Deeper Insight on India’s Digitalization

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In the previous trend report on India, it was mentioned how Digital India had brought innovation and advances in terms of creating opportunities in different fields such as Fin Tech and Medical Science. It also explained how it increased the popularity of streaming applications and how playing games have become more common with the ever increasing smartphone users.

The smartphone adoption is mostly seen with the urban population whereas the rural population is still lagging behind. Despite being 468 million smartphone users in 2017, 900 million out of the whole population still don’t have access to these developments in IT fields. It is set rise to 859 million in 2022. Until then majority of those 900 million people who are living in rural areas have to gradually adapt to digitalization as opposed to those living in urban areas. (EconomicTimes)

Many entrepreneurial startups took advantage of this initiative and developed apps for the government and banks. However, there were other important sectors that came into existence from this initiative as well. For example, agriculture and education are two equally important services that were digitalized but did not enjoy similar level of popularity in terms of users or usage. With proper implementation, digitalizing those sectors will create the potential to solve many existing problems.

Even though Digital India Initiative began in 2015, it was not until November 2016 when demonetization took place that the popularity of these services soared. The reason being that demonetization created such chaos that Digital India as a drastic countermeasure was felt necessary in order to take the situation under control. (Medium)

Most of India’s economy was informal and cash-based (it still is). Reserve Bank of India didn’t take necessary actions before implementing demonetization which led to impeding any kind of proper measures that could have prevented the following consequences. (Aljazeera)

For instance, urban population had trouble exchanging the now redundant currency in banks. Students were not allowed to attend the exams as they couldn’t pay the exam fees beforehand. Patients couldn’t get treated at hospitals due to the lack of new currency at hand. Farmers couldn’t get a price for their product and could not purchase seeds for sowing winter crops as they did not possess newly minted currency. Unaware of this situation, they began distress sale of their products for very low prices leading to lose of their livelihoods.

Banks were not fully prepared to take control of this situation nor created a comfortable environment. The new currency ran dry quickly in banks, and many of people were waiting outside banks for days to exchange old currency with the new one. Some of them did not have proper ID cards to exchange currency putting them in tough situation to open bank accounts. (EconomicTimes)

To tackle this situation, Digital India took charge of providing FinTech services by digitalizing the economy. Simultaneously, the government of India responded by releasing mobile applications as part of Digital India Initiative to help farmers avoid distress sales. And this is how Digital India initiative began to soar in popularity.

Agriculture

Much of the smartphone adoption in the urban areas was seen during the initial stages of initiative. However, smartphone adoption has been increasing everywhere ever since the inexpensive data plans provided by Reliance Jio, a telecommunication company, kicked off. Subsequently, the agriculture app popularity could also increase gradually resulting in more farmers taking advantage of Digital India Initiative. The internet users is now being driven by the rural India. (Livemint)

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Myriad of Applications for Farmers

This month marks the 4th year of Digital India campaign. Since then, there have been many new services and developments in various sectors that have diversified their use cases.

Since vast majority of Indian smartphone owners own Android smartphones, the following apps were released only on Google Play store, some of which are only found on (mKisan) website, an exclusive portal for agricultural section created as part of Digital India. (Digital India)

Agrimarket App
Crop insurance mobile app
Farmer Portal
Kisan Suvidha

According to the App Ape data, the active downloads on this application were less than 500,000.

Kisan Suvidha Active Downloads

Even though the total workforce in agriculture sector is greater than 100 million, the total number of app users are less than 1% (as of July 2019). Lower rate of adoption can be seen on other applications as well.

Lower rate of adoption

The lower rate of adoption can be attributed to the lack of infrastructure of cell towers in the rural areas. Given that wired or WIFI connections are not common, cell towers are necessary to create stable internet connection through cellular data. Reliance Jio did expand the number of its internet user base country wide, but that was mostly only in urban areas and not much increase was seen in rural areas despite smartphones and data subscription prices being inexpensive. The cell towers that are required to meet the demand must be implemented as soon as possible if digitalization of India is to be spread to every corner of the country.

According to the Business Standard, at least $100 Billion investment is required to meet the rising data demand. India still needs around 100,000 cell towers to keep up with the increasing data consumption.

Stronger and stabler internet connections will boost farmers’ confidence in using mobile applications to find good prices for their products, and help them with various agricultural issues. (Business Standard)

There are other reasons affecting the rate of adoption. Insufficient communication between Government and the farmers such as not advertising the existence of agriculture-related applications is one of them. One more reason is lack of enthusiasm in farmers. Digitalization can provide data on crop’s health, and provide apps that can measure the levels of underground water to help famers make better decisions when harvesting and planting crops based on such information.

Such app could also compare crop’s lifecycle with an offline crop database so that farmers would know when they should store the grains for longer shelf life and their current humidity levels. Such detailed and personalized information would increase the product quality and quantity. However, the lack of infrastructure to provide such services could well be the leading factor as to why lack of enthusiasm in farmers adopting to digitalization in agriculture sector exists.

