|Livestock Research for Rural Development 18 (1) 2006
|Guidelines to authors
Citation of this paper
Cyber extension, the use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) to improve rural livelihoods is one of the key areas, which has potential to change the economy of livestock, agriculture, and rural artisans in India. Livestock and rural outreach services can derive the advantage of ICT to provide effective delivery of information related to animal health care and production to the end users. The information access which is increasing at the rate of 50 per cent per annum and improved communication are certain to have significant effects, most of them positive on the livestock outreach services along with other rural services. Provision of simplified version of information through cyber extension backed by easy to follow text and audio-visual illustrations in local languages highlighting the animal husbandry technology would prove to be cost effective and powerful tool in building up of the capacities of the farmers. We see this phenomenon in the developed countries and it is not far off to see the beneficial effects of cyber extension in India as well. In fact the more spread geographies like India will benefit much more from this cyber extension as the clientele have been in almost outer orbit of information and communication system. ICT will bridge this gap very effectively in very little time.
The focus of this paper is on relevance of cyber livestock outreach in India to reach the un-reached with a holistic approach. It also aimed to focus attention on social consequences of slow adoption of the ICT in the livestock outreach services and in finding the ways of overcoming the constraints. The proposed model includes a mutually complementing and sustaining each other Cyber Livestock Extension (CLExtn) and Information Shop with an estimated investment of Rs 3600 million.
Keywords: Cyber extension, livestock, India
The new agricultural policy of Government of India highlighted the need to integrate the extension service delivery at the grassroots level. This means technologies of livestock, agriculture, horticulture and rural livelihoods should be delivered in unified manner. In this scenario the requirement of a specialized and multiple service functionaries adequately equipped to deliver a basket of services at the village / block level becomes essential. The experience of community development programme in early fifties and the services of multipurpose extension functionary in Training and Visit system (T and V) has proved that in the absence of proper technical backstopping from Krishi Vigyan Kendras (KVKs), Zonal Research Stations (ZRS), State Agricultural Universities (SAUs), State Veterinary Universities ( SVUs) and other Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) institutions, the capacities of grassroots level workers remain severely lifted. The cost of running the meetings has become exorbitant and hence expecting a fort-nightly or monthly meeting scenario is not possible. Hence the need to look for alternate source of equipping the grassroots level extension workers with high quality and right type of information through alternate sources. Information and Communication Technology (ICT) provides ideal solution for this. The key benefits of ICT are manifested in developed countries of the west. However, new innovations in ICT are also offering opportunities to developing countries. India has now better ways to use the nation's knowledge base in ICT. The aim of this paper is to present how ICT can be used for the purpose of outreach services.
India covers vast geography of nearly 32.9 million sq. km with population of more than one billion distributed in 28 states and seven centrally administered union territories covering 6,00,000 villages. India has a huge bovine population of 196 million cattle and 80 million buffaloes together producing 84 million tons of milk accounting for about 13 per cent of the world's milk production. During the last 55 years since independence, livestock production has increased many-fold and now India ranks first in world's milk production. The dairy sub-sector occupies an important position in the agricultural economy as milk is the second largest agricultural commodity contributing to the Grass National Product (GNP), next only to rice. The dairy sector in India provides regular employment to 9.8 million people in principal and 8.6 million in subsidiary status. While the share of agricultural output to the total GDP has been declining, the share of livestock output to agriculture has been increasing and now it accounts for 25 per cent of agricultural out put and 6 per cent of total GDP (Birthal et al 2002). Milk alone contributes nearly 1440 Billion Rupees to the GNP of the country. The importance of livestock goes beyond its food production function. It provides draft power and organic manure for agriculture and fuel for domestic purpose. In general livestock wealth is more equitably distributed than land. Growth in livestock sector is thus reckoned to reduce interpersonal and inter regional inequalities, and alleviate poverty.
The number of state run veterinary institutions grew from about 2,000 in 1951 to over 51,000 at the end of 2000-02 with a professional staff of 36,000 and over 70,000 para-veterinarians. However, there is only one veterinary institution per every 10,000 livestock units. The comparable figures for West Bengal and Rajasthan states were 20,000 - 25,000 livestock units (GOI 1997). Only Tripura, Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Kerala states had one institution for every 5,000 animals as recommended by the National Commission on Agriculture (1976). The challenge for these institutions to reach millions of livestock owners spread in length and breadth of the country remained insurmountable. Thus ICT initiatives will provide a strong case for effective coverage and dissemination of livestock outreach information to the farming community.
