Sixth Annual Baramati Initiative, 9-11 March 2006, Maharashtra, IndiaSixth Annual Baramati Initiative, 9-11 March 2006, Maharashtra, India

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Sixth Annual Baramati Initiative, 9-11 March 2006, Maharashtra, India
ICTs in agriculture

Saswati Paik

Sr Assistant Editor

The Sixth Annual Baramati Initiative on Information Communication Technologies (ICT) and Development was held in Vidya Prathishthan’s Institute of Information Technology (VIIT), Baramati from 9th to 11th March, 2006. This year, the focus of the conference was on ICTs in agriculture.

In the inaugural session, VIIT Governing Council Chairman,  Sharad Kulkarni said that the process of exploring avenues is in progress, through which governments, NGOs, and entrepreneurs can focus on e-Agriculture. In his speech he mentioned the history of establishing the engineering college in Baramati. In 1992, Sharad Pawar, who is at present the Chief Minister of Maharashtra, dared to dream of translating 128 acres of barren land into a prominent centre of education. He mentioned some of the initiatives taken by this institution in terms of IT-enabled ‘affordable’ services.

Montek Singh Ahluwalia, the Deputy Chairman of the Indian Planning Commission was the keynote speaker. He threw some hard challenges to the 6th annual Baramati Initiative on ICT and Development. He pointed to the importance of the agriculture field in India and termed IT one of those ‘defining technologies’ that bring about a drastic change. He mentioned that India has done extraordinarily well as supplier of IT to the world, this nation has responded incredibly rapidly, as part of the global supply chain of IT, but our record of applying IT to our own society back home has actually been quite poor.

The first technical session was on Innovative Practices showcasing the Benefits of ICT for the Agriculture Sector’.  Krithi Ramamrutham, of IIT-Bombay, described aAQUA, a corpus of quickly-updated, demand-driven agricultural information, translations repository. ‘Aaqua’ stands for ‘almost all questions answered’.

It aims to make online forum allowing ‘questions from the grassroots to be answered by experts in the field’.  Peter Smeets, Alterra Landscape Centre in the Wageningen UR in the Netherlands spoke on e-Agroparks in the Netherlands. The paper of  Amol Goje, Director of VIIT was presented by his colleague which focused on the importance of community FM radio in agriculture. Helmut ewes from Agrista, Durban discussed about the prospect of technology in agriculture sector.  S.P.Wani from ICRISAT, Hyderabad discussed the organisational activities of ICRISAT in agriculture using ICT as a major tool.

The second session was on ‘Role of ICT in Facilitating Agri-finance and Agri-insurance.  R.Balakrishnan, Executive Director, NABARD described the activities of NABARD in micro credit and also described its ICT based services in rural areas in India. Edwin Moyo of Zimbabwe, the CEO of the Trans Zambezi Industries Ltd, shared his views and experiences in using ICT in agriculture.

Suresh Sethi, Country Head – Transaction Banking Group, YES Bank Limited presented his paper entitled as ‘Role of ICT in Agricultural Finance and Insurance’. In his paper he mentioned about the ‘Infothela’ project, an initiative of IIT, Kanpur. The paper of  Sonu Agrawal from Weather Risk Management Services Pvt. Ltd. was on ‘Financial Services in Rural Areas and Role of Technology.  Prashanth from Basix discussed the role Basix in micro credit and livelihood using ICT as a tool.

Vineet Rai from Aavishkaar India Micro Venture Capital Fund focused on role of technology in delivery of financial services. Question from the audience floor was raised regarding the scalability of the project by Basix, it was replied that the project is scalable. Another question was regarding the experiment made so far on estimating crop damage with the help of satellite imageries. The reply received that the experiment will be done in this year itself.

