April 2, 2020: The phone never stopped ringing at this one place in Pudukkottai district, Tamil Nadu all through April 1st. The event was a special phone-in program organized by MSSRF in collaboration with Department of Agriculture, Krishi Vigyan Kendra (KVK), Vamban. Agriculture advisors and farmers found another way to connect in the midst of the coronavirus lockdown and restricted movements. Just on one day, over 121 farmers dialed in with their queries.
The lockdown period has been of great stress to farmers and farm families. As part of the efforts of ICT intervention when many farmers are worried about their farming operations including market access for inputs as well as final produce, the phone-in programme was thought of as a way to support them at this time. The seven-member panel had experts from the agriculture department, Agriculture Marketing Department in Pudukkottai, KVK, Vamban, MSSRF and ‘plant doctors’ to address farmers’ queries.
The programme details were widely disseminated through social media, voice SMS and newspapers with contact mobile numbers two-three days prior to the event. The high response for this phone-in programme showed that this was really a felt-need of farmers. Over 162 queries were handled by the team of agriculture department officials and agriculture scientists. Most queries were related to management of pest and diseases, marketing, storage facilities for the commodities as well facilities available in the regulated markets.
At a time when the farmers were unable to reach the agricultural department due to lockdown situation, mobile telephony and social media came in as useful tools to link with the Government and provide real-time advisories for the pest, disease and other agriculture-related issues.
Farmers require real-time information and advisories to overcome issues, constraints and problems on a regular basis. Now, it is not possible for farmers to visit the agriculture department and KVKs and other sources to get relevant and often critical information particularly in this situation. While farmers get information from several sources, they are unsure about their validity and reliability. In this context, Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) are significant to help connect distantly located farmers with experts to raise, clarify and address their concerns. MSSRF has been partnering CABI with the concept of plant clinics since 2012 to address information gaps and potentially saving upto 20% of the yield. This kind of phone-in programme is an extension of the continued ICT connect to support farmers.