Cyber space is the imaginary or virtual space of computers connected with each other on networks, across the globe. Thus computers can access information in the form of text, graphic, audio, video and animation files. Software tools on networks provide facilities to interactively access the information from connected servers.
Livestock extension relates to the process of carrying the technology of scientific animal husbandry to the livestock owner to enable him/her to utilize the information in making appropriate decisions to improve the production of animals and thus improve his / her economy. Livestock extension services seek to impart the necessary skills to the farmers for undertaking improved animal husbandry operations, to make available timely information and improved practices in an easily understandable form suited to their level of literacy and awareness and to create in them a favorable attitude for innovation and change (Benor 1984). Extension is the ongoing process of transferring the useful information to the people (the communication dimension) and then assisting them to acquire the necessary knowledge, skills and attitudes to utilize effectively this information or technology (the educational dimension). Thus extension is the central mechanism in the livestock development process, both in terms of technology transfer and human resource development (Samanta 1993).
In the context of applied animal husbandry, cyber extension means using the power of online networks, computer communications and digital interactive multimedia to facilitate dissemination of animal husbandry technology. Cyber extension includes effective use of ICT, national and international information networks, the Internet, expert systems, multimedia learning systems and computer-based training systems to improve the access to information on livestock research to the extension workers, research scientists, extension managers and livestock owners.
Before one can appreciate the question of what really makes cyber livestock extension, it may be helpful to take look at some of the limitations of traditional livestock extension techniques and processes.
It costs a lot of money to produce and print extension materials and to train a whole chain of livestock extension personnel to understand the new technology and to answer the possible queries from the livestock owners.
For a message to pass from a research station / university to the livestock owners, it involves many actors to understand and deliver the message to next layer. The process takes lot of time and efforts on the part of livestock extension machinery.
A number of evaluation studies of Training and Visit system indicate that the quality of extension messages gets heavily distorted and eroded when it ultimately reaches the end users. The distortion increases both increase in the number of actors and channels in the communication process.
Most technical staff within State Animal Husbandry Departments (SAHDs) lack the capacity to effectively communicate with both the research system and the stakeholders group. Very often it has been reported that not more than 30 per cent of the technology reached the farmer.
The neglect is mainly attributed to (a) transmitting of the information for crop production has been a major priority for most extension services but not livestock production although the demand for livestock products is growing more rapidly than the demand for crops and (b) the focus of animal husbandry extension is on animal health rather than production aspects It is thus found that the capacity of traditional livestock extension system is very limited and the challenges of reaching all the villages and the livestock keepers are becoming more and more difficult (Mathewman and Mortan,1995)
Scientists can prepare and update electronic versions of messages and on- farm research results themselves and load into computers which save money and time to reach curious end users instantly.
Cyber outreach will remove a number of steps altogether from the traditional extension process. The zonal workshops and training to subject matter specialists can be eliminated altogether. The information can be directly posted on the Internet, which will be available to extension functionaries and farmers at district, sub-division, and block and village level. All the concerned will get the information immediately and queries / clarifications will also be addressed equally fast without involving a chain of extension functionaries.
It appeals to the curious extension workers and analytical farmers and allows them to search and locate information they need.
Cyber extension will eliminate the time and distance barrier that get in the way of knowing the latest information on any particular livestock problem from any part of the world and can discuss with the best scientist / experts in the field.
The key attribute of cyber extension is its availability all the time, 24 hours a day and 365 days a year.
There are cases of application of ICT that have made
a difference in the delivery of services in rural India. In the
Warna Wired Village Project covering 70 villages in Maharashtra,
the existing cooperative structure has been used with
state-of-the-art infrastructure to provide Internet access to
cooperative societies. The aim is to provide information to the
villagers by establishing networked booths in the villages. The
Information Villages Project of M.S Swaminathan Research Foundation
is aimed at bringing the benefits of modern ICTs to rural families
in Pondichery. A value addition center, which is the hub of the
information network, has been established in Villianur village and
four information shops have been established in different villages
to deliver a basket of services. In National Dairy Development Board, ICT is being used at milk collection centers and in
cooperatives to measure butter fat content of milk, test the
quality of the milk and promptly make the payment to the farmers.
