||Rural Post offices as the Linking Bridge for Unreached Farmers of India
S. K. Dubey,
R. R. Burman,
J. P. Sharma,
H. S. Gupta
Linking the agricultural farmers of India with technology and institution has always been the priority since the planned development of the country. In this direction, several experiments using different methods and means of communication have been done. Since sixties, a large number of studies were conducted on farmers and extension interaction, and it was mostly focused on the communication behaviour of these two important elements. Most of the Indian reports reveal diverse communication channels/sources utilized in the different stages of the innovation decision process. It was found that personal cosmopolite channels were more important and followed by personal localite channel at the knowledge stage. Similarly, importance of these channels/sources was also recognized at persuasion stage and at decision making stage in the innovation decision process.
It was recognized that for technically complex information, cosmopolite channels were important. Studies in later eighties showed the influence of mass media on Indian farmers as a source of information. Various research studies conducted in India maintained that agricultural communication, by and large, followed a system approach (Singh, 1988). This consisted of three distinctive subsystems; the research system, the extension system and the client system. This approach, however, was highly top down in nature and suggested that the functions of client system were the "adoption of innovation" and "feedback".
Of late, linkage perspective in extension-farmer communication is being recognized and the linkages activities predominantly included input supply and services as the important communicating activities apart from advisories, training and feedback sharing. The researchers from the global experiences comprehend that the parameters like planning and review, collaborative activity, resource exchange, knowledge dissemination, feedback and coordination are important to strengthen the linkage between farmer and extension. Dubey et al (2011) also identified input supply and services as the important linking activity between farmers and extension and they reported that with particular case of dairying in Haryana, the strength of linkage was stronger on input supply and services than other components.
This article highlights how the main extension systems of the country have rearranged its structure and function for making their communication effective with farmer, how it is justified to include rural post offices of the country as an alternative communication link with farmer, what are the possibilities which make the strong case of using village post office as the linking institution with farmers, experiences of technology dissemination through post offices on pilot basis and its economic impact as well as implications. Based on the empirical knowledge base and field experiences, future roadmap for making postal agri-extension system as an alternative frontline extension system of the country has been suggested.
Structural Alignments in India for Effective Communication of Extension with Farmers
Over a long period of time, agricultural extension and advisory services were mainly concentrated upon top-down information and service flow. The farming community used to be thought of as mere ‘receptors’ of information and services, and their actual needs were seldom taken into consideration in the research and development process. The shifting priorities of Indian agriculture for diversification, commercialization, sustainability and efficacy have made it mandatory for the state extension departments to introspect their extension approaches. In some of the states, the Department of Agriculture (DoA) has started to change its approaches.
Still, the basic issues regarding the type of technological backstopping required by the farmers and the changes in extension organization needed to provide, have not been addressed. With the gradual realization of the importance of understanding the varying social perspectives of technology adoption and diffusion, extension and advisory service delivery mechanism started adapting a participatory and more pluralistic approach. Albeit, for the farmers having small holdings located in remote villages of India, making timely availability of quality seeds of major crops is often a difficult task for any existing technology delivery system.
Instead of trying to identify the ‘best fit’ extension model for a particular country, the reality is that a pluralism of models is being used in most countries in Asia and Africa. Virtually, India now has a mixture of public, NGO and private firms (e.g. seed and fertilizer dealers) delivering extension assistance to small holders. Besides, various states are experimenting with different extension initiatives. For example, Maharashtra adopted the single-window system from July 1998. Under this model, the Departments of Agriculture, Soil and Water Conservation and Horticulture were merged at the operational level.
Kerala decentralized the functioning of the DoA way back in 1987 by creating offices of DoA (Krishi Bhavans) in all the panchayats. Punjab had been continuing with the SAU-Farmer Direct Contact method over the past two decades and has also upgraded all frontline extensionists to graduate level. Andhra Pradesh Agricultural University has also established District Agricultural Advisory Technology Centres (DAATCs) in all the districts for technology refinement, diagnostic visits and for organizing field programmes in collaboration with DoA and allied departments. These contexts give ample credence to include public sector post offices as the possible option for dissemination of farm technology among resource-poor farmers living in remote parts of India.