The last session of first day on ‘Research on use of ICT in agriculture’ was moderated by V.P.Sharma, Director, MANAGE, Hyderabad.  Gopi N Ghosh, Assistant FAO Representative and Resource Person, Food and Nutrition Security Community discussed about knowledge management in food and agriculture, with example of functioning of UN Solution Exchange. ‘Gramya Vikas: A Distributed Collaboration Model for Rural Development Planning’ was the theme of the paper by J. Adinarayana, Gopesh Tewari and Anand Vadlamani from Agro-Informatics Lab, Centre of Studies in Resources Engineering, IIT Bombay; the paper was presented by  J Adinarayana.
V.P.Sharma presented his paper ‘Cyber Extension: Innovative Uses of ICTs for Agriculture, Lessons from Case Studies’. During the question-answer session, suggestion were provided to make Krishi Vigyan Kendras (Agricultural Science Centres) in India more market oriented, ensuring more transparency of the finance spent for ICT projects in agriculture and initiating public monitoring for food security with the help of ICT.

On the second day of the conference, there was a field trip to nearby KVK and sugarcane factory. Then the technical sessions were started. The first session was on ‘Government and e-Agriculture: Government Support for e-Agriculture’.  V.P.S.Sharma, Dean, College of Agribusiness Management, GB Pant University described the thrust agribusiness sectors and government initiatives in context of the State of Uttaranchal (India).

T.C.Benjamin, IAS emphasized on the need of computerisation of land records and government support in this regard, with special reference to ‘Mahabhulekh’ project in Mumbai. Askar Abubakirov from Ministry of Agriculture, Kazakhstan, described the national projects set up by the regional network offices of his country.  D.B.Deshmukh presented the status and potential of e-Agriculture in Maharashtra.

M.Moni, DDG, NIC, New Delhi narrated the ICT dissusion for sustainable grassroots development in India. S.Sharma, Director, IASRI, New Delhi explained in his paper the ICT initiatives in IASRI. During the question answer session, the questions were raised regarding the reliability of the data from ‘Mahabhulekh’ on crop information.  Benjamin explained the same.

The second session of this day was on ‘Corporate Experiences – Trade Facilitation through ICT’, the moderator of this session was Frida Youssel, Coordinator for UNCTAD (the UN’s Conference on Trade and Development) finance and risk management commodities branch.  The paper on ‘Manobi’ project of Senegal was presented by Malick Ndiaye. SPIC agribusiness was narrated by  Narayanan, Head, Agribusiness, SPIC and trade practices in Canada was explained by  Apurva Mehta, Senior Advisor, Trade, Consulate General of Canada, Mumbai.

Meher Baburaj, Chief Operations Officer, NCDEX, highlighted National Commodity Development Exchange.  Joseph Massey, Deputy Managing Director, MCX shared his experiences in trade facilitation through ICT. There was a discussion at the end on the security in transaction through Internet and also the future plan or possibility of opening rural kiosks by SPIC.

‘The Power of Collaboration: Success Stories’ was the theme of the last technical session. The vision of Agriwatch was presented by  Meenakshi.  Swetank Gupta, CEO, Gramdoot Seva Kendra explained the project ‘Gramdoot’ in Wardha District. Rural credit and supply chain management system was described by Rohit Nagotra, COO, Ekgaon Technologies, Sashi demonstrated the technicalities of the system.

P.Krishna Reddy,z Head, e-Sagu Project, IIIT, Hyderabad and Ganesh Rao, Vice President, Moerheim Roses India Pvt Ltd also explained how the collaboration practices may serve the agriculture sector, sharing their experience in this field. At the last session, the report on ‘Say Yes to Agribusiness’ by  Sharad Pawar and ‘New Era of Economic Development – Maharashtra’ by the Union minister for Finance, India, P. Chidambaram were launched.

The plenary session on the future of e-Agriculture was moderated by  G.Chandrasekhar, Associate Editor of Business Line and  Sharad Kulkarni. Addressing the plenary session, the Union Minister for Finance, India stressed on the need for technology bound development in farm sector at Baramati, Maharashtra.

He identified five key components- water, credit, technology and market, required to transform the agrarian sector into a profitable exercise that will attract investments. Describing the current state of co-operative sector being in shambles, the finance minister expressed his confidence that all state governments will sign the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) of Rs 14,500 crore scheme to revitalise the co-operative credit structure.  Rana Kapoor, Managing Director and CEO of YES Bank presented the valedictory address.

Saswati Paik,

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