Agriculture Information Management System (AIMS), e-Office and more…..
Agriculture in Kerala is at a standstill and facing severe challenges. The risks associated with climate change are also increasing. There is an urgent need to promote sustainable food and land use systems as our future ecological and development well-being is at risk with climate change. Apart from this there exists a wide information gap among all stakeholders including farmers. Sustainable planning and equipping various stakeholders to deal with these interlinked challenges and structural issues in agriculture is the need of the hour.
Public and private sector actors have long been on the search for effective solutions to address both the long- and short-term challenges in agriculture, including how to answer the abundant information needs of farmers. Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is one of these solutions, and has recently unleashed incredible potential to improve agriculture in developing countries specifically. We have to go a long in this way in developing and utilizing the potential of ICT’s in agriculture.
ICT usage can positively impact the quality and overhaul the efficiency of extension service delivery to the farmers. The administration will be equipped with real-time data on cropping patterns, crop yields, livestock movements, livestock health and several other areas which enable planning, investment and service delivery.
Hence, the present governance, administrative, research and extension systems have to be reoriented and strengthened in order to equip them to evaluate the problems, plan strategies and execute efficient solutions. Various organizations and departments concerned with the development of agriculture in the state need to realize the potential of ICTs and have to reorient the strategies accordingly.
2. History of e-governance initiatives in the Department
2.1 Pre-NeGP-A Period (From 2000-01 to 2010-11)
For successful implementation and co-ordination of IT and e-Governance activities of the Department, an IT Cell was constituted at the Directorate of Agriculture during 2001, as per GO (MS) No. 83/2001/AD Dated: 22.03.2001 of the Government of Kerala. The initial activity of the IT Cell was mainly confined to the maintenance of ICT infrastructure mainly for the Headquarters.
Information Technology Scheme was introduced during the 2000-2001 as 90 per cent Centrally Sponsored Scheme (CSS) for computerization of Department. The Department developed its own website www.keralaagriculture.gov.in in HTML platform during this period.
2.2 National e-Governance Plan (Agriculture) – NeGP-A Period (2011-12 to 2017-18)
The scope and role of IT Cell has broadened further with the increased surge of applications related to Information Communication Technologies and with initiation of various ICT based schemes and e-Governance Projects both by the State and the Central Governments.
During this period the National e-Governance Plan (Agriculture)(NeGP-A) was launched by Government of India in the State with an intention of providing information to the farming community using multiple channels including websites, mobile based e-governance and also through touch screen Kiosks. Kerala was one of the seven pilot states included under NeGP-A scheme, which started in the year 2011. Various infrastructure and ICT training facilities were provided to the state under NeGP-A and an amount of ₹ 6.63 Crore for five years’ period for the implementation of its components.
Five Computer Training Labs were established and 732 computers, 240 printers, 76 Kiosks and 177 Network Switches were installed at various offices under the department as part of implementation of the project. Along with this infrastructure, Government of India offered a software cluster where specific software to cater to specific demands can be selected by the state, customize or localize it for its use. The most successful among them are Soil Health Card, m-Kisan and Farmer Portal which are still being used.
The State Government could leverage from these ICT initiatives and started e-payment of subsidies to farmers with the technical support of the National Informatics Centre (NIC), Kerala which resulted in the implementation of Electronic Direct Benefit Transfer (EBT) system in the State well ahead of other states. Other e-Governance initiatives by the Department of Agriculture during this period are listed below:
2.2.1 Farmer Registration
State Government have also launched a programme for creation of an on-line data base of farmers as per G.O.(MS)No.276/2013/AD, Dated: 25.09.2013 with the help of NIC as part of the NeGP-A. A total number of 19,72,162 farmers were registered so far out of which 6,22,470 registrations were Aadhar seeded.