Post-Office as the communication link for technology delivery
The Indian Postal Services were established in the current format largely under the East India Company. The system was reorganized and the services opened to the general public by Warren Hastings in 1774. In 1835, a committee was set up for unification of custom and postal system of all the presidencies. The result was the first Indian Post office act of 1837. It not only provided for uniform rates and routes but also for the uniform designs and other specifications of the postmarks for each category of post office.
The Indian Postal Service, with 1,55,015 post offices and 4,74,574 staff, is the most widely distributed post office system in the world. On an average, a Post Office serves an area of 21.21 sq. km and a population of 7,175 people. Of the total post offices, 1, 39,144 (89.76 per cent) are in the rural areas, Rural branch post office caters to 5-15 villages and the branch post masters (BPM) mostly are farmers. This was empirically confirmed by Dubey et al (2014). Owing to this far-flung reach and its presence in remote areas, the Indian postal service is also involved in other services such as small savings banking and financial services. The trend analysis of post office works showed that during last 10 years, the use of postal communication system was reduced to a greater extent. There was a sharp decline (about 50 per cent) in the mail and delivery of ordinary post.
This has happened mostly after some of the e-governance initiatives of state governments, internet and accessibility and affordability of mobile phone by the rural people and hence, the sale of postal stamp and revenue stamp had declined to the same extent. The collaborative activities and tie-up with other agencies like bank, investment agency, insurance departments, such as SBI, ICICI, mutual funds agencies, Oriental Insurance, etc. had also increased (15–20 per cent ) (Dubey et al, 2014).
As a matter of fact that many private players have ventured into basic postal services through couriers and also the sale of revenue stamps has been outsourced by the postal department, the reason for such trends is comprehensible. Moreover, this particular finding helped to conclude the possibility of establishing and sustaining the linkage with post offices. From the experience of Republic of Korea, postal services were found successfully utilized for e-commerce and farming particularly fish farming for marketing of the produce using ICT enabled technologies (ITU, 2010).
Possibility of Institutional Linkages with the Postal Department
The analysis of organizational structure, staffing, work load and profile of the post office workers was done to study the possibility of such linkages. A research study conducted in the Sitapur district of Uttar Pradesh revealed that there were 370 branch post offices (BPOs) at the village level manned by 700 Grameen Dak Sevaks (GDS); which should have been 1121, as each BPO is expected to have at least one each of Branch Postmaster (BPM–GDS), Postman and Runner.
The general profile of GDS/BPM indicates that they are mainly the rural farmers living in the same village and discharging the role of GDS/BPM as part-time public sector workers and availing partial benefit from the Department. This indicates the possibility of their inclusion in the additional work of farm technology dissemination in the nearby villages of their operation. The work load of these GDS showed that each of them had to cover on an average of 6–10 villages, 1200 households around the periphery of 8–10 sq. km. It was also found that the average distance travelled by each GDS was 10–12 km/day with a maximum distance of 12 km and a minimum of 1 km/day (Dubey et al., 2014).
The exploratory analysis of postal systems showed the possibilities of farm technology dissemination through post offices mainly on the ground of decreasing conventional roles of post offices and increased inter-departmental partnership activities. As a result, the following subsequent activities were carried out.
Actual Dissemination of crop varieties through post offices
Through Institute–post office–farmer linkage pilot experiments (2009-2013) executed by the premier institution -, Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI), New Delhi, a total of 1921 farmers from 181 remote villages under 18 post offices in five states of India namely Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, Jammu and Kashmir were reached by the end of zaid, 2013. Eight major improved wheat varieties and nine popular rice varieties (both basmati and non-basmati) were disseminated in five states based on the farmer’s demand. Besides rice and wheat, other popular high yielding varieties like Pusa Jaikisan, Pusa Bold of Mustard, Pusa 383, Pusa 443 of Bajra, Pusa Naveen of Bottlegourd, Pusa Viswas of Pumpkin, were disseminated.
