While farming in the developing world has become more advanced through modern technology, mobile phones are at the forefront in bringing the latest 21st-century improvements to the community. Growing number of Indian farmers are now using mobile phones to update themselves on subjects such as market prices, crop statistics, weather forecasts and agriculture advisories.
Reuters Market Light (RML) is one such firm which provides highly personalized agricultural information to the farming community; it helps farmers improve their livelihood. For instance, one grape grower in Maharashtra began selling his produce to Russia for a higher price, while a maize grower held back his produce after receiving an SMS about bird flu in West Bengal, which would cut his sale price.
RML, which commenced its business in October, 2007, currently has over 1.4 million subscribers with an average user spending about Rs 500 per annum. However, the information is usually shared within targeted 50,000 villages. So, as many as 6 million farmers are benefiting from the service, claims Amit Mehra, MD, RML.
The scenario in India’s agri industry is complex: on one hand farmers lack timely, correct and reliable information to buy agri-inputs and sell produce, and on the other hand sellers need quality products in large quantities, and on time. Besides, farmers here are highly dependent on the middlemen, who abuse the information asymmetry in the system to earn higher profits. The biggest realization for Mehra was to address these challenges at an individual level.
Hence, there was a need to develop an information and communication technology-based platform that could provide highly personalized information to farmers in a cost-effective manner, says he. “Farmers need some convincing to use these services. Only 6 percent of the original sample showed interest to try RML services, but when we showcased a prototype that figure went up to 85 percent," he says. But some farmers were uncomfortable using SMS messaging at first; they just wanted to make phone calls, he adds. However, the company overcame these challenges by educating them.
In the next phase RML plans to connect farmers with the buyer side to improve their business opportunities. As per industry estimates, a farmer in India gets only 20-25 percent price of their final produce vis-à-vis 40-50 percent in the developed countries. Mehra remarks, “Indian agriculture is largely run by small farmers with less than 5 acres land who are not in a position to buy from bigger sellers or sell to bigger farmers. Hence, they have to go to intermediaries. This adds additional cost to margins.”
In a bid to overcome the challenge, RML jointly with Small Farmers Agri-Business Consortium (SFAC) launched Krishidoot last year – which is an ICT-based platform for agri communities. “With a sophisticated, yet simple to use multi-lingual interface, Krishidoot aims at breaking the boundaries of geography, information and access to technology for all participants in the agriculture ecosystem,” highlights Mehra. The company plans to penetrate deeper into rural. “The target is to reach a cumulative user base of 5 million farmers by the end of this fiscal,” says Mehra.