2.2.2 m-Kisan (mkisan.gov.in)
m-Kisan was the first project implemented by the Department of Agriculture through m-Governance. Voice messages specific to farmers’ needs and relevance at a particular point of time were given to their mobile phones in regional language. The messages related to seasonal agricultural practices and schemes being implemented by Department were prepared by a team of Officials, Agricultural Scientists and Experts for dissemination to farmers.
As per G.O. (Ms) No. 152/2012/AD, Dated: 19.06.2012, the e-Payment system was started in the Department of Agriculture Development and Farmers’ Welfare during 2012-13 for transfer of assistance directly to the bank account of the beneficiary farmers using NIC’s “Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) for Government of Kerala” Software for increased transparency. During the following five-year period, Department has transferred an amount of ₹1859.78 Crore to farmers as subsidy under various schemes implemented by the Department. DBT was subsequently switched to e-Kuber gateway of BiMS managed by Treasury Department, Government of Kerala.
2.2.4 Networking and connectivity
IT Division is co-ordinating with other agencies like BSNL and Kerala State IT Mission (KSITM) for providing connectivity to all offices under Department of Agriculture Development and Farmers’ Welfare through Annual Plan Schemes. IT Division has provided 1779 SIM Cards with Free Data and Voice calls, to officials under the Department, for communication and ICT based extension activities. This was a major initiative for the promotion and successful implementation of various schemes by the Department.
2.2.5 Karshika VivaraSanketham Project
Karshikavivarasanketham oruviralthumbil (www.krishi.info) is a single window system of Agriculture Information Hub developed by the Department of Agriculture and being implemented through the Small Farmers Agribusiness Consortium (SFAC), Kerala.Through this portal, integrated information about crops, plant protection aspects, inputs, marketing, organic farming, agriculture implements, soil health management, value added products, agro-service centres, Hi-Tech cultivation, weather information services etc are being provided to farmers in regional language.Mobile applications like ‘Kaarshikavivarasanketham’, ‘kaarshikakeralam’ were also developed as part of this project. A ‘kisan call centre’ for farmers is also functioning under this project.
Department of Agriculture Development and Farmers Welfare was one of the pioneer Departments to implement Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) of assistance directly to the bank account of farmers. The DBT initiated by the Department during 2012 has completed 7 years and amount to the tune of over 1800 crore was transferred to the beneficiary farmers during this period. IT Division of the Department was authorized for implementation and monitoring of the DBT system which involved customization of the software, initial trials, providing technical support, Help Desk support and training to all officials of the Department and sustenance. Due to sincere effort of the IT Division of the Agriculture Department, Government of Kerala has received National e-Governance Award for the successful implementation of the EBT software for e-payment of agriculture subsidies.
2.3 Post NeGP-A period (2018-19 onwards)
The software developed during the above two periods was mainly to cater to specific demands of the Department and were not integrated. Minimal Infrastructure and Connectivity were provided to various offices for the implementation of specific projects.
Development of an Integrated MIS Software which enables seamless data flow from grass root to higher levels, establishing a good database and development of ERP solutions became the need of the hour. Further ICT based solutions should be able to provide:
(a) real time data to support planning and decision making (b) farmer centric services and (c) to reduce inefficiencies in the working pattern of field level officials mainly by streamlining their workload.
With these requirements the department initiated the development of an integrated Agriculture Information Management System (AIMS) with NIC, Kerala, Thiruvananthapuram. The first module to manage the distribution of natural calamity assistance (SMART) has already been developed and being used statewide by the agricultural officers of the department.
Moreover the department would like to manage and track all its administrative transactions using the proven capabilities of e-office system. This will ensure real-time tracking of files and will ensure transparency in the file management system of the department. Initially, the e-Office system is established in the Directorate of Agriculture which will be connected to district as well as block level officials in a short span of time.
During this phase the department has restructured its existing website to conform to the latest security standards in content management framework which is currently available in English and Malayalam in www.keralaagriculture.gov.in and also in www.karshikakeralam.gov.in. The development was done with the help of C-DIT in Word press platform.
