How mobile phones are helping our ciolfarmers?

MUMBAI, INDIA: For the second year in a row, a drought has been looming large over India.

The India Meteorological Department (IMD) recently lowered its rainfall forecast from below-normal to deficient.

While the government is preparing for a drought-like situation, our farmers, already battling the farm crisis triggered by unseasonal rains in March and April, are a worried lot. These sad eyes are now looking at information and communication technology (ICT) for rescue, and sure there is some ray of hope.

In a two part series, we bring to you some of the technologies being used by the farmers and their benefits. Today, we start the series with some examples of how farmers are leveraging the mobile phones.

Nagaraja (Naga) Prakasam, an angel investor provides ample examples of how technology is gradually changing the lives of farmers in the country.


For instance Sustainable Agro ALliance (SAAL), a consortium for social organizations and Research Institute, made the agri business of more than 40 farmers in drought-prone Madurai profitable.

Here’s how:
These farmers traditionally grew paddy which requires a lot of water. After a lot of conversations, SAAL convinced these 40 farmers to grow vegetables that not only require less time, but can grow naturally in the region given the native seed element and other factors.

On its part, SAAL gave each farmer a smart phone. The farmers upload pictures of the plant to update the SAAL experts, basis which the scientists predict input and lead the marketing team to plan campaigns.

The experiment is two-years old today, but many farmers have started commercially selling chilies, lady’s fingers and herbs like bramhi.

Speech recognition comes handy:
In yet another instance, Tamil Nadu-based speech recognition company Uniphore, Naga says that the company has tied up with the Tamil Nadu agriculture department sends out 45 lakh voice calls to farmers withinformation on weather forecasting.

What is interesting in this case is the tightly integrated back-end infrastructure which not only allows farmers to ask basic questions to the recorded voices, but also allows the system to search the database and respond to the queries. Complex queries are automatically diverted to the call center.

Similarly, another company named ekutir in Bhubaneswar is providing information about water and seed inputs besides weather forecasting to about 5,000 farmers.

The accuracy in prediction comes from tie-up with a US company, and further dialogue with the farmers continues through a dedicated call center which alerts them about rainfall and related changes so that the farmers can plan their process accordingly.

Ekutir today has come a long way. From using technology to provide content to the farmers about the quality of the yield and the crops to grow (based on the region and soil content), it has enabled farmers to start veggie-kart, and a cycle-rickshaw cart that helps them to deliver their produce directly to 60 odd outlets in the state.

The initiative has had a great social impact. From earning only 30 percent of the value of their products, ekutir pays the farmer when it picks up the produce and manages the entire supply chain. The result is many farmers have invested in more land, and are encouraging their children to study Botany—as a majority of the executives at ekutir are Botany majors.


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