Redundancy in Applications

Some features in applications developed to ease the problems that were created by demonetization are redundant.

Screenshot taken from App Ape

Some of these features that appear in Kisan Suvidha app don’t offer any added-values because weather applications are already available on the Android OS by default. Creating something more useful such as analyzing crop health using phone’s camera and the ability to compare that with an offline database may be much more interesting to farmers. Agricultural applications in other countries like USA include some of those features.

Sirrus, iOS application, offers standardized offline field data that can be used by farmers to improve their farming methods. Another application called FieldAgent uses Dji Drones to capture data of crop health and find weeds. Such personalized apps provide immaculate data which is extremely useful for a farmer.

Screenshot taken from App Store

Such applications eliminate the need to depend on the government for crop related information. Therefore, proper implementation of applications should be considered top priority by Indian app developers. They can take inspiration from or collaborate with US app developers and provide quality applications.

On the bright side, Indian government had made considerable strides in this sector by attempting to digitalize it and provide information to stakeholders, making it one of the few countries in this regard.

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Digital Education

Not only agriculture, but also education sector has been subject to digitalization. Let’s see how including education into digital India campaign has helped alleviate some of the most pressing issues at hand.

According to the digital India website, there are education related schemes appearing under services sector. Some of them are:

Beti Bachao Beti Padhao
e-GRANTHALAYA
ePATHSHALA
Knowledge management System

Not all of these services offer mobile applications, but are website-based. Among them, ePathshala is being offered on Android, iOS. Looking at the data obtained from App Ape, the application appears to have been well-received with 1 million+ downloads on Android and 20000 downloads on iOS and total of 1.5 million daily users.

ePathshala Active Downloads

This initiative is one of the appreciated improvement in the digital India campaign (EcomicTimes). Looking at what Indian education sector currently offers, since the cost of education in India is pretty high compared to other developed countries and millions of children do not posses any proper education, this initiative has the potential to realize the dream of providing education to everyone regardless of their economic background. (SureJob)

Public schools offer education at lower costs but the quality can be unreliable. On the flip side, they provide education in each state’s native language therefore making it one of the only ways to learn mother tongue and learn other subjects at relatively low cost.

Screenshot taken from HootSuite

Importance of Digital Education in Rural Areas

India has the largest population of children than any other country, at nearly 430 million between 0-18 years old. The ratio of urban to rural school enrollment is at 5:7, and 60% of children up to the age of 10 in rural areas do not have basic education. Therefore, the education system in India is in need of a radical change that allows its beneficiaries to take this initiation seriously.

The low proportion of qualified teachers to number of children, the above mentioned issues, and lack of proper infrastructure and funding are some of the biggest challenges to overcome which digital education can offer solution to. Therefore, it is imperative for digital education to succeed and have the support of many private organizations. (ForbesIndia)

Involvement of Major Organizations

According to a report published by Digit in 2014 December, many of the large private companies from all around the world such as Tata, Reliance, BSNL, Qualcomm, and Samsung have participated and collaborated with the Indian government to improve the quality of services and also to build a stronger foundation in education sector. To make education accessible in India, this initiative will help many students who are not as wealthy or can’t afford decent quality education in private or public institutions to gain minimum literacy. (Koenig Solutions)

Nearly 30% of India’s population lags on basic literacy. Digital India can address this issue but still major challenges such as low personal computer adoption, internet connection bandwidth, network infrastructure, 24 hours electricity during summer, need to be addressed to penetrate these schemes in to the society and make it available to everyone.

Reliance Jio established a strong base of over 300 million users with access to free voice calls and some of the cheapest data plans in the world. It has partnered up with Facebook to initiate its own digital literacy program known as ‘Digital Udaan’. Everyone who owns a smartphone with Jio as their carrier, will have access to the programs to learn how to use various applications and learn internet safety in 10 different languages. The app is expected to be launched in 7000 locations country wide. (FinancialExpress)

Summary

Even though financial applications were downloaded far more times than some of these service based applications, not all of this development in the agriculture and education sector is without merit or purpose. A large number of agriculture and education applications are available in many regional languages and more developers are involved than ever before. So it makes sense to conclude that there is a potential to improve.

Digital India Initiative could overcome the lack of funding required for establishing educational institutions and reduce the staggering amount of challenges faced by local and central governments while enabling smartphone population to engage with these agriculture or education related applications.

Therefore, proper implementation of these schemes, necessary infrastructure and sufficient awareness raising programs must be consistently marketed until users such as farmers and students of all backgrounds become aware of such programs’ existence and utilize them to its full extent.

App Ape will continue to provide Indian mobile app insights and will deliver hints on global trends.

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About Myself:

My name is Raviteja Vedantam and I am from India. I am passionate about solving issues related to climate change.

I would like to present the reality through my writings as much as possible. If you have any questions regarding report do not hesitate to contact me. 

Thank You for making it this far and reading it all.

raviteja.vedantam@fuller.co.jp
Global Marketing
App Ape

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