The department has also established a Virtual Classroom facility. This will be extended to field training centres to establish a network of technical classrooms in the near future.IT Division has installed Video Conferencing Facility connecting Office of the Minister of Agriculture, Office of the Agricultural Production Commissioner, Secretary to Government (Agriculture), Directorate, SFAC and all District Offices. This will enable the officials to discuss policy matters in a common platform that too within the convenient of their own offices. The VC facility was inaugurated on 26-12-2019 by the Hon. Minister for Agriculture. Since then, the facility has been acting as a critical infrastructure in communication between Officials at different levels in the Department, Government, Officials from outside departments/agencies, and other stakeholders especially during COVID-19 lockdown period. At present more than 350 Video Conferences has been conducted through this newly developed VC facility through various platforms like Departmental VC through license of Kerala State IT Mission-UTP, Vidyo (NIC), Zoom, Webex, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet etc. The consolidation of various meetings raised from the offices of Hon. Minister for Agriculture, Agricultural Production Commissioner and Director of Agriculture is done at IT Division and necessary technical and handholding support during the conduct of Video Conference scheduled.
The recent changes in the climate and natural disasters occurred in the state has reiterated the impact of climate change and need serious consideration. Floods are the most common natural hazard in the state. Nearly 14 per cent of the state’s land area is prone to floods and incidents of landslides are also at rise in the state. Heavy floods occurred during the year 2018 and 2019 have caused unprecedented and widespread damage to the agricultural in the state.
As per the FIR Summary Report of the Department of Agriculture Development and Farmer’s Welfare, Kerala (available at http://www.aims.kerala.gov.in) the total crop area affected in 2019 floods is 1,05,496 ha. The estimated crop loss is 52,347.32 lakhs and the number of farmers affected are 3,66,818 (as on 10.01.2020).
The natural disasters that hit the State in the form of floods and landslide in two consecutive years wreaked havoc, affecting agricultural sector the most. Crops were most heavily affected, contributing to 88 per cent of the total loss and damage to the sector. The share of Agriculture and allied sectors in total GSVA (at constant 2011-12 prices) of the State has witnessed a secular decline from 12.37 per cent in 2013-14 to 8.77 per cent in 2018-19 (Economic Review, 2019).
The recent Covid 19 pandemic has also affected the agricultural sector in multiple ways. The predicted fall in the global trade by 13 per cent by the World Trade Organization (WTO) will create adverse impacts on the export-oriented spices and plantation crops grown in Kerala. Moreover, the fall of demand and disruption of supply chains have resulted major income losses for the farmers in the state (SPB, 2020).
3.1 The way forward
Consequent to the floods in 2018 and 2019, Government have decided to implement the division of the State in to different Agro Ecological Zones (AEZs) and Agro Ecological Units (AEUs) for the integrated development of agriculture as a production sector as part of the ‘Rebuild Kerala Initiative’ (RKI). The AEZs were demarcated on the basis of soil and other geographical factors for determining crops, crop management techniques and use of inputs appropriate for each zone. The AEZ based development for the revival of agricultural sector call for a major shift in our development perspectives since it also demands the sustenance of our agro-eco systems.
The entire departmental machinery and administration have to be revamped and re-engineered to overcome the impacts to the agricultural sector and also to face future challenges. Technological and institutional changes and innovations through ICT tools have a greater role to play in this regard, which is provided with adequate funds under Rebuild Kerala Initiative, policy support and through effective change management.
3.2 Agriculture Information Management System (AIMS)
The Department of Agriculture Development and Farmers Welfare has already taken up measures to address these issues and a comprehensive solution named “Agriculture Information Management System (AIMS)” has been envisioned and started working on it. The first module of AIMS named SMART (System for Monitoring Agricultural Relief Transactions) has been developed with help of NIC and is undergoing field use.
