Agriculture economics: Technological support

The traditional marketing system (such as door to door sell and centered market) can be transformed to highly advanced systems like making websites and relevant applications in which transaction can be done in real time

The use of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) is a strategy to revolutionize agricultural activities in Nepal. The reason behind this situation is the inability of farmers to adopt ICT and its applications to its full potential.

ICT is an umbrella term that encompasses all medium of communications devices and infrastructures such as computers, the internet, cell phone, smart phone, radio, television, newspapers and digital libraries. The integration of ICT and agriculture has the potential to transform Nepal into a stable, sustainable and prosperous democratic nation from the socio-economic viewpoint.

The farmers need up-to-date information of agriculture value chain related to weather, seeds, fertilizer, pest management, other factor inputs and crop diseases as well as solutions. Further, the information about specific soil and water condition, pricing of crops and marketing techniques can be gathered by the use of ICT materials. During post-harvesting, the measures of food preservation, quality and safety to minimize unwanted losses of products can be seen through information technology. Agriculture economics without ICT cannot be imagined in today’s world.

Risk and uncertainties are two factors that farmers always encounter before and after harvesting of products. The farmers apply many traditional approaches to mitigate and cope with the risk. But the untimely and partial availability of information makes managing and transferring agricultural risk such as weather, diseases, market volatility and commodity prices difficult and costly. Thus, the problems of gathering, storing, processing and disseminating can be easily tackled through the use of ICTs. The world is witnessing a prompt paradigm shift in information and communications sector in which ICT has become a major factor in dissemination of information and communications, thereby eliminating barrier of physical distance and transportation cost for efficient data processing.

In agribusiness activities, the major factors affecting the use of ICT include unaffordable prices of ICT gadgets and tools, irregular power supply, language problem and costly service. In addition, the geographical location, sparse population and internet strength also determines the ICT demand and associated cost, generally termed as the ‘economics of networks’.

ICT provides immense benefits to farmers in accessing information and encourage the diffusion of new ideas to upgrade the existing equipment and broadens the knowledge base that suits the best global practices.

The farmers should possess the ability for quick response for any risk and warning. The decisions of farmers depend upon the sufficient information available to them. For this, ICTs can play the ‘decision support system’ as it converts information into risk-mitigating activities.

At the central and local level, ICT can strengthen the institutional framework of the agriculture sector including organizational and technical capacity of farmers by promoting commodity chains and agribusiness. Now people have to face new forms of social exclusion if they don’t have access to ICTs gadgets. The most vulnerable group would be the low income group such as farmers. So, the farmers should move to become ‘digitally wealthy’ instead of remaining ‘digitally poor’ in order to take advantage of new opportunities offered by ICT.

The traditional marketing system (such as door to door sell and centered market) can be transformed to highly advanced systems like making websites and relevant applications in which transaction can be done in real time. Moreover, the information about customer feedback, inventory and product demand are easily accessed by farmers. Thus, by increasing phone culture and computer literacy, the farmers can gain significant benefits from their agro-products without getting exploited by intermediaries or middle-men.

To expand farmer access to ICT services, the integrated collaboration among government, related departments, academic institutions and civil society are necessary. From this, farmers can get technical support related to marketing through the use of e-commerce and compete in the global economy by extending national and international trading links. The agricultural e-commerce  provides opportunity to small scale farm businesses and also helps develop entrepreneurship. The government should set up media centers and help-lines equipped with ICT such as computers, internet, telephones and fax service which receives and provides information about agriculture grants, assistance, advice on crop diseases and solutions, market feasibility, banking service and constitutional rights of farmers.

The role of ICT in shaping the country’s economy through agriculture encompasses increasing productivity, work efficiencies, achieving economies of scale by relevant, quick and efficient information transfer. The government should formulate policies on budgetary provision for ICT research and development through consultation with farmers, policymakers, scientists, engineers, business communities and IT firms. Meanwhile, the focus should be on innovative and enhanced agro-business models by introducing and providing low-cost internet services and cell phones to poor farmers.