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Article

Affordable, Interactive Crowdsourcing Platform for Sustainable Agriculture

Enabling public private partnerships

This article focuses on the need for inclusive development in India with Accessible -Affordable -Interactive crowdsourcing platform for Agriculturists and consumers. This would enable National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture with convergence and integration of traditional knowledge and practice systems, information technologies and create an ecosystem for sustainable agriculture.

The Indian Government as part of National Action Plan on Climate Change has identified National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture as one of the eight missions to achieve sustainable development. This paper attempts to present the need for Accessible -Affordable -Interactive crowdsourcing platform to enable inclusive development and possible solution with web by all and for all for Sustainable Agriculture.

This could establish much needed visibility and transparency to enable public private partnerships as well as CDM fund flow & technology transfers towards microfinance and access to technological advancements beneficial to sustainable agricultural.

Introduction
The Accessible, Affordable, Interactive crowdsourcing platform for sustainable agriculture would provide a means for sharing information regarding traditional sustainable agricultural methods, techniques, tools, tips, etc., and allow interactivity and offline data entry for consolidated information upload.

Addressing the food security/water security with sustainable agriculture, the solution must provide supplementary information/services such as third-party agricultural, micro-finance services, etc. for farmers. It must also provide a centralized repository for a variety of information such as traditional sustainable farming techniques, crop diseases, etc. coming through various sources, allow interactive farming, easy access to users over various devices such as mobile phones, IVR, computers and kiosks in addition to providing multi-lingual support of traditional practices with modern value.

Impact of Green Revolution in India and the Need for Sustainable Agriculture
With the green revolution in India during eighties, the productivity of agricultural produce increased several folds but only now we are realizing the negative impact of overuse of chemicals and unsustainable farming practices that have led to ecosystem soil destruction, ground water depletion and contamination.

The net irrigated area increased from 31.1 to 54.68 million hectares between 1970-71 and 2000-01 .

The overuse of chemical pesticides and fertilizers that contributed to increased productivity as well as Ground water depletion & contamination.

These chemical entering our food chain; Food security addressed to an extent only in volumes - we can no longer ignore health impacts on both the producer & consumer of such agricultural produce.

Land use change & ecosystem services – impact of converting forest cover to agricultural purpose.
Traditional farming practices such as switching to organic/ natural/ traditional practices of Crop rotation, rain fed farming etc.

National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture
The Indian Government as part of National Action Plan on Climate Change  has identified National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture as one of the eight missions to achieve sustainable development. National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture focuses on convergence and integration of traditional knowledge and practice systems, information technologies and biotechnology as well as focus on improving productivity of rain fed agriculture.

The National Water Mission Focus is on ensuring integrated water resource management to conserve water, minimize wastage and ensure equitable distribution across and within states. National Mission on Strategic Knowledge for Climate Change focus is socio- economic impact, public private partnerships and support research.

Challenges faced by Small Farmers and Price Premium Paid by Poor Customers
Rising temperatures and droughts pose a threat to agriculture and food security in many of the world’s regions, including Asian countries. Particularly small-scale farmers in the tropics and subtropics will be strongly affected. Sustainable/ Organic agriculture can both reduce greenhouse gas emissions with fewer energy inputs.
Price premium paid by poor customer as compared to a rich one:

  • Rice – 1.2x
  • Phone call – 2x
  • Medication – 10x
  • Municipal grade water – 37x
  • Credit – 60 to70x

It is critical to provide accessible, affordable, interactive web-based technology to enable inclusive growth and hence sustainable development.

Accessible, Affordable, Interactive Crowdsourcing Platform Based on Microsoft products
The aforementioned business scenarios translate to non-functional requirements of great scalability, high availability, performance and maintainability. The solution is based on a layered architecture with each layer providing uniform interfaces making it loosely coupled. The solution is designed to use the Microsoft product stack. Microsoft Cloud Services Platform5, Windows Azure™, is the central component of this solution which enables crowdsourcing the problem to agriculturists, researchers, and others interested in enhancing the value, while addressing performance and scalability.

The presentation layer provides interfaces for various users such as the farmers, who exchange information about agricultural practices, agricultural researchers who review and analyze and bring the positive practices to light, and other third-party service providers such as micro-financiers, seed sellers, etc. who form the ecosystem to enhance the quality of user experience. Agriculturists may use home computers, mobile devices or village kiosks/computers to access the system, either independently or with help of a village coordinator.

Agricultural researchers may depend both on Azure hosted cloud services for analysis, as well as use the interfaces to download information to local systems for information analysis and reloading the results back to the system. Third-party service providers can advertise their services, which helps in revenue generation for sustaining the system. They can also bind their services to the cloud solution. The presentation layer for these services may be designed using Silverlight, which allows users to obtain a rich user experience. Besides, Web Services exposed over the cloud allows for seamless integration between on-premise and cloud services. In addition, using the Microsoft .NET support, the services may also be provided in regional languages.

The business logic components handle the business functions required by the application. These business logic components expose service interfaces which provide coarse-grained access which makes development, deployment and access of components simple. These may be developed using .NET and hosted as Azure Web and Worker Roles. While Web Roles provide front-ending services, Worker Roles provide support for back-end and batch processing services. Azure also features services such as Service Bus for cloud based dynamic integration and Access Control Service for federated authentication.

There are two aspects to data management. Relational database management systems support relationships between tables, etc. However, the information store will need to accommodate large amount data to serve large number of users. Both these aspects are supported in the Microsoft stack using SQL Azure™ which is an RDBMS on cloud and Azure Storage services, which support large data using Azure Tables and Blobs.

The IVR system interfaces with the business logic using application service interface to provide voice services to illiterate consumers and to support other voice functions.

Conclusion
Cloud aims at providing benefits both from business and technology perspectives. While several benefits of cloud exist, cloud solution is highly suitable in this crowdsourcing scenario for the agility it provides in hosting and managing services dynamically, while not necessitating a huge capital expenditure. The services can be flexibly tuned to the revenue model and paid for. From a technology standpoint, Azure brings the best of both worlds – Cloud scalability, availability and a industry-proven development platform - Azure Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) offers building services very quickly using the familiar .NET framework and easily available competencies.

References

  1. National Action Plan on Climate change. http://www.indg.in/rural-energy/environment/national-action-plan-on-climate-change
  2. Tamil Nadu Agricultural University. http://www.indg.in/rural-energy/environment/national-action-plan-on-climate-change
  3. Promoting Sustainable Agriculture Experiences from India and Canada. Gujarat Institute of Development Research. www.gidr.ac.in
  4. Prahalad & Hammond 2002
  5. Windows Azure – Microsoft Cloud Services Platform – http://www.microsoft.com/windowsazure

More Stories By Smitha Kamath, AA Chetan

Chetan is a Sr. Solution Architect leading the Azure competency at Mahindra Satyam with over 15 years experience in software development. Chetan has over 8 years of experience as a software architect.