SMART is the first and foremost initiative to build a Comprehensive Agricultural Database (CAD) for Kerala and a claim processing suite which is primarily focused to capture the data on Natural Calamity Damages in Crops, its extend and also to give a real-time insight into the field problems. This will also help the policy makers to take decisions on natural calamity mitigation measures including compensation packages in real time.
SMART module also facilitates online application facility including facility to upload crop damage images. The entire processing of application can be done online at various levels till the transfer of assistance to farmers through Centralized Direct Benefit Transfer (CDBT) system which is integrated in SMART. This results in timely transfer of assistance to farmers in a most transparent way and reduced the workload of officials in all tiers. The system of online application and claim processing will be replicated to all other schemes being implemented in the Department.
At present 4 other modules along with the online application facility in SMART were on boarded in AIMS. Farmers can now insure their crops under Restructured State Crop Insurance Scheme and they are eligible to apply for compensation if required, through online mode.
The Royalty for owners of cultivable paddy land, a new scheme under Rice Development were introduced by the department and implemented through online mode from its beginning, processing of applications and distribution of royalty to farmers through Centralized Direct Benefit Transfer System successfully.
Kerala Farm Fresh fruits and Vegetables Base price scheme also on boarded under AIMS platform and the registration of farmers is going on. Further developments are ongoing to implement a greater number of schemes to reach on farmers in online mode.
Subhikshakeralam – Kerala State Government’s flagship program to combat food scarcity in the post COVID-19 lockdown era aims at attaining self-sufficiency in agriculture and food production and promoting value addition and marketing. The implementation of Subhikshakeralam Schemes is much needed the support of the development of online platforms to reach the department to farmers and in the field at right time.
IT Division is in the process of implementing a project called “Strengthening of e-Governance in Agriculture Department” under ReBuild Kerala Initiative (RKI)
The main objectives of the project are to provide farmer centric services via online platform in an efficient, transparent and time-bound manner, through implementation of e-Office and an integrated service delivery platform Agricultural Information Management System (AIMS) in the department
e-Office envisions a paperless office, with increased transparency, efficiency and accountability of the organization.
The 12 components in the Agricultural Information Management System (AIMS) are designed to cover the entire farming cycle and include: farmer data base (FDS), seed certification and regulation (SCR), input managers/manufacturers registration and licensing (IMR), knowledge management in agriculture (KMA), electricity subsidy for agriculture (ESA) farmers help desk system, (FDS) Claim processing and monitoring system (CPMS), Mechanization and Agro Service Centres (MASC), Disease and Pest Management System (DPMS), System for Monitoring Agriculture Relief Transaction (SMRT), State Crop Insurance Scheme (SCIS) and Centralized Direct Benefit Transfer (CDBT) System. The other two components included under AIMS for supporting the e-Office are, asset monitoring and management System (AMS) and institutional directory and profile (IDP). AIMS is an integrated system developed for the Department of Agriculture & Farmers Welfare to provide departmental services efficiently to farmers with the help of Information Technology. SMART is the major component of AIMS which provides work flow based claim processing suite for processing farmer applications to avail benefits from Government. One Time Registration facility is available for farmers to get themselves registered in SMART. SMART Registration ID can be utilized to avail various services from department in future. Registered farmers are provided with a personalized dashboard.
4. Need of the hour
IT Division in the department was constituted at the Directorate during 2001 with one Deputy Director of Agriculture (IT) and two clerks. Although the State is in the process of computerization and implementing IT in almost every sector, the manpower of IT Division has not increased till date since its inception to cater to effective service delivery. Repeated requests for creation of post of Agricultural Officers in the IT Division were not granted so far.Even after the creation of IT Division during 2014, necessary posts of Technical officers were not sanctioned, and the Division continues to work with officers on working arrangement till date. At present IT Division has One Deputy Director of Agriculture (IT), two clerks and Four Agricultural Officers (on Special Duty). The duties and responsibilities of the Agricultural officers on special duty are:
- Act as domain expert in development of software – G2C, G2B, G2G etc
- Co-ordination with external agencies for smooth implementation of e-Governance initiatives
- Project/Scheme preparation of all IT Schemes in the department
- Implementation of IT related schemes – both State and Centrally sponsored schemes
- Development of AIMS portal and maintenance of already developed modules for Natural Calamity Relief Assistance, One Time – Farmer Registration, State Crop Insurance Scheme, Royalty to Owners of cultivable paddy land, Subhikshakeralam, Marketing modules etc
- Co-ordination and close working with development agencies like National Informatics Centre, C-DIT, etc during the development of software and portals.
