Brief: Connecting Agricultural Sector through Electronic Governance Models : 2 Lessons

Brief: Connecting Agricultural Sector through Electronic Governance Models : 2 Lessons

a. Agriculture and e-governance
e-governance, in simplest terms, refers to governance processes in which information and communication technologies (ICTs) play an active role in delivering governance-related products and services.

When applied to the agricultural sector, e-governance refers to use of ICTs in delivering governance products and services which are of use to the agricultural community, including farmers, livestock breeders, herders, dairy workers, agriculture extension workers, traders, scientists, middlemen, and NGOs working in the agriculture sector.

b. Governance products and services in the agriculture sector
There are a range of interventions that are useful for the agrarian community. For instance, those aimed at increasing crop productivity, reducing crop damage due to weather and pests, improved livestock management, improved access to credit and government schemes, better market rates for farm products, providing food security, conservation of bio-diversity, reduce in use of chemicals, and access to better seed varieties and technology.

These interventions can be provided through several governance products and services including: information about the latest seed varieties and technologies; accurate rainfall and weather prediction; timely access to various government schemes such as those on water resources management and subsidies on land development and soil conservation activities; information about local agriculture offices and officers, crop testing and training centres; information on milk processing, grain storage, livestock vaccination and crop diseases; information about market prices of various crops, government procurement prices, rates for loans, and available credit facilities.

Apart from these, farmers often need legal documents certifying their ownership of land and livestock, which is useful purchasing or selling land and cattle. They also need access to government forms to apply for government schemes, loans and subsidies, for getting electricity on their farms, for digging new wells, diverting canal water for irrigation, and getting reimbursement for livestock eaten by wild animals.

In summary, there are number of governance products and services which are specific to the agricultural community and which should be made available to them. These services are of even more significance for agrarian community in developing countries where good agricultural production is essential to ensure household food security and provide livelihoods to agricultural workers. For most of these agrarian households, income from crop and livestock is the sole source of livelihood and governance services aimed on their needs has a direct impact on household as well as community welfare.

For instance, in most of Sub-Saharan Africa, over 90 percent of farmers are small, farming less than 5 hectares of land. For such households, the safety net lies in good governance to ensure that required agricultural products and services get delivered to them in a timely and efficient manner. Consequently, national and state governments, NGOs and donor agencies should give high priority to ensure good governance within the agricultural sector.

c. The Role of Electronic Governance in the Agricultural Sector
ICTs can be applied in the agricultural sector to provide many of the products and services listed in the previous section. And there are several projects: funded by national governments and donor agencies, private sector or entrepreneurs which demonstrate the useful role ICTs can play in the agricultural sector.

However for these projects to be meaningful beyond their immediate objectives (for instance of providing a specific product or service), ICTs should be used to bring deeper and significant changes in the governance sphere which surrounds the agrarian community. A clear mandate emerges for e-governance for the agricultural sector aimed at bringing 4 key changes:

1.      Improve the quality and standards of existing agriculture related governance products and services being provided
This could include improving existing agricultural extension services through use of IT tools, opening new communication channels by which information about market prices and government procurement prices can reach farmers, or providing updated information about local agriculture offices and the services provided by them.

2.      Provide new agricultural governance services and products to the citizens/users which are needed but have not been provided so far
This could include providing opportunities to farmers to access and modify their land records data accurately, providing credit cards to farmers to be used for purchasing of seeds, fertilizers and farm equipments, or installing community based equipment which could update the farmers about rainfall prediction, about prevalent crop diseases, or movements of wild animals in the area.

3.      Enhance the participation of agrarian community in deciding what governance products and services should be provided and in what manner
This could include building capacities of farmers to decide how agriculture related government funds should be spent in their village, for instance on repairing the lining of canals or restoring of rain harvesting structures. They should be able to influence government decisions on the appropriate location of check dam construction, deciding who should qualify for farm subsidies, and the kind of courses offered by the local agriculture training centres.

4.      Bring new sections of the agrarian community under the governance sphere
This includes bringing new section of agrarian community within the governance sphere, and namely those who are more likeable to remain excluded: landless farmers, migrant labourers, women farmers, old farmers and tribal communities.

Only when efforts are made to meet the above four conditions, can good governance become a reality for all sections of the agrarian community, and can ensure a healthy growth of the agricultural sector and improvement in the welfare of households which are dependent on it for their livelihoods.

Thus the role of electronic governance in agriculture sector goes beyond important, but singular applications, such as digitizing of government records, making available government forms online, grievance-redressal system, or putting computers in agriculture training centres. Instead electronic governance becomes a tool for providing agriculture related governance products and services more effectively and uniformly to the entire agrarian community.

Two Lessons from application of e-governance models in agricultural sector

Lesson 1:
Effective electronic governance models in the agricultural sector are those which are based on the farmer-centric approach. The approach should be on identifying the different needs of the agrarian community, specifically which governance related products and services are most useful for them, and are currently underprovided.

Electronic governance applications which focus on providing such governance products and services would be popular, effective, and may even generate returns over the investment. On the contrary, electronic governance applications which are not farmer-centric, may be costlier and fail to justify the investment made on them.  For instance, creating a simple electronic governance application which updates the farmer about latest seed varieties and how to tackle crop diseases may be more beneficial than making annual reports of agriculture ministry online on their websites (and which is often the case when one browses the website of any of the government agricultural departments).

In short, electronic governance models have to be designed to provide governance information which is of "value" for the agrarian community, instead of providing information that can be readily supplied by the agriculture ministries and offices.

Lesson 2:
Electronic Governance models should try to increase the public value of information being provided. This means that they should not try to target the same sections of the society, or focus on providing the same information through different channels.

Instead the success of electronic governance, as with agricultural crops, lies in promoting diversity of electronic governance models and applications rather than on uniformity. This is because even within the agrarian community the needs of end-users may be very different. A small farmer, who practices sustenance agriculture, may find it more useful to get information on government subsidies on land improvement, rather than on receiving updated market price of crops. Similarly a livestock breeder would find electronic governance application which allows him to explore new marketing opportunities more useful than being able to access copies of land records online.

Diverse electronic governance models bring more number of people into governance sphere and thereby increase the "public value" of information being supplied to the agrarian community.