Imagine the innovations that could result from open source agricultural information being shared by India's estimated 800 million cell phone users. Yet despite the widespread use of mobile technology on the sub-continent, agricultural data remains inaccessible for many small-scale Indian farmers. As farming becomes more data driven and knowledge intensive, Indian farmers are seeking ways to improve their agricultural know-how through the use of technology.
On October 29-30, 2014, the Global Forum on Agricultural Research (GFAR), in association with CIARD, the Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR), the National Academy of Agricultural Research Management (NAARM), and the Directorate of Knowledge Management in Agriculture, hosted the "Open Access to Agricultural Knowledge for Inclusive Growth” workshop in Hyderabad, India. Nearly 80 farmers and representatives from the public and private sector attended the workshop—a celebration of International Open Access Week. The workshop sought to engage stakeholders on ways to increase open access to agricultural information at the grassroots level and build bridges for further data sharing collaborations.
Ajit Maru, GFAR’s Rome Secretariat, began the workshop with his presentation, “Opening Data, Information and Knowledge for Agriculture Development.” The diversity of stakeholders present at the workshop was a step toward uniting previously autonomous actors advocating for increased open source agricultural information. The workshop also helped recognize gaps in rural connectivity, infrastructure, and the effective use of agricultural content. “It opened up the debate on how to go ahead with standards necessary to integrate information and information systems that is now essential [and] also on enabling effective use of information and the monitoring of its impact in the Indian farming situation,” Maru noted.
Despite its relative absence from the field of agriculture, India is no stranger to information and communications technology (ICTs). According to Maru, “[India] has more than 50,000 kilometers of broadband Internet connectivity and under its Digital India connectivity program, it aims to cover each and every of its more than 550,000 villages as also all urban areas with broadband connectivity in five years.” Online media and data outlets appear on the rise: India plans to have a 24-hour all-access agricultural television station live within the next three months. In addition, an agricultural Wiki specific to India also serves an online go-to for agricultural queries. Despite these outlets, Maru emphasized that India requires more than just technological developments: “It is not only information infrastructure but along with it other necessary infrastructure for agricultural growth that is now needed.”
Small-scale farmers remain vulnerable to exclusion from new technologies, as farmers traditionally have been given information through vertically integrated extension services. Attendees of the workshop expressed concerns about how information will pass through India’s complex food system. “The distinction between who produces and who uses agricultural information is becoming very blurred,” Maru added. “New skills in information management and use across the agri-food system [need] to be looked at in a very fresh manner.”
The workshop stoked the ongoing conversation about addressing the institutional and organizational issues facing open source information in India. “One of the best solutions towards greater equity is to enable open access to information through the public sector and enable its use through effective partnerships of the public sector with both the private and community sectors to offer affordable, quality knowledge services to small scale farmers,” Maru explained. The widespread sharing of agricultural data among small-scale Indian farmers has the potential to result in better inputs, more informed production practices, and increased marketing channels.
GFAR will continue to promote dialogue and partnerships to strengthen agricultural information systems. It recently partnered with CIARD to host an E-Discussion series about global farmers’ rights to open source agricultural data and knowledge. Findings from this discussion will contribute to a policy briefing by GFAR and CIARD. In addition, a detailed report of the "Open Access to Agricultural Knowledge for Inclusive Growth” workshop will soon be available on the NAARM, CIARD and GFAR websites.