It has resulted in the removal of incentives to those who
adulterate milk, reduced the time for payments from 10 days to
less than 5 minutes and instilled the confidence in farmers on
cooperative set up. All these factors have helped the milk market
to expand to greater dimension (Sharma 2000). The Central Institute
for Research on Goats ( CIRG) has developed E-mail Conference
System for Goat Outreach on its goat-nic.in server using free
software called 'majordoma' which is available on
www.greatcircle.com on a free Linux operating system. Three e-mail
conferencing systems, viz., firstname.lastname@example.org., email@example.com
and firstname.lastname@example.org ,
have been launched by the institute to help information inflow
among technologists, farmers, development officers and planners
(Singh and Radhika, 2002). Under Animal Health Project funded by
Department for International Development (DFID), Rajiv Gandhi
college of Veterinary and Animal Sciences, Pondicherry in
collaboration with University of Reading, UK, has installed a
interactive touch screen information Kiosk in one of the peri-urban
region of Pondicherry on a trail basis. It has information on
important cattle diseases in addition to management of cattle and
methods of acquiring information. Illiterate livestock keepers can
access the information with the touch of the screen which had text
and pictures with sound back-up.
How will ICT be useful to animal husbandry? Does it involve creating databases or decision support systems? How can ICT then be made useful to farmers with smallholdings of 1-2 animals? While deliberating on these issues at the World Science Academies summit, Chennai in1996, it was mentioned that the information age has provided tools such as the Internet and GIS mapping to promote a learning revolution in agriculture and allied activities and outreach information should be disseminated through computer-aided information shops (Kiosks) operated by educated village youth.
A large number of IT products and experiments are known in this area. Management of cattle or poultry farms, covering layout of grasslands, feeding, nutrition, forage management, breeding and waste disposal can now be carried out with the help of hypermedia documents, decision support systems or even expert systems. Recent advances in ICT based products provide livestock outreach with the opportunity to revise and update delivery systems. Decision support systems furnish livestock outreach personnel, consultants, allied industries and producers with a new resource to solve problems. Use of relational databases on the livestock farm updated from external databases provides users with a new option for problem solving. Hypertext and authoring languages create new ways to manage more effectively the information available through database. Decision support systems using an on-farm database, can be developed to address and to evaluate more specific livestock management problems. Use of tools that can directly access and manipulate producers' external and internal data increases the efficiency of the livestock outreach personnel.
ICT can be seen as contributing to the socio-cultural system of rural areas, with impact on both behavior and knowledge. It is believed that ICT will become the prime basis for the future economic development of livestock industry and failure to adopt could cause major problems. The impact of ICT at the community level has a social dimension in which access to information is uneven across the social groups. Information disadvantaged groups are distanced from ICT networks, with the possibility of increased polarization (Gibbs and Tanner 1997). It is believed that this polarization is inevitable, given the personal socio-economic and cultural situation of Indian livestock farmers. The mitigation of this marginalization is a major policy challenge. There is a need for local control over the local information system and reduction in the social inequality of access.
Valantin (1996) observed that ICTs are key generative and transformative technologies, which have positive and negative impacts on a range of social issues. This is especially the case when some livestock groups in the population are connected to global information facilities. The danger with low level of adoption of ICT is low social participation, on the one level and social exclusion on the other (Thomas et al 2002). This differentiation can lead to the creation of cosmopolitan and local livestock farmers. There is therefore a need for rationality with regard to the adoption of ICT. Further, slow adoption of ICT in livestock sector may lead to problems with other related sectors having higher adoption rates and consequent fragmentation of the sector. This may happen at both regional and national levels. For the livestock sector and farming communities, there will be external and internal factors which are to be taken into account with the adoption of ICT. External factors include visibility and openness of the policy process, the degree of support for the idea or view point on the adoption of cyber extension, urgency in making a decision, extent of consensus with regard to ICT and the involvement of outside interest groups and their level of interest. Internal factors include the nature and level of interest within the sector and farming communities to the adoption of ICT and the comprehensibility of processes involved. This will involve the relationship of ICT to prevailing social values and concerns. There will be both prudential acquiescence and as well as opposition by those averse to the adoption of such technologies. In order to avoid this, policy-making bodies need to plan the implementation of policies for the use of ICT, if maximum benefits are to be achieved.
