SMS services, IVRs and modern age mobile applications have changed the dynamics of agricultural practices. These services not only reduce the cost of cultivation, but also help increase farm yield and facilitate better prices of farm produce. Mohd Mustaquim brings the panorama of these services and service providers
Upendra Sahu, 34, a farmer in the Beeja village, Chhattisgarh gets frequent messages and calls everyday from Ekgaon Technologies. These messages give him advisories about seeds, fertilisers, irrigation, weather forecasts, market rates of his commodities and other agriculture-related information. Sahu grows paddy and pulses in 12 acre of land.
Ekgaon Technologies, a Delhi-based company, provides farm advisory to the 3,00,000 farmers in Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. There is a package of services like seeds treatment, weed, pest and fungus treatment, schedule for fertilisers and agro-chemicals, among others. “The advisories are customised as per individual farmers based on the nutrients available in their fields. We have created a database of farmers’ fields under the ‘Site Specific Nutrient System,” claims Vijay Pratap Singh Aditya, Co-founder, CEO and Director, Ekgaon Technologies.
With One Village One World platform, Ekgaon helps farmers in nutrient management, provides them market rates of their commodities and advisories for disease and pests. A farmer can subscribe these services for a crop cycle of four to five months by paying Rs 150.
Another farmer, Nidhi Patel, 28, from Silgi village in Madhya Pradesh, who is also the beneficiary of Ekgaon’s farm advisory services, says, “We practice farm activities according to the advisories provided by Ekgaon. It increases our farm production and helps fetch better prices from the markets.”
However, Aditya does not see messages an effective tool for farm advisories. Stressing that SMS for farm advisories are not much effective, he says, “Sometimes the farmers cannot read message; even if he reads, sometimes he cannot understand the communication. They can’t even understand the standard Hindi or Tamil as they communicate in their local languages and dialects.”
“Thus, voice calls play an effective role in such services. One can have two way communication with the farmers in their local languages. This is a better way to solve their queries immediately,” he states.
Ekgaon Technologies has a panel of agriculture scientists who develops advisories. “Through our advisories, we reduce their cost of cultivation and help increase their productivity. It increases their profits by around 30 percent,” claims Aditya.
According to a report, Connected Farming in India, recently released by Vodafone and Accenture, the introduction of simple mobile services can help small and marginal farmers in India which could boost the farm incomes of 7 crore farmers by over Rs 56,000 crore by 2020.
The study revealed that average farming household lives on less than Rs 250 per day and struggle to feed and educate their families. Simple mobile services could enhance earnings of almost two-third of such farmers by an average of Rs 8,000 per year, creating a positive impact in the farming community.
In May this year, Vodafone announced the expansion of its Farmers’ Club initiative in six countries including India, Ghana, Kenya, New Zealand and Tanzania. Specific services offered under this initiative will include information services, virtual marketplaces in which farmers can sell their produce and mobile money financial services and products. In Turkey it has been operational since 2009 and has already benefited 1.2 million farmers. It is helping them to increase farm output.
“Mobile has an important role to play in increasing agricultural resilience and improving quality of life of small and marginal farmers. Our experience in Turkey has demonstrated how mobile services can transform farmers’ ability to increase crop yields, improve efficiency and grow farm incomes,” says Serpil Timuray, Regional CEO – Africa, Middle East and Asia Pacific Region, Vodafone.
Today, 46 percent people in rural areas have a mobile phone and access to mobile services and the subscriber base is growing rapidly. It offers a new channel for delivering agricultural services and an opportunity to engage rural communities in new ways.
Evolving With Time
One of the largest farmers cooperatives and leading fertiliser manufacturer, Indian Farmers Fertiliser Cooperative (IFFCO) through its farm advisory arm, IFFCO Kisan Sanchar Ltd (IKSL) sends five messages everyday to the farmers in 19 states in local languages.
“We give them information on soil management, fertilisers, weather forecast, farm inputs, crop management, soil testing, plant protection, mandi rates, dairy and animal husbandry, among other farm-related information,” says US Awasthi, Managing Director, IFFCO.
Similarly, started in 2007, RML has developed a wide range of services to cater to the need of farmers across the country. It brings together producer communities (farmers) and agri businesses (buyers, sellers, service providers and government institutions), creating superior efficiency in the agri value chain.
“RML’s information services to farmers are available through a subscription based SMS service (RMLdirect) and a free to download Android App, myRML. RML has over 1.4 million registered users across 50,000 villages in 18 states of India. It is estimated that through sharing, the impact of RML has reached nearly five to seven million farmers across India. It is powered by hundreds of full time employees deployed on the ground. This service is available in nine languages and works on all handsets and networks,” says Vijay Iyer, VP – Enterprise Revenue, RML.
RMLdirect is an SMS based personalised, agri information service which provides information around market rates, weather and crop advisory including livestock, dairy, financial inclusion and is delivered daily to the farmer’s mobile phones in a time bound manner. A farmer can subscribe the services after paying an annual subscription fee of Rs 499.
“I received RML news of subsidy available on pipeline by state government at an appropriate time, when I was planning to install it in my farm. I inquired about subsidy at Gram-Sewak, applied for it and saved Rs 20,000,” says Pawan Kumar, a farmer from Churhat in Sidhi district, Madhya Pradesh.
