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July 2018

Mohammad Anas Wahaj | 28 jul 2018

India has to give special emphasis to agriculture to ensure food security for its large population. Recent report, 'Agricultural Policies in India' (Authors: Ashoka Gulati, Infosys chair professor for agriculture at ICRIER; Carmen Cahill, Deputy Director for trade and agriculture at OECD), jointly developed by Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER), provides outcomes of the research conducted for over two years to map and measure the nature of agricultural policies in India and how they have impacted producers and consumers. The report includes key policy indicators like the producer support estimates (PSEs) and consumer support estimates (CSEs). According to the authors of the report, 'The methodology adopted is a standard one that OECD has applied to measure PSEs and CSEs for 51 countries over the last 30 years. In the case of PSEs, it basically captures the impact of various policies on two components: (a) the output prices that producers receive, benchmarked against global prices of comparable products; and (b) the various input subsidies that farmers receive through budgetary allocations by the Centre and states. The two are combined to see if farmers receive positive support (PSE), or negative, as a percentage of gross farm receipts. A positive PSE (%) means that policies have helped producers receive higher revenues than would have been the case otherwise, and a negative PSE (%) implies lower revenues for farmers (a sort of implicit tax) due to the set of policies adopted.' The report found India's PSE, on average, during 2014-15 to 2016-17 was -6% of farm receipts. Contrary to this most other countries have positive PSEs. Overall, PSE (%) was negative to the tune of 14%, on average, over the entire period from 2000-01 to 2016-17, indicating that, despite positive input subsidies, farmers in India received 14% less revenue due to restrictive trade and marketing policies. To incentivise farmers to raise productivity, build an efficient and sustainable agriculture that augments farmers' incomes and foster rural growth and jobs all along the value chain, authors suggest - (1) Change policies to 'get the markets right' by reforming domestic marketing regulations (ECA and APMC), promoting a competitive national market and upgrading marketing infrastructure. Also review restrictive export policies for agri-products. (2) The report recongnizes concerns of the policymakers to protect consumers from price rise. But, it argues for switching to an income policy approach through a direct benefit transfer (DBT) targeted to the vulnerable sections of the population. (3) Indian agriculture and farmers would be much better off if input subsidies are contained and gradually reduced, and the equivalent savings are channelled simultaneously towards higher investments in agri-R&D, extension, building rural infrastructure for better markets and agri-value chains, as also on better water management to deal with climate change. (4) A greater degree of coordination is required between the Centre and the States, and also across various ministries, for a more holistic approach towards reforming agriculture. Read on...

Financial Express: From plate to plough: India must get its agri-markets right
Authors: Ashoka Gulati, Carmel Cahill

Mohammad Anas Wahaj | 22 jul 2018

In a developing country like India low-income groups often lack access to proper healthcare. But, mobile technology can provide ways to enable these groups have knowledge and resources to drive preventative healthcare. Lead researchers, Aakash Ganju (co-founder of Avegen), Sumiti Saharan (Neuroscientist, Team Lead of Design & Research at Avegen), Alice Lin (Global Director of social innovation at Johnson & Johnson), Lily W. Lee (President of Almata, a division of Avegen), explain the research conducted by their team on the digital usage patterns of underserved groups in two urban areas of India, and iteratively tested user interface and content design. Researchers generated primary research insights from more than 250 new mothers and fathers living in low-income communities, and achieve understanding of the core barriers and digital needs of this population. Researchers suggest, 'Embedding health care into digital tools requires that providers overcome contextual barriers and undertake deliberate design processes. To succeed, providers must develop a nuanced understanding of the obstacles to consuming information digitally, as well as glean insights from technology, interface design, and behavioral science.' Following are some insights from the research - (1) Cost is no longer the biggest barrier: In the last year, a strong government regulatory authority has promoted competition and consumer benefits that have rapidly driven down both smartphone and data costs. (2) Infrastructure can overcome any remaining cost barriers: Only 5% of people living in less-connected and less-developed localities owned smartphones, compared to a significant 56% of individuals with similar incomes living in neighborhoods with good mobile network and infrastructure. (3) Digital experiences are not often built for low-income, urban populations: The most pervasive barrier to digital adoption in India today is a lack of knowledge about how to use digital interfaces. Language is also a barrier. India has an overall literacy rate of 74%. However, only about 10% of Indians can communicate in English - the language of the Internet. Local language content is scarce. There are gaping holes in the understanding of early-stage user requirements and pain points, from both the digital interface and content experience perspectives. (4) There is a lack of trust in health-related digital information: Low-income, underserved communities who have not been exposed to authentic digital content often have extreme distrust in digital information pertaining to health. Only 12% of families thought information from digital sources was reliable, compared to more than 90% finding information from doctors and mothers to be most, very, or somewhat reliable. According to researchers, to truly meet the needs of underserved consumers, providers must focus on the following areas - (1) High-quality content: To engage users on digital platforms, providers must use differentiated content that connects with a user's specific journey. The form, tone, and continuity of content matters. Video formats optimized for small, low-quality displays are most effective in driving engagement. When visual formats are not feasible, audio formats are the next best alternative. Understand the environments in which users consume health. Include local elements in the content, like referring to local clinics etc. (2) Behavior change: Engaging users is vital to directing changes in consumer health behavior. It's important to be deliberate about the design of the user journey. Offering incentives for content consumption, sharing, and specific health-related behaviors can help nudge users toward desired health-related behaviors. (3) Technology: Mobile apps need to be light and fast, have low memory and data requirements, and be able to run on slow and patchy networks. Display data consumption frequently, enhanced ability to view offline content and share content within community is important for engagement. (4) Design team structure: Multidisciplinary teams that bring together expertise in technology, design, business and sustainability, end-user thinking, and behavioral sciences tend to create the most effective designs. To design for the end user, providers must design with the end user, particularly for populations who are not digitally fluent. Teams should develop a thinking environment and processes that allow for hypothesis development, application design, testing, analytics, and retesting in rapid, parallel, iterative cycles. Read on...

Stanford Social Innovation Review: Expanding Access to Health Care in India Through Strong Mobile Design
Authors: Aakash Ganju, Sumiti Saharan, Alice Lin Fabiano, Lily W. Lee

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