A silent revolution is taking place in the communication systems in rural India. Farmers are browsing the Internet and acquiring general, technical and marketing information from the information kiosks. The total coverage under such initiatives may be very small (about one thousand villages out of over six lakh villages in the country), but the potential of ICT in bridging the so-called digital divide is being hotly debated within and outside the country.
Livestock rearing continues to be the occupation and way of life for millions of the population in India. The sustainable prosperity of these people is the key for improving the overall human resource development scenario in the country. Livestock rearing in India followed traditional lines until the beginning of Operation Flood in the 1970s. The white revolution gave a boost to the production and productivity of livestock. Quick dissemination of technological information from the livestock research system to end users and feedback to the research stations are critical to the transfer of animal husbandry technology. The information and communication support during the last 50 years has been conventional. The extension personnel of the State Animal husbandry Departments disseminated the technologies to the farmers manually by word of mouth. As a sequel the technologies have not reached the majority of farmers due to vast geography and inherent limitations of the traditional extension. The gap between potential and existing production of livestock remains a challenge even today. Reaching millions of farmers, spread over 600 districts, 5800 blocks and more than 0.6 million villages is an almost impossible task. The diversity of agro-ecological conditions adds to this challenge. The success of white revolution is mainly due to a concerted homogenous livestock extension approach for the area of assured inputs. Now, as we move to address the needs of rain fed ecosystems, wherein, livestock dominates the agriculture and in the context of globalization and world trade agreement, the livestock extension strategy becomes more complex. The needs of livestock keepers are much more diverse and the knowledge required to address them is beyond the capacity of the livestock extension functionaries working in traditional system.
The concept of village information shops (Kiosks) is being discussed, debated and experimented at various places in India. Experiments of the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF), Chennai; Information villages of MANAGE in Rangareddy district in Andhra Pradesh; Amul Dairy, Gujarat; Gyandoot of, Madhya Pradesh; EID Parry's Wireless in local loop (WILL) based village Kiosks in Cuddalore district of Tamilnadu and Warna wired villages of the National Informatics Centre in Kolhapur of Maharashtra are some of the cases which provide good insight about farmers' and farm families information needs and capacity to pay. The outreach of livestock services can be multiplied manifold by tying ICT initiatives with the cooperative sector. Strong organizations exist in cooperative sector with their presence down to village level. These are ideally suited for taking the cyber livestock extension close to the livestock owners. The village collection centers can be used as information discussion and dissemination points. Preliminary results indicate that extension alone is not sufficient to sustain information shops at village or even block level. The information supply domain has to be much larger and more dynamic to offer value-adding information like market prices, local topical information like bus and railway time tables, weather forecasts etc. Gyanadoot's experiences indicate that the village information kiosks can be a self-sustainable enterprise with the potential to provide jobs to two young educated rural people, if e-governance services are integrated with the information network. Rural people are willing to pay for the information services, provided the services are a little more exhaustive and are beneficial to them. The livestock extension information is a very important component of the information needed at the village level. The quality and content, however, need to change quite drastically to make the extension information farmer-friendly. The packaging of extension information for the information kiosks should be more visual, more comprehensive, provide full knowledge and information about the topic and various scenarios and options to the farmers and should indicate the source of information and further reference for cross-checking and clarifications. This will bring in more direct communication between the farmers and researchers and improve the quality and language of research extension packaging and feed back. The lessons from Pondichery, Warna wired villages, Neelikuppam project and EID Parry are that, farmers tend to go in groups to the Kiosk in search of information and then discuss it together. This implies that the dissemination of information through Kiosks is likely to occur through the farmers' groups.
The international experiences from South-Asia, particularly the rural radio and telecenters in Bangladesh (poineered by Grameena bank) and community radio towers in Phillippines and Nepal (Radio Sagarmaths) and local radio networks of Indonesia have been some of the important successful stories for improving the rural outreach. In Sudan and Maley also the rural radio is taking up as an important outreach media to reach the rural masses in remote areas. In other parts of the world the uses of Internet and telecentres is growing at a fast pace. The communication media net work of Kenya, Lilec-Tant net work of Bolivia, Infodons initiative of Peru and NAKASEKE telecentre initiative of Uganda are some of the recent initiatives of using ICT to reach the rural population.
