources, the production of food crops has increased in the year 2015-16 as compared to the last year.
- The highest temperature in Ahmedabad on 3rd August is expected to be 30° C and the lowest temperature will be 26° C. Moisture level – 86 per cent. Moderate rains expected. Time 8:46 Date 03/08/2016
- Rains are forecasted for Chhota Udepur
“I find all these messages useful and like reading them. These messages provide us some good information about the forecast and therefore help us to make decisions.”
Gangaben Ramanbhai Chauhan from Sakhvaniya village of Bayad Taluka
“We get voice messages from Ahmedabad every day. We get to know about the weather forecast from these messages. If rains are predicted for that day, then we do not spread fertilizer so that it does not get washed away. They also inform us about agricultural practices like what should we do in case there are disease in the crops so that the crop does not get damaged.”
Suryaben Bhalabhai Khant, Sakhvaniya Village, Bayad Taluka
“We were given information about using Pheromone Trap in our fields. We used this and it prevented the insects in our crop in an eco friendly way without damaging the crops.”
Jitubhai Goswami, Village Savela, Taluka Bayad, District Aravalli says that farmers get regular information about agriculture every day from SEWA through phone calls. They get information about the vegetables that they grow such as type of seeds to be used, various government schemes, availability of seeds at subsidized rates from the government, etc. Farmers also get information about the agricultural crops they grow (e.g. cotton), on what pesticide to be sprayed, what to do in case of some disease in crop, weather forecast like temperature, rains, humidity etc.
“I grow cotton, soybean, black gram and pigeon peas. I find this information very useful and adopt them in my fields.”
According to the SEWA study on the effectiveness of providing advisory services through mobile technology, it shows that the pick-up rate of phone calls is 75 per cent. Out of these, call completion rate is about 85 per cent. This shows that the members are using these services and find them helpful.
The use of this technology not only ensures timely access to necessary information but also helps to reach a large number of members at lesser cost. The members who receive the information through phone calls also share the same with other villagers. The timely information about weather prediction enables the members to take precautionary measures to survive the crops. It also helps them in taking timely action to prevent disease on the crops.