The Indian agricultural sector as ecosystem
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Bolstering India’s agricultural sector using an ecosystem approach 

How can the ecosystem paradigm help navigate challenges and capitalize on opportunities in the Indian Agricultural Sector? Why is any other approach limited?

India, upon gaining independence in 1947, grappled with persistent food shortages. In response, minimum support prices were instituted for cereals to bolster food grain production. The Mandi system, a relic from British rule, obligated farmers to sell their produce through designated channels exclusively. Legislation aimed at curbing hoarding imposed stock limits, with intermittent bans on exports during periods of inflation.

Successive governments implemented farmer loan waivers, while the Food Corporation of India consistently purchased large quantities of grains from farmers at prices often exceeding market rates. These grains were then distributed to economically disadvantaged communities at significant discounts. Notably, agricultural income remained untaxed in India, with taxation authority primarily delegated to provinces, leaving other forms of income subject to central government taxation. This taxation structure imposed a considerable burden on the economy, hindering farmers’ self-sufficiency.

The minimum support price system exhibited disparities, disproportionately benefiting a few states and wealthier farmers. Consequently, farm laborers and small-scale farmers faced ongoing challenges. Moreover, the concentration of agricultural activity in certain regions resulted in the overexploitation of natural resources.

What role can Ecosystem Paradigm play in analyzing Indian Agricultural Sector? If we make use of the Ecosystem Paradigm for Agricultural Sector we can unleash the collective forces and channelize them towards creating a positive reality. A calm, reflective and patient meta-theoretic approach can help formulate public policies that can operate in harmony.

Shreekanth M Prabhu

2020 farm laws

In 2020, the national legislature of India passed 3 farm laws that had been demanded for a long time by experts and political parties alike.  Below are the provisions of the respective bills.

Credit. Amar Shankar

The farm laws undoubtedly upset entrenched players. This resulted in massive street protests that blocked roads for more than a year, and finally, the government succumbed to the pressure and withdrew the laws.

The situation presents an irony wherein protesting farmers, a significant number of small-scale farmers, declined the option to sell their produce outside of the Mandis. This irony warrants a measured analysis. Generally, individuals are influenced by three types of rationality: perception rationality, process rationality, and preference rationality. It seems that within the community, perceptions and concerns about the unfamiliarity of the new process outweighed the preference rationality. Consequently, the government has a task ahead of it in addressing these perceptions and concerns.

In February 2024, once again, the same group of affluent farmers took to the streets, demanding that the Minimum Support Price be guaranteed by legislation. Prof. Anand Ranganathan deplores the lost opportunity for India and warns that the situation could deteriorate further.

Representing the agricultural sector using the Tantra Information Framework

In a recent study, a suggestion was made to employ the Tantra Framework to represent the agricultural sector. Derived from the Zachman Framework, the Tantra Framework is adapted for information management. It offers a comprehensive and generic depiction of various sectors by utilising Aspects and Perspectives, along with the reification of Aspects through Perspectives. Tables 1(a) and 1(b) provide further details.

Aspects
WhoWhereWhatWhenHowWhyRelationshipsRelatorsSeparations
Table 1(a). Tantra framework aspects

PerspectiveReification of Aspect
Contextual (Named & Scoped)Name
Conceptual (Defined)Concept
Logically DesignedRelation (Components)
Physically Configured (Schema)Network Schema
Detailed/InstantiatedUnique Identity
Table 1(b). Tantra Framework Perspectives

In this framework, the ‘Who’ aspect encompasses individuals such as farm owners, tenant farmers, farm workers, farming families, and other participants in the supply chain. The ‘Where’ aspect is tailored for farm plots, localities, and similar identifiers. ‘When’ addresses cropping seasons, procurement windows, and trading events. ‘What’ is utilized for assets, incomes, debts, crops grown, benefits, subsidies, and consumption patterns. ‘How’ represents governmental and farming processes. ‘Relators’ enumerate banking outlets as agricultural extensions. ‘Relationships’ document connections between various aspects and networks. ‘Measures’ focus on factors like yield, productivity, debt, poverty, and profitability.

The Tantra Framework offers in-depth coverage, addressing each aspect from concept to construct and instance to unique identity. Market separations, including spatial, informational, temporal, financial, and capability, can constrain the agricultural sector. Conversely, socio-political separations hinder direct government outreach to farmers and their detachment from community influences.

