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Informal Sector in India
The socio-economic landscape in India is largely informal. According to the International Labor Organization, close to an estimated 81 percent of all employed people in India are engaged in the informal economy, most of which is in the agricultural sector.

The Informal Sector in India

Contrary to popular belief, the informal sector in India has seen improvements in productivity and employment and, to some extent, wages. The informal sector contributes to the economy and also helps the formal economy; however, informal economy workers continue to earn lower wages, lack social security and have less protection than their peers in the organized sector. The informal sector attracts the workforce because it offers easy access; the formal sector, on the other hand, hosts barriers to entry that are often costly and tedious to get through.

The informal sector in India is socially regulated rather than state-regulated; however, the government is attempting to gather data and regularize the informal sector through the process of digitization. This will allow for effective regulation of cash transfers and provide the government with the tools to better understand the informal sector. By mapping the vast informal sector, the government will have more information about the real growth in India’s economy.

Women Workers in India

Around 94 percent of total women workers are employed in the informal sector, most of whom work as agricultural workers, construction labor and domestic help. Many women are able to gain entry and jobs in this sector, as there are no barriers with regards to skill. This then acts as a way for women to provide for their families. Women find it difficult to enter the organized sector, and their gender exposes them to political, economic and social discrimination, which is why they enter the informal sector.

There is hope that women’s participation in the workforce will reduce gender inequality and that integrating women into the labor force will allow for social and economic empowerment. However, there is a  lack of recognition of the role of women in both their homes and at work.

Equality, Gender and Children

It might appear that there is little gender discrimination in the informal sector, as it is commonplace to see women working alongside men, carrying heavy loads on construction sites or in brick kilns. However, closer examination reveals that amongst the more skilled and higher-paid jobs — such as that of masons, plumbers or carpenters — the workforce is predominantly male.

There are also concerns about the welfare of children —  women are often left with no option but to bring infants to the workplace, where they exist largely unattended. Non-governmental organizations are now setting up mobile creches so that the children of migrant workers receive some care; but this option is limited in its current status as an urban phenomenon, confined to the metropolises.

Goal for Growth

Women’s collectives are agencies which provide women with the space to grow and demand rights. This provides women with legal training to seek social services and adequate work conditions. In recent years we see greater activity here, especially in the field of legal aid, and women-only police stations make it easier for women to seek justice.

Some areas, however, remain untouched; domestic workers, for instance, have no written contracts, they enjoy no mandatory weekly off days nor any regulated working hours. Thus. one can see that there is a need to create regulations in the informal sector in India to measure growth, empower women and improve working conditions.

– Isha Kakar
Photo: Flickr

Agriculture in India
For decades, agriculture has played a key role in India’s socioeconomic growth. India is the second largest contributor of agriculture in the world with around 50 percent of people in India making their living from farming. But recently, farming has started to become less attractive, and more people are moving to big cities for different job opportunities. A decrease in water levels and poor crop yields have made it difficult to promote the growth of agriculture in India. Several organizations are stepping up to help turn things around and create new advancements in agriculture in India.

Advancements in Agriculture in India

  1. In 2017, India’s Prime Minister Modi and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu signed seven agreements to enhance cooperation in space, agriculture and water management. The two countries hope that one outcome of this program will bring new technology that will help fight water shortages and bring agriculture back to India.
  2. The Prime Minister has also approved the Three-Year Action Plan through the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) that is aimed at the educational aspects surrounding agriculture in India, with more support being provided to the faculty and students in higher agricultural education. The hope is to bring more confident people into the agricultural field, including women.
  3. DuPont India is one of the largest agricultural companies in the country. They work with the farmers in India to find solutions to the ever-changing environment. Along with providing agricultural products, the company also empowers farmers to make their ideas a reality. They work to find sustainable ways of farming and to protect the growth of crops for generations to come. This means finding solutions for insect and disease control, which are two of the problems that are preventing further growth in the agricultural community.
  4. As the largest supplier of hybrid seeds in the country, farmers are dependent on Nuziveedu Seeds Limited (NSL) to provide high yielding seeds for their ever-growing population. The company is doing its part to contribute to the growth of agriculture in India by providing high-quality hybrid seeds. NSL provides seeds for more than 50,000 retailers. Over the years, NSL has become extremely focused on increasing crop yields, due to the water scarcity in India. The company has introduced a new concept that reduces the space between crops, which leads to an increase in overall production. This process has enabled farmers to use their time more effectively, and more than 35 percent of the farming community has started using this innovation.

Because of companies such as DuPont India and NSL, agriculture in India is able to continue to grow and be one of the largest farming contributors in the world. The entirety of India’s population is reliant on having a cohesive system of agriculture, whether it is their source of income or not. In fact, the whole world benefits from the advancements in agriculture in India; therefore, being educated in innovative, new technologies and changes in the field is incredibly important.

