A single window e-platform for agriculture

Introduction

It is common knowledge that most farmers hand-record all their relevant data like agricultural production information, cost accounting parameters and other vital information related to farming practices. This results in an inability to efficiently recall, analyse and meaningfully use information when needed and is likely to create tangible business inefficiency. The potential benefit of computerizing data and farm information management is well known and apparent. The adoption rate of information technology by farmers is very low, it is even lower than the overall information technology adoption rate in other sectors. Reports based on industry case studies indicates that the successful adoption of information systems depends upon the type of management the industry holds, the avoidance of unattainable expectations and a lot more criteria.

When an information system does not succeed in becoming a successfully operational one there is a tendency to view the reasons for failure as weak organisational support even when the technological systems are critically important, state of the art, competent, stable and user friendly. Even when frequent studies have recognized and underlined the importance of the technological adoption processes, all these studies had failed to define the principles and theories required to manage them successfully. Most studies discussed the success of critical technology adoption in short but discussed the failure of adopting information technology in detail. Still lacking is a theory which when applied will provide a higher degree of confidence that the implementation of such technology will be successful. Most studies focussed either on the human factor or the engineering factors of hardware/ software or both. The discussions tends to evolve around solving the problems of socio-organizational factors by referring in general to managerial and cultural issues.

This review is a focused attempt to contribute to a better understanding of technology adoption success factors. It concentrates on an evaluation of the success in adopting a farm management technique via a central web based portal.
It runs on a web based and enables the farmer to record production activities, monitor, quantify and cost them, make on farm decisions and follow product marketing.This portal was an attempt to introduce a user friendly and cheap tool to attain the benefits derived from computerizing records and information regarding farm management or farming practices. A significant advantage is derived from its simplicity and the ability to log events as they occur. The user has easy access to details of each activity as they are registered and related to historical data. Reports are easily formulated enabling ongoing support for necessary decisions.

Information Technology Adoption Constraints

Agricultural production is a relatively long biological process with a major element of uncertainty. In many cases production is a complex sequence of activities often termed dynamic complexity . It is characterized by varying consequences and results over time. Results depend on different components in the production sequence and intervention in the production process which can yield unexpected results. In general, most of the discussion in the literature that deals with adoption of information systems refers to information technology, while disregarding the complexity of the organizational processes involved. Complexity can be defined in the following way: A complex adaptive system is composed of interacting agents following rules, exchanging influence with their local and global environment and altering the very environment they are responding to by virtue of the simple action.

Complexity related to agricultural production stems from the number of stochastic variables during the production process such as climate, prices and others. A smaller number of stochastic variables increases the potential benefit from information management. It can be assumed that in a world of perfect information the planned results would be certain. In the opposite case where the outcome of decisions could not be influenced at all planning and control would make no
sense. This was found in the different information technology adoption rates in various production branches. In Germany for example, in animal husbandry with a limited amount of stochastic variables the number of software installations is higher in comparison to field crops with many external production variables.

A benefit of information technology is embedded in the organization’s products by turning capital and information inputs to higher-value outputs . The general approach is that information technology can be defined as a managerial resource similar to other resources. However, focusing exclusively on information technology or an information system is a supply perspective that assumes that if information is made more easily available and accessible people will use and share it. This is a doubtful assumption. As a result the existence of information technology does not assure successful adoption or adoption at all.

Different, yet important constraints that are relevant to agricultural production are derived from the characteristics of farm management. The owner has to control production while dealing with all management aspects, mainly on his own. Operating and managing the farm leaves the farm operator little time to adopt computerized information management, let alone acquire proficiency in it. The adoption process itself will depend to a large degree on the farmers’ absolute conviction of the benefits from implementing information technology. To all these should be added traditional
conservatism, lack of infrastructure, difficulties to access technical support, and more. All these issues were considered when mentioned portal was developed.

Agri Portal Development Stages

The first attempt in India to develop a unique on web farm information package was made by a publicly funded effort by the Department of Agriculture, Govt of Kerala in the early 2014. It was initiated by the social cause for organic farming. The program was developed by OrisysIndia Consultancy Services. Due to limited program maintenance funds and other shortcomings, the development was terminated. Over time it was decided to use available extension personnel to redevelop and disseminate a better information system.
By mid 2014 the first version of agri-portal was ready for farmer’s test use. Acceptance was favorable, enabling incremental program updating as needed, training of farmers and useful on-farm visits to promote further development. These focused activities became an integral feature of the department’s services. Interaction with farmers enabled an ongoing updating process and system upgrading. Version two was made available in the last quarter of 2014. In 2015 the full fledged system was opened for public and this version is currently being used with online information updation. Over the year the system had more than 1 million users. Recently it was estimated that 60% of them are actually public users and 40% of them were either farmers or agri-business providers. A recent random telephone survey indicated that the ratio of sellers as compared to buyers is now close to 60%.This ratio compares favorably with other similar commercial information systems packages, which have a smaller number of clients somewhere in the high tens.