SeedCast: A Digital Innovation for a Strengthened Seed System
This post is written by Seikh Mosharaf Hossain and Swati Nayak of the International Rice Research Institute.
Seed is a foundational input that, to a large extent, determines the productivity of other factors. Planting seeds of an appropriate variety can alone boost the productivity of crops up to 10-15%. Thus, a seed delivery system is at the core of a resilient food system in a progressive, agrarian country, such as India. Nevertheless, availability of and farmers’ access to quality seeds of best-fit varieties remains a challenge for progress in the farm sector. Because rice is a staple and the most commonly grown crop in India, the issue is more pronounced in the rice seed system. Odisha is a state in eastern India where the rice seed system is of paramount policy importance.
Odisha rice farmers procure seeds largely from two sources — formal and informal (or more appropriately, farmer-managed systems). The former is led by a state seed corporation — a government-owned apex body for the production and supply of rice seeds in the state, as per the plan and policy of the Department of Agriculture and Farmers’ Empowerment (DAFE). A portion of the total seed requirement is also met by private agencies, which sell mostly seeds of hybrid varieties due to higher profit margins; these are considered formal sources.
The adoption and cultivation of hybrid rice seeds is a relatively new phenomenon in the state; its spread until now has been restricted to a few districts. The informal seed channel is a farmer-managed mechanism where farmers exchange, sell or give seeds among themselves. Presently, the state seed corporation is the largest seed supplier, helping farmers with their seed needs. A year in advance, DAFE estimates the seed requirement for listed rice varieties through aggregation at the village, block and district levels. It is then shared with the state seed corporation for seed production and managing the supply of demanded seed through its network of 3,500 seed retailers and input dealers. This is indeed a mammoth task for the entire administrative machinery. At the bottom of this ladder, there are village agriculture workers (VAWs) — under a block agriculture office — assigned to about three or four villages. The VAWs visit these villages, interact with farmers periodically and collect varietal demand. The workers share demand compiled at the village with the block office for successive compilation at the block, district and state level by departmental officials of the government. This whole exercise is paper-based, done manually, hence it is exceedingly lengthy and toilsome.
What are the system shortcomings?
The present system has two disjointed channels. One that collects demand from farmers (through VAWs) is not unified with another one, seed retailers who sell the seeds to the farmers. These seed retailers are not well-integrated into the process of demand aggregation. On the other side, VAWs who collect and collate demands from farmers are not practically engaged in seed distribution. For several reasons, retailers are closer to farmers. On the other side, the VAW effort is, at times, understaffed and needs to cover a large number of farmers; meeting individual farmers and registering the seed demand is an easier-said-than-done assignment. Naturally, demand collected by VAWs often involves assumptions and guesswork, and such demand data, when further compiled by block and district officials, become erroneous and may not be reflective of the true scenario. Thus, seed dealers often complain of not receiving seeds. Even when received, it is delayed and remains unsold.
Being completely paper-based, the demand aggregation exercise is extremely time consuming and tedious. Thus, it adversely impacts production planning. Consequently, individual dealers get the seed consignment late, preventing farmers from planting the seeds on time. Given the scale of this paperwork, the demand review at decisive levels (block and district) is often a burdensome assignment. Eventually, the farmers’ seed access and varietal turnover remain constricted.
The emergence of a digital solution: SeedCast
While working toward solving the gap between supply and demand in the state seed system is of prime importance, the International Rice Research Institute has developed a digital tool, SeedCast.
SeedCast-Odisha, a customized version for the region, is an information and communications technology-based solution that combines a mobile application (or app) and a web portal. This supports seed demand estimation in a very dynamic, updated and real-time manner across seasons. The key users of these apps are seed dealers, village agriculture workers and farmers. The dealers and VAWs, once registered through the app, can raise their product demand estimates. Passing through several automated and digitized fast review systems, the demand reports generated serve as critical market information and a decision-support tool for the institutions who are responsible for seed production, provisioning or distribution. Primarily aimed at leading public seed institutions, the demand reports help them in producing, procuring and supplying seeds of farmers’ choice and get collated through the most connected ground agents, such as dealers and VAWs.
This tool aims at reducing the gap between demand and supply of the right products and aids in quicker varietal replacement through access to quality seeds of choice.
Farmers using the app have access to critical information, such as varietal profiles and varietal selection options for their farms, as well as stock or supply information for the varieties available in the state. Initially including all key varieties in the state, this app can be expanded to include newer products as they come in. It also can include multiple crops and their varieties.
In a nutshell, the app offers the following features or utility values across its front end and back end:
Front End (App)
Back End (Dashboard/Reports)
Indent, stock, seed source and variety knowledge
Demand review, production, distribution and seed intelligence
Verified demand goes to the corporation for production planning.
How does this digital solution work?
- SeedCast is an Android-based mobile app. Users (dealers, VAWs) will need to download it from the Google Play store on their smartphones and can start using it with the log-in credentials and preferred languages. Upon log in, the user will be taken to an array of app features — seed demand, stock history, rice variety information, variety selection aid, details of registered dealers and many more.