– Allisa Rumreich
Photo: Flickr

Indian farmers use AIIndia is an agrarian economy and over 58 percent of the rural households depend on agriculture as their principal means of livelihood. With the recent help of tech giant Microsoft, Indian farmers have begun to use AI to increase efficiency, further encouraging them to harvest a good crop.

Every year since 2013, more than 12,000 suicides have been reported in the agricultural sector with 10 percent accounting for farmer suicides. Collectively, seven states (Maharashtra, Karnataka, Telangana, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Naidu) accounted for 87.5 percent of the total suicides in the farming sector. Additionally, the reasons for farmers’ suicides have varied widely including high input costs, low yields, disintegration with markets, mounting loans, water crisis and urban consumer-driven economic policies.

In partnership with the International Crop Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), Microsoft developed an AI-sowing app. With the app, Indian farmers use AI to increase their agricultural income, giving them greater price control over their crop yields.

On his two-day visit to India in 2017, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella highlighted the benefits of AI in agriculture. In an interaction with Microsoft engineers in India, Nadella said, “Taking AI to the oldest industry on our planet, agriculture, is something we have already been doing in collaboration with local stakeholders like ICRISAT, which just at a little distance away from the campus. If you can increase the yield [with the help of AI] in agriculture, the kind of impact it will have on economies like India will be huge.”

The beta version of the new sowing application was tested in June 2016 in Kurnool district of the Indian state Andhra Pradesh and was applied only to the groundnut crop. The results showed a 30 percent higher average in yield per hectare. The pilot also confirmed that the advisories received through the app via SMS were relevant and accurate. The sowing app provides the best times to sow depending on weather conditions, soil and other indicators, relieving Indian farmers from inaccurate forecasts.

The app relies on business intelligence tools that give clear insights on the soil health, fertilizer recommendations and seven-day weather forecasts powered by the world’s best available weather observation systems and global forecast models.  So far, Indian farmers use AI-powered apps in a few dozen villages in Telangana, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh.

Powered by Microsoft Cortana Intelligence Suite, the app provides updates to Indian farmers. Indian farmers use AI for sowing recommendation, seed treatment, optimum sowing depth, preventive weed management, land preparation, farmyard manure application, recommendation on harvesting, shade drying of harvested pods and storage. The SMSs can also be delivered in regional languages like Telugu and Kannada. Through a basic phone capable of receiving text messages, farmers can use AI with no capital expenditure.

Microsoft’s next collaboration could help farmers fight pest risk. In collaboration with India’s largest producer of agrochemicals, United Phosphorous (UPL), Microsoft aims at leveraging AI and machine learning to calculate the risk of pest attack.

But interestingly, Indian farmers are not oblivious to digital farming. In the past, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) Innovation Labs introduced mKrishi, which allowed farmers to receive advice on pest information, crop prices, weather conditions and more in their local languages.

Tech innovations and partnerships like that of Microsoft and TCS could help Indian farmers with information that is more data-driven and based on pure analytics. Whether such efforts lower the suicidal rates of Indian farmers or not is yet to be seen. But if the results are positive, it will be a boon to many agriculturally reliant Indian households that have faced huge losses.

– Deena Zaidi

Photo: Flickr

Awaaz.De
Awaaz.De, a Hindi phrase meaning “provide a voice,” is a novel technological initiative that originated in Ahmedabad, India. The platform gives farmers advice related to agriculture, fluctuating sale prices and harvest and enables them to communicate with each other and share vital information about market changes.

Agriculture is an essential primary sector industry that represents a considerable source of income for people in developing countries. The agricultural industry offers employment to large numbers of people who are unable to obtain jobs in the secondary and tertiary sectors because they lack technical knowledge, skills or relevant education.

India alone contributes approximately 7.68 percent of the world’s agriculture output. Its vast contribution underscores the importance of constant innovation in the farming industry, better agricultural techniques and market strategies that will optimize productivity and profit.

The founders of Awaaz.De wanted to create a user-friendly interface. They recognized that individuals in disadvantaged societal groups often have limited access to the Internet and smartphone technology. This lack of connection is a consequence of both the priciness of these services and their limited penetration into rural communities with small consumer bases.

A network for farmers, Awaaz.De can be accessed on elementary mobile phones and depends on voice communication. It enables barriers such as language and location to be overcome and facilitates a factual transfer of information that can help farmers increase crop yields and income.

It also enables organizations such as Farm Scientist to liaise with farmers regardless of their language or level of education. Illiteracy is a rampant issue in developing countries, pereptuating as a result of expensive tuition fees, little emphasis on further education and low school attendance due to poor health or household obligations.

According to Neil Patil, chief executive officer of Awaaz.De, “These are exciting times for Awaaz.De as we grow and diversify our customer base in India and abroad, collaborating with like-minded organizations and leveraging our expertise and the immense potential of ICTs for social impact.”

It is believed that every dollar of investment in the technology yields $10 because of increases in agricultural productivity. Awaaz.De symbolizes a promising start to an age of technological innovations that will benefit all individuals, regardless of their income or access to sophisticated technology.

Tanvi Ambulkar

Photo: Flickr