- Assisting in the process of customisation of software
- Imparting technical support to officials of the department as part of implementation of IT initiatives and schemes
- Supervising the File works, coordinating the activities related to Centralized DBT system to be implemented as part of AIMS.
- Management of Video Conference facility in the Directorate
- Assisting in the process of Procurement of Hardware
- Ensuring Connectivity in all offices under the department
- Providing handholding support during the initial phases of deployment of software for the department
- Updation and Maintenance of Official website of the Department
- Act as IT Master Trainer by imparting training to officials of department as part of e-Governance initiatives in the department.
- Direct supervision during the deployment of software in the department
- Imparting training to officials of other stakeholder departments.
- Maintenance of software and portals developed and maintained by the Department
- Act as technical expert for the CDBTM cell in the Directorate
- Introduction of new e-Governance initiatives for efficient functioning of the department
- Nodal Officer, Co-ordination, training and monitoring of activities of Kisan Call Centre 1800-180-1551
- Act as Help Desk support to officials for all central and state schemes and IT initiative of the department.
- Act as nodal officers as part of implementation of different IT related schemes and services
- Technical support for handholding support, supporting project/software related change management related to E-Governance initiatives.
After the formation of IT Division, the workload of the division has increased many folds. The Department has gone much ahead during the past years in the field of Information Technology Applications, Service Delivery and e-Governance for the benefit of farmers of Kerala.
“It is essential and imperative to have the service of technical manpower with domain knowledge for the successful implementation and monitoring of special schemes and projects of IT Division. Absence of sanctioned posts of technical officers in IT Division slow down the pace of activity and the objective and outcome could not be achieved in full. Hence, it is imperative that IT Division is to be provided with technical officers with knowledge and experience in Information Technology for proper planning, coordinated implementation and monitoring so as to get the desired results in the desired time frames”.
Centralized Direct Benefit Transfer Management Cell
Agriculture Development and Farmers’ Welfare department is one of the largest departments covering over 1400 offices and 8000 staffs belonging to different categories with presence in every panchayath of the State. The Department gives assistance to over 35 lakh numbers of registered beneficiaries through 33 schemes and 160 components implemented throughout the state. At present, the assistance to this large volume of beneficiaries is being done through 152 block level Assistant Director of Agriculture Offices via eKuber gateway of BiMS managed by Treasury department of Kerala State. This process of assistance flow often results in delay as the allotment of funds through different tiers of system takes time. So, as per decisions of the Government, for effective and speedy delivery of assistance and services to beneficiaries, payments of assistance will be carried out through a Centralised Direct Benefit Transfer System (CDBT). Funds will be allotted only to Directorate in the case of assistance payment to beneficiaries ie; for all the 30 schemes and 148 components implemented by the department, bills will be generated and payment will be done directly from the directorate to the bank account of the concerned beneficiaries. This requires constitution of a Centralized Direct Benefit Transfer Management Cell (CDBTM cell) to oversee this huge task of bill generation, payments and rejection management for the entire state, working under the direct technical supervision of IT Division, which will also require lot of manpower from different categories of officers including technical representatives from all the technical sections of the Directorate. A Centralised DBT Governing cell has already been constituted in the Directorate of Agriculture Development and Farmers Welfare with Director of Agriculture as chairman and Senior Finance Officer (SFO) as convenor for Planning, Implementation and Monitoring of the CDBT system with the initiative of IT Division.