- Dealers can input their variety demands for different seasons, keeping in mind farmers’ demand for rice varieties. VAWs, on the other hand, can adjust indents, or orders, for seeds of different varieties based on their calculation. Thus, the demand for particular geography is recorded by both dealers and VAWs and it reaches the block agriculture office for validation.
- The block agriculture officer (BAO) uses a computer-enabled system and accesses the digital dashboard to review dealers’ demand based on VAWs’ demand and other relevant factors worth considering at that time. The BAO, with his prudence and authority, can revise the varietal demands of dealers of his jurisdiction and forward them to the district agriculture office. The district agriculture officer employs the same exercise for review of different blocks in the district. The variety-specific demand, thus collated for all districts, finally reaches the Department of Agriculture and the State Seeds Corporation through the dashboard portal for production decision and planning. This whole demand collation and review at multiple levels is seamless, real-time and web-based. It is therefore easier for users and well-organized for the whole system. Revised and approved demand information of a level (e.g., block level) is communicated to the reviewee through an auto-generated mobile message once the reviewer completes the assessment.
- The system also allows seed dealers to record and update seed stocks available for sale at a particular point in time. The detailed demand and stock history of a dealer is also generated and displayed for dealers in the front end and officials at the back end (dashboard). The Department of Agriculture and State Seed Corporation, with the indented report, will make a plan and logistic arrangements for production and supply of indented varieties through participating dealers.
How useful is it for farmers?
SeedCast has a built-in provision allowing any farmer to directly indicate seed demand using this app. Nevertheless, to enable this feature, critical preconditions exist. Each farmer needs to have a smartphone to use this app and the system should be sufficient to ensure every farmer can input the seeds through SeedCast. Because of the poor penetration of smartphones and a large number of farmers (4.1 million, compared to 3,500 dealers), currently, farmers will not use it for demand indenting activities. However, farmers can access varietal insights, variety selection algorithms, dealers’ details and real-time seed availability among dealers.
What changes does the app bring?
- SeedCast replaces the entire paper-based, lengthy and less reliable demand aggregation process with an easier-than-ever-before digital platform. With SeedCast, seed retailers — the actual seed sellers — can easily indicate seed indents directly according to their sale projections derived from farmers’ demand. In a conventional method, direct demand from dealers is not practiced. The earlier practice of seed demand by VAWs is not abandoned, but rather recorded and used for dealers’ demand validation. Registered seed retailers can easily and quickly record the demand for various rice varieties for subsequent seasons.
- Dealers can also update their seed inventory. It will be helpful for farmers to know the availability of varieties in an area and it will also boost interdealer business transactions, ultimately helping farmers access seeds.
- Block and district patterns and trends of varietal demand are auto-generated and visualized. This functionality supports the State Seeds Corporation and the Department of Agriculture in bettering farmers’ seed security.
- The State Seeds Corporation is aided in strategic planning for the production and distribution of seeds through its dealers’ network.
- The app provides users with an opportunity to know about the availability of high-yield varieties with different dealers, varietal information and recommendation of major high-yield varieties and stress-tolerant rice varieties.
SeedCast and seed security
A vibrant seed system essentially has five pillars — seed availability, farmers’ access, varietal suitability, seed quality and resilience of the seed system. With its several dynamic features, SeedCast directly contributes to streamlining the first three components. Thus, seed availability, seed access and the extent of varietal suitability are strengthened and well-integrated.
Who gets benefits and how?
|Retailers are integrated into the system
|Quick and real-time demand appraisal
|Improved system to get preferred varieties
|Easy and fast demand indenting for more than one year
|Reliable demand data-backed efficient production planning
|Varietal info and knowledge
|Scope for stock update
|Supports strategic decision on varietal promotion
|Variety selection guide
|Improved seed availability assurance
|Strengthened seed distribution system
|Enhanced seed security
|Demand forecast using time series data
|High varietal turnover, better crop productivity
Comparative features of current and SeedCast seed indenting system:
Current Seed Indent
SeedCast Seed Indent
|Seed indent process
|Demand collected from
Seed retailers and VAWs
Slow and tedious
Swift and seamless
|Seed demand periodicity
|Seed production planning
|Seed sellers' inclusion
|Varietal knowledge platform
|Demand forecast option
|Seed stakeholder linkages
|Variety selection intelligence
Yes, and easy to use
|Farmer seed access
|Seed demand forecast
Weak, assumption based
|Varietal replacement trigger
The current stage of the app
This app design has been developed for the state of Odisha, India, and is at an advanced stage for the pilot in select districts. In a phased manner, it will be scaled up for other districts. Recently, the SeedCast concept was also being customized and replicated in Tanzania, Africa.
The structure and function of a seed system vary across geographies and are largely anchored by state- or province-level policy priority. However, what is most common across regions is manual demand collation in a disjointed system. Thus, the digital innovation, such as SeedCast, can be customized fittingly in different contexts to serve major seed system stakeholders. At this moment, the SeedCast pilot exercise is for rice, but can strategically be extended to include other crops to streamline the entire seed chain of a region.
For more information about this tool, please contact the seed system research lead (South Asia) at the International Rice Research Institute, Dr. Swati Nayak.