Applying ecosystem paradigm

Upon closer examination, the portrayal of agriculture as merely another sector fails to acknowledge its intricate complexity. It encompasses numerous dependencies, co-dependencies, and conflicts of interest. Therefore, the application of the ecosystem paradigm to the agricultural sector seems highly logical. In Figure 1 below, the agricultural sector is depicted as an ecosystem of ecosystems.

Figure 1. Agricultural Ecosystem
Credit. Author

On the supply side, the foundation of the agricultural ecosystem lies in the biological ecosystem of Mother Nature. Communities within the social ecosystem work together to cultivate crops in a financially viable manner.

On the demand side, consumers and businesses form the business ecosystem. These customers, directly or indirectly, contribute to the distribution of food grains to those in need as part of the welfare ecosystem.

Surrounding these, the industrial ecosystem generates value-added products and influences market dynamics. In today’s information age, the information ecosystem encompasses all aspects.

The political and ideological ecosystem, which holds significant importance, has not been discussed above.

Ecosystem phenomena

Coevolution, self-organization, adaptation, and emergence are phenomena applicable to all ecosystems. Table 2 below outlines the analysis using these phenomena and lists the desirable change markers.

Coevolution (which can be mutualistic, exploitative, or competitive)
The case of healthy competition among farmers to adopt innovative, sustainable farming techniques. Consumers’ willingness to pay more for products from sustainable farming. Fair play among agricultural ecosystem/value chain/supply chain participants. Influencing peer farmers to take up contract farming and trade outside government-approved outlets.
Self-organization
The extent of farmer participation in farmer cooperatives and national-level electronic markets. Engaging in Cooperative Commerce by connecting farming communities and consuming communities directly in nearby areas. Empowered Committees of State Financial and Agricultural Ministers to evolve a sustainable common approach. The caucus of legislators representing taxpayers and the middle class that gets caught in the middle.
Adaptation
Adapting to reduced dependence on the government and being empowered. Moving towards a responsible credit culture. Farmers’ willingness to participate in crop diversification to prevent ecological degradation. People choose Flexible Social Benefits/Direct or direct benefits in place of PDS. 
Emergence (change emerges when players participate without being conscious or purposeful) 
Rural prosperity can emerge from an uptick in natural farming, cooperative commerce, contract farming, export-oriented farming, agritourism, and solar and windmill farms, where farmers are willing to be entrepreneurial.  It can also emerge when farmers and workers continue to pursue alternative traditional professions and crafts to gain auxiliary incomes, making villages vibrant and lively and not solely dependent on farming.
Table 2. Ecosystem phenomena at play in an agricultural ecosystem

Conclusions

These phenomena are represented using the ‘How’ aspect in the Tantra Framework. Tantra Framework can

  • Analyze metrics related to productivity, sustainable practices, and the fair sharing of prosperity along the value chain. 
  • Keep track of formal and informal organizations leading to empowering farming, trading, and consuming communities. 
  • Help analyze how different sections respond and adapt to the various reforms underway, including any new laws. 
  • Enable the detection of emergence in a fine-grained manner. It can also act as a vehicle of communication to detect emergence in pockets and make it widely known, thus acting as a force multiplier. 

In summary, an ecosystem approach aims to prompt stakeholders to shift from an entitlement mindset to an empowerment mindset, encouraging them to seek opportunities actively. The Tantra Framework can catalyse and facilitate this transition.

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Journal reference

Prabhu, S. M., & Subramanyam, N. (2023). Analysis of India’s agricultural ecosystem using knowledge-based Tantra framework. CSI Transactions on ICT11(2), 129-155. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40012-023-00384-z

Shreekanth M Prabhu is currently working as a Professor and Head of the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at CMR Institute of Technology, Bengaluru, India. He received his M.Tech. degree in Computer Science and Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay in 1986. After that, he worked with IT majors such as TCS, IBM, and Hewlett-Packard for 25 years. He received his Ph.D. in Computer and Information Science Engineering from Visvesvaraya Technological University, Belagavi, India in 2020. His research interests include frameworks and models, social networks, e-governance, and linguistics.

Natarajan Subramanyam holds a PhD from Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University, Hyderabad (JNTUH), India. He is currently a Professor and Key Resource Person in Computer Science and Engineering at the Department of CSE of PES University, Bangalore, India. He is a Life Member of the Computer Society of India (CSI) and the Indian Society of Remote Sensing (ISRS), among others. He reviews articles published in Elsevier, Springer, and IEEE, among others. Before embarking on his teaching and research career in 2005, he served as a Senior Scientist at the National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC) of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) for nearly three decades. During his tenure at NRSC, he held the position of Deputy Project Director of the Large-Scale Mapping (LSM) Project.