Over the years, the project expanded both horizontally and vertically. Similarly, the confidence and expectation of farmers from this premier institute also steered up. Now, they are demanding other technological services like fertilizer, pesticide etc besides improved varieties. As a result, it has been started to disseminate the BGA and Pusa hydrogel among the needy farmers. Besides seeds, the information packages were also sent to the farmers by post. Further, different approaches using post offices for varietal dissemination were tested in various cropping seasons. Experiences indicated that cost-sharing approach, wherein farmers were to pay the seed price (initially 25 per cent of the total seed cost and raised up to 50 per cent of the cost) was found most effective on various parameters.
This helped to infer the economic viability and future continuance of this approach. The varieties disseminated though the post office were assessed under different biophysical situations prevailing at the farmers’ level which helped to identify the location specific improved varieties. Based on the suitability, farmers are being encouraged and facilitated to form seed production associations for farmer-to-farmer diffusion of the preferred crop varieties. Through this linking instrument, other technologies like bio-culture, bioformulations, etc. may be disseminated through post offices.
Economic Efficacy of the Model:
The economic viability of IARI-Post Office linkage extension model was assessed considering the cost of cultivation and net income from crop. The seed was distributed free of cost under the project. However, we consider the actual cost of seed if they purchased to calculate the net benefit from improved varieties. It was evident from the experiences that from 1000 meter square area, a farmer could make net profit of Rs. 3171 with B:C ratio of 1.92 from wheat while in case of Mustard and Bottlegourd, the B:C ratio was 4.07 and 2.71 respectively. The operational paradigm of extension-farmer linkage through post office has been illustrated as Fig 1.
Fig 1: Operational paradigm of postal communication bridge for extension-farmer linkage
The findings proved that the model was highly economically viable even if farmers bear the full cost of seed. The major factor for this economic efficacy is the high yield potential of improved varieties.
Experiences of the experimentation confirmed that post offices may be the effective and successful means for making the improved agricultural technologies available in the remote rural areas in relatively lesser time and cost. However, the capacity building of BPMs in this process as well as the technology was found essential, which in turn would benefit the farmers of the area. Hence, seed variety dissemination through post offices has emerged as an alternate extension mechanism and BPMs as community based extension agents. This was a successful outreach of institutions to farmers living in remote areas and was found as an effective means for assessment and developing location-specific farm technologies.
The success of cost sharing approach has provided a clue to out scale this practice of disseminating seed to the farmers on cost sharing basis in newly added districts of Jammu, Sheopur, Sirohi and Buxar in Jammu & Kashmir, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Bihar. For sustaining the cost sharing approach of this innovative linkage model, formation and strengthening of seed growers' association for seed production on a large scale and their marketing is to be promoted and the produce may be channelized through retail post scheme from sub/branch post office level, thus developing the rural post office as the ‘community extension centre’. The role of related institutions and KVKs in facilitating the process and providing technology backstopping is further emphasized. KVKs are to sensitize the identified BPMs and farmers about the rationale and operational mechanism of the linkage.
More training programmes are required in the new districts at each KVK for capacity building of farmers and BPMs on improved crop production technologies. The process could be made more effective by identification of only those BPMs who are engaged in farming. Interaction meets needs to be organized at each site for analyzing micro-farming situation for identifying suitable technological interventions, crops and varieties. The process of technology diffusion through this model can be made more effective by assessment of selected varieties at KVK farm and at the fields of identified BPMs and farmers. Besides, the multiplied seeds of improved varieties need to be sent on time to the remotely located farmers in the district by KVKs using postal network in the district.
The findings of the present study indicated the scope for developing post offices as the means of agricultural technology transfer in India. The major implication of the study affirms the potential of such experimentation for strengthening public–public linkage for farm technology dissemination, which can later be institutionalized as the effective model of frontline transfer of technology by the large number of research institutions. Also, the strong manpower of village-level postmasters will complement the existing cadre of public sector extension personnel which, in turn, would reduce the extension worker: farmer ratio in the country.
SK Dubey is Sr. Scientist (Agril Extension), Zonal Project Directorate, Zone IV, Kanpur.
Co-Authors are from Indian Agricultural Research Institute, Pusa, New Delhi
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