04 February, 2021

Simplifying business processes for the agriculture sector

The Tata Trusts’ EPP app supports farmers and governments both — by recording real-time crop status data with greater accuracy, accountability and authenticity

Shri Abdul Sattar, Guardian Minister for Dhule district and Minister of State for Revenue and Rural Development, inaugurating an authorised support price purchase shop at Sillod, Maharashtra
Shri Abdul Sattar, Guardian Minister for Dhule district and Minister of State for Revenue and Rural Development, inaugurating an authorised support price purchase shop at Sillod, Maharashtra
Shri Abdul Sattar, Guardian Minister for Dhule district and Minister of State for Revenue and Rural Development, inaugurating an authorised support price purchase shop at Sillod, Maharashtra
Shri Abdul Sattar, Guardian Minister for Dhule district and Minister of State for Revenue and Rural Development, inaugurating an authorised support price purchase shop at Sillod, Maharashtra

Peek Pahani includes recording cropping patterns, acreage, seasons, dry or irrigated farming, etc. This data is extremely critical as it serves as the basis of forming government policies and welfare schemes for farmers. The existing system uses an archaic manual methodology for crop inspection, reporting and recording. However, it is an impossible task for a single individual to correctly identify thousands of farms, their survey numbers and the associated farmers, and to physically visit and record crops sown, with acreage, during all three agricultural seasons.

Labour-intensive and time-consuming, this method runs the risk of inaccuracy, and doesn’t allow real-time assessment of crop sown data. There is considerable time lag and delays in reporting, as well as plenty of scope for manipulation of crop reports. This often results in unreliable, unusable crop and farm infrastructure data, leading to inadequate, misdirected use of scarce resources in the agriculture sector.

Every year, India’s state governments collect and report data on what farmers have sown in their fields. That task, called Peek Pahani (crop reporting), falls on people like Vishnu Sonayne. Vishnu is the Talathi or Village Revenue Officer of Undangav village in Sillod taluka of Aurangabad district in Maharashtra. As the Talathi, he is responsible for making thousands of visits to record data on crops sown by individual farmers over three seasons — kharif, rabi and summer — in every village. “I would need to walk at least 28km on kaccha pathways, criss-crossing to cover all the survey numbers for Peek Pahani,” says Vishnu.

Now, there’s an app for that

A change in this system was much needed. The Tata Trusts’ Data Driven Governance team stepped in to introduce and implement a process for self-reporting of crops. The Trusts developed a mobile app called E Peek Pahani or EPP, that allows farmers to self-report crops sown across different stages in real time. It also allows the crop data to be officially recorded by government functionaries after due diligence.

In the words of Dr Jayant Kumar Banthia, the Chief Mentor for this project, ‘’EPP brings transparency in governance, engages farmers through digital literacy, and fills in a huge, perceivable data gap for the agriculture sector by providing crop type and its area on a real-time basis. It lays the framework for a win-win situation for farmers, the government, policy makers, and district and village officials if scaled up throughout the state.” Dr Kumar is a retired IAS officer and the former Chief Secretary of the Government of Maharashtra (GoM), and enjoys several engagements with the Trusts.

The Trusts initiated the app project in eight pilot talukas in 2018 in collaboration with Maharashtra’s Revenue Department. The uptake in recorded crop data has been phenomenal. “Typically, we would have 30-40 crops reported in a season for the whole of Maharashtra,” says Sandeep Kumar Apar, SDO / Deputy Collector at Phulambri — one of the pilot talukas in this joint initiative. “In this current season, we have more than 250 crops reported with proof, from just Phulambri taluka.”

The Trusts have set up an EPP lab at the POCRA Office (GoM Project on Climate Resilient Agriculture, which falls under the Agriculture Department) in Mumbai to analyse the crop and farm infrastructure data received from the field. There is also a dedicated helpline for the EPP app to assist the thousands of farmers and government officials.

A tool in hand

The Trusts’ EPP app is proving to be a useful tool for the revenue officers and agricultural assistants. “Now, I have all the crop reports with proof on my computer without having to take a single step’’, says the overburdened Vishnu.

However, it also empowers the agriculture sector’s biggest stakeholders – the farmers, who were earlier excluded from the data collection process. The EPP app directly involves farmers in the process of reporting and recording crop entries in Village Form No 7/12, making them continually aware of the various decisions and advisories that are based on crop information.

With EPP, farmers can now quickly and easily get an updated, digitally signed copy of the Village Form No 7/12 from the Talathi’s office as proof of them having sown the crops, instead of having to toil and trace the concerned Talathi.

Improving farmers’ lives

And that is just the beginning. The EPP app helps them in selling their crops without delay enabling them to avail of the authorised support price established by the GoM.

That has brought about real change at the grassroots. Farmers selling their produce in the local markets usually got a raw deal from unscrupulous traders, who offered prices that were lower than the prevailing market price or the support price fixed by the government for their farm produce. Even though the government has established authorised support price purchase centres through local Agricultural Produce Market Committees (APMC), the ground reality was that these centres were over-crowded and farmers had to wait in long queues for selling their produce.

Equipped with a geo-tagging feature, the EPP app also enables the government to ensure the veracity of the reported data. The recording format takes care of the data requirements of various government departments — revenue, rehabilitation, agriculture, irrigation, horticulture, marketing, co-operation, etc — and government officials can easily validate the information on crops, acreage and farm infrastructure. The EPP app also helps farmers in times of natural calamities by enabling them to tag photos of damaged crops, which serve as proof for panchnamas.

Visible impact

Sillod taluka in Aurangabad district is proof that farmers have embraced the EPP app with great fervour. Launched in Sillod in time for the rabi season in 2020, with overwhelming support from the local government functionaries and farmers, the app records covered thousands of hectares of crops in the taluka within a very short span of time. With the support of local SDO Brijesh Patil and Tahsildar Rameshwar Gore, genuine farmers were able to sell their produce without hassles in the shortest possible time. In Undangav, for example, more than 250 farmers made use of the EPP app to sell maize to authorised price support purchase centres.

Since the Trusts’ intervention in 2017, EPP has been tremendously successful with more than 300,000 farmers having participated in the eight pilot talukas. In place of the 20-30 crops usually recorded, 326 different crops, including drumstick, broccoli, blackberry, etc, were recorded to have grown for the very first time.

There is a subsidiary benefit too. The use of technology and the deep penetration of digital literacy in rural areas has helped expand the scope of this project. With crop data for village, taluka and district available on a single digital platform, data-sharing across various departments and across geographies has also become easier.

The results will hopefully transform the traditional and outdated business administrative processes of crop reporting and data collection, and replace them with new business processes using a digital platform and technology. These will create a win-win for farmers and village and district administration officials alike, and ultimately lead to governments making evidence-based decisions to support the agriculture sector for millions of farmers.