The proposed model draws heavily from the Chennai dialogue on Information technology held in 1992. This includes a mutually complementing and sustaining each other Cyber Livestock Extension (CLExtn) and Information Shop.
The purpose of CLExtn is to generate and disseminate information relevant for a locality. The CLExtn system centers around a value adding programme which receives information from different sources like State Veterinary Universities (SVUs), veterinary research institutes under ICAR and SAUs, SAHDs, KVKs, and input agencies in addition to print and electronic media. Through creation of databases to retrieve information, full text retrieval systems and hypertexts with multimedia features by integrating audio/video and still images, value addition to the received information in a highly interactive form takes place. The data can be varied covering animal health, breeding, feeding and management aspects, disease outbreaks, marketing information, price of animals, milk, meat, eggs, hides, fish in the adjoining areas or district headquarters and input availability should be collected to create dynamic bulletin systems for use within the area. The databases can be rendered highly interactive and farm-friendly interfaces. The use of appropriate icons recognizable by the farm families and touch screen technology can help to overcome the language/ literacy barrier. The possibilities of easy access and acquisition of new skills to interact with computers will provide an enabling environment for the farm families to enhance livestock productivity on a sustainable basis. The CLExtn will be strengthened in its usability if it is capable of providing information on agriculture, horticulture, fish culture, apiculture, market prices, net supported health services, online registration of application, attending public grievances etc. Inclusion of general developmental information dynamically augments the relevance and usability of CLExtn.
The CLExtn can be accessed in at least two ways. One at the district level direct access by the user visiting the CLExtn system where it is located and the other is access through the information shops located at village / mandal / block levels.
At the end users' level, livestock information shop will play the role of information dissemination point. Through this shop villagers can exchange information with the neighboring villages or at elsewhere. The investment required to establish an information Kiosk is less than rupees one lakh and schemes are available with District Rural Development Agencies and also under Prime Minister Swarna Jayanti Rojgar Yojana to get soft loans for the educated rural youth to set up such shops. This shop communicates with the CLExtn centre about the information on livestock outreach and inturn deliver it to the endusers. The information can also be simplified by easy to follow text and audio-visual illustrations in local languages and can be displayed on bulletin board at Kiosks.
The process of cyber livestock outreach in India needs a clear vision at national, state and more importantly at veterinary universities, veterinary faculties in SAUs and animal sciences division at ICAR level. Learning from the experiences within the country and in other countries, attention must be focused on the following important aspects.
Development and providing state-of-the-art ICT infrastructure viz., telephone, ICT (Internet), SATCOM (Satellite Communication linkage) and video conferencing connectivity to all states, State Agricultural Management Extension Training Institutes (SAMETIs), districts, blocks, animal science divisions of ICAR, SAUs, SVUs, ZRSs and KVKs. Providing the required hardware and software to all these institutions and creating ICT training and consultancy infrastructure at all levels is essential.
Capacity building of all livestock extension personnel and scientists at all levels in information packaging.
Providing technical ICT support to all these agencies for a critical period of one year.
The total outlay required to connect National Agricultural Research System ( NARS) with district and state headquarters will be around Rs 3600 millions (Table 1). The total time frame required for implementation is approximately five years.
Table 1. Investment required for establishing CLExtn
Investment required, Rupees
Around 15,000 information kiosks to be established with a computer system, printer, modem, UPS, telephone, internet connectivity and furniture in each kiosk
Around 10,000 national, state and district offices on video network
Digitization of research information from around 200 institutions / SAUs / SVUs
Requirement of 600 IT facilitators ( one in each district) for one year
Requirement of 20 IT development professionals for 1-2 years
Requirement of 30 IT trainers ( one at each state and Union territory) for one year
Infrastructure ( Hardware)
Human resource development
Total investment required
It will provide communication backbone to entire farming community up to block level. There will be no additional manpower required for building the capacity of existing institutions and departments in terms of cyber infrastructure and training. Information kiosks at village level will provide information to the farming community through the proposed cyber network. Up to block level the information will be in public domain, beyond that it can be had in private sector by paying the user fees.
The authors are thankful to Dr. S.V.N. Rao Professor and Head, department of veterinary and animal husbandry extension, Rajiv Gandhi College of Veterinary and Animal Sciences, Pondicherry for the helpful suggestions made on the original manuscript.
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Received 31 March 2005; Accepted 28 October 2005; Published 17 January 2006
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