On the other hand, myRML is an android and java-based mobile application that provides comprehensive agri information to farmers. It includes expert information at every stage of the crop cycle; pre-sowing to harvest giving information on market price, weather, local and regional agri news and crop advisory till selling of crops. Within seven months of launch, it has over 2.5 lakh registered users and is adding thousands each day.
Before using the RML services, the yield of my Groundnut was 10 quintal per acre but after following RML’s crop advisory tips, my yield jumped to 30 quintal per acre. I also got better price for my produce,” shares GM Shiddalinga Swamy, a farmer from Karnataka.
An Interactive Voice Response (IVR) based system mKrishi Lite, a service under mKrishi of Tata Consultancy Services, offers entry-level services to the farmers in addition to the alerts like weather forecasts, market prices, best practices and others in various local languages.
“Although we started our services many years ago, but we realised that the IVR services are not feasible in the rural areas as the connectivity is very low. Even if connectivity is there, it lacks bandwidth,” says Rajesh Urkude, Head – mKrishi, Tata Consultancy Services.
“Thanks to the popularity of WhatsApp, the number of farmers using this application has increased multi-fold. Today I see in Punjab, Maharashtra and other parts of the country, around 60 percent of farmers are using GPRS activated or affordable smartphones,” Urkude further adds.
mKrishi uses mobile technology to cater to the needs of the rural areas. It offers personalised advisory services in voice and visual communication devices like mobile phones.
In addition, it has enabled the possibility for information exchange between various stakeholders of the rural economy. Many agri-input companies, rural banks, insurance companies, governments and agricultural universities find it convenient and economical to reach a group of or individual farmers.
Integrating Dairy Farmers
Any milk company, cooperative or food company which procures from farmers, in traditional methods, they are paid on 10th day through some intermediaries. Besides, some commission is taken by the intermediaries which turn into losses to the farmers. It is also risky to take huge cash to the last mile. Furthermore, in the scenario of disintegrated supply chain, functioning without an intermediary is a tough task.
“Thus, we provide farmers’ payment solution, YES Kisan Dairy Plus to many small, medium and large size dairies through an online platform. As a farmer pours his milk, he gets paid within a few minutes through micro ATMs. It brings a certainty in the payment system without any intermediaries, also without any delay,” informs Nitin Puri, President and Country Head – Food and Agribusiness, Yes Bank.
It was implemented in collaboration with Hatsun Agro Products, one of the largest dairies in South India, based in the Villupuram district of Tamil Nadu. The dairy company procures close to 2 million litres milk on a daily basis from 4,500 Milk Banks (MBs) strategically located in over 8,000 villages. Everyday more than 300,000 farmers deposit their milk at these MBs.
The existing process further had a time lag between the delivery of milk and receipt of payments by farmers. However, Hatsun initiated to pay these farmers up front as soon as they deliver milk to the company’s collection centre. This necessitated the MB in-charge to maintain sufficient cash on the payment days of the week. Further, this mode of payment resulted in many operational and security issues like huge cash handling risk, misuse of cash at MB in-charge level and quick payment to the farmers.
Enterprising Women Farmers
The Rural Distribution Network (RUDI) is an agricultural cooperative business, owned and operated collectively by Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA). The business is based on the unique model of procuring raw agricultural produce from marginal farmers at market prices, adding value to that stock by cleaning and processing it before packaging and selling the products at affordable prices through a network of saleswomen entrepreneurs (Rudiben).
“Using mobile phones, regular updates to farmers on the spot and future prices of markets for their produce is being given which help them take decision on what to produce, where to sell and when to sell. It enables Rudibens to order stock from the field via Rudi Sandesha Vyavhar (RSV) mobile application,” informs Reema Nanavaty, Managing Director, SEWA.
RSV provides accurate timely information to farmers. It provides these women with an affordable, simple-to-use, easily accessible mobile tool, which enables them to place orders for new stock, keep track of their inventory and sales, and even run credit outstanding reports on their customers – all using just their basic feature phones.
“Women who used to earn Rs 2,000 to Rs 3,000 per month are generating an income of Rs 5,000 to 9,000, effectively doubling and tripling sales,” claims Nanavaty.
The application is free of cost and easy-to-use, a subscriber has to pay about Rs 34 per month. There are 15,000 farmers, 2,500 processors and 3,000 Rudibens are getting benefited though the RSV service.
Currently serving in Gujarat, RUDI is planning to expand its operation and setup its network in Rajasthan, Bihar, Assam and Meghalaya this year.
Mobile Agri Services at a Glance
Over 300,000 farmers are getting benefited from Ekgaon’s farm advisory services in Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh through SMSs and calls.
The introduction of simple mobile services can help small and marginal farmers
in India which could boost the farm incomes of 7 crore farmers by over Rs 56,000 crore by 2020, says a Vodafone and Accenture report.
RML covers 50,000 villages across 18 states through SMS and mobile application in 9 local languages.
Yes Bank provides farmers’ payment solution, YES Kisan Dairy Plus to many small, medium and large size dairies through an online platform. One of them Hatsun Agro Products in Tamil Nadu procures close to 2 million litres milk on a daily basis from 300,000 farmers in over 8,000 villages.
Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) facilitates 15,000 farmers, 2,500 processors and 3,000 Rudibens through Rudi Sandesha Vyavhar mobile application.
Photo Credit: RML Information Services