In a country like India information is a "commodity" in shortage and whatever little is available lacks credibility. Though India sends its statistical "experts" to many developing countries to help them build their data base, especially in agriculture, the country itself was not able to establish a nationally reliable data system based on which any meaningful planning is possible. Of course the huge Central Statistical Organization is supposed to be the agency to make available vital data inputs to the government based on which policy decisions are taken and more often than not, the projections deviate from the actual making the entire planning exercise a mockery. Listen to the "moaning" of a minister in the cabinet of GOI when he said recently that information technology should help farmers in accessing vital information that will help them to improve their practices, implying that at present farmers are left to fend for themselves. No wonder Indian farmers have the propensity to commit suicide which is the last resort for an already "drowning" man! The attempt to rope in the Netherlands for organizing an IT based information system for linking food producers with the market can at best be an experiment with uncertain end result.
'Lauding the initiative to launch the portal, the minister urged the people behind it to approach the farmers first and fill their information needs, rather than of the big retailers. The portal has been developed and operationalised by IL&FS Education and Technology Services (IL&FSETS). eFresh.com BV of the Netherlands has given the linkage to the international portal, eFresh.com. Later, interacting with the media, the minister said the information on weather and seasonal agricultural crops that the new portal would provide would help farmers go for multiple cropping. Joost Van Odjik, managing director of eFresh.com BV, said India has one of the largest food baskets in the world. 'India has to play a pivotal role in world food production,' he added. The portal will link input suppliers and service providers with the primary food producers or farmers and then with transporters, packaging and storage facilities, food processing units, wholesalers and retailers right up to the family dining table. The information will be available in English, Hindi, Telugu and Marathi, and will later be in all other regional languages".
With broadband spread just restricted to urban areas, how the information about weather conditions can be made available to rural areas where 70% of the population live remains to be seen. As of now agriculture extension workers at the state level, ICAR and National Horticulture Board at the national levels are supposed to provide information to the farmers about weather and sowing time and whether the portal launched with the help of the Netherlands will be linked to these agencies is not known. The comment by the minister gives one the impression that the new portal would probably be more useful to large retailers who can plan their procurement operations better. The e-choupal project launched by ITC Ltd in some states growing wheat is essentially a farmer oriented activity which has already established its farmer-friendly credentials because of their local presence. The new portal has a better chance of success if there are ground level grass root outlets to deliver the information to the farmers.