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Empowering rural India

Posted by egovernance on August 19, 2006

Empowering rural India
Internet has unleashed a silent revolution, which is set to benefit the Indian farmer
http://www.ciol.com/content/news/2006/106081004.asp
Thursday, August 10, 2006
Kishore Kumar

 

Bagadi village, Dhar (Madhya Pradesh): “Farmers were getting Rs. 300 per quintal from local traders for potato crop within local market, but KO (Kiosk Owner) services revealed the current rate in Indore Mandi to be Rs 400. Timely information motivated them to shift their potato produce to Indore Mandi at better prices.

 

Within same area, village committees were also benefited through timely intimation of grants from State Finance Commission. Ordinarily money was transferred by District Council to bank accounts of village committees, notified through post or committee meetings. KO services enabled intimation on same day through e-mail, resulting cutting down of effort and cost.”

         a Drishtee success story.

 

A silent revolution is taking place in rural India: a revolution that empowers farmers with relevant information to make their lives better.

 

The year 2000 saw the advent of a few business models that would help the Indian farmer change his life. These models used the tools of ICT to provide the information that the farmer needs – be it regarding better price for his produce, seeds, weather, fertilizers, plant diseases, etc. Most of these models were franchisee-based, operated through individual, Internet connected kiosks, which also helped create a crop of young, rural entrepreneurs. These young men and women represented a new and emerging rural India. They were convinced that their efforts in raising the bottom of the pyramid would bring them better profits.

 

Today, they lead this silent revolution in rural India.

 

The most noticeable of the ICT projects is e-Choupal, the largest Internet-based corporate involvement in rural India run by ITC-IBD. Started in 2000, e-Choupal is a network of Internet kiosks that lowers procurement costs giving the farmers more benefits. ITC-IBD has set up e-Chaupals to reduce the costs of production that used to go to the intermediaries.

 

“ITC e-Choupal web portal brings real-time information on weather forecasts and customized knowledge on better farming practices to the farmers’ doorstep to improve his crop management. ITC e-Choupal supply chain brings good quality farm inputs at competitive prices to increase his farm yields,” S Sivakumar, chief executive (Agri Business), ITC.

 

For proper implementation the approach differs from one state to another. “The crops that are grown are different, viz. wheat, soybean, maize, barley, sorghum, mustard, pulses, coffee, shrimp, etc. Consequently, the market dynamics are different. The information and knowledge components are accordingly tailor-made. On the other hand, the infrastructure in these states, viz. power, telecom, roads, irrigation, markets, etc is also at different stages of maturity. Again the logistics arrangements made by the ITC e-Choupal differ taking these variations into consideration,” explains Sivakumar.

 

“There is value addition to the agri product being bought from the farmers, in the form of processing and branding. For example, wheat is processed into Ashirvaad atta, Sunfeast biscuits and pasta.’’
e-Choupal is becoming a value-added channel by carrying various farm inputs, consumer products and financial services to rural India in a more efficient manner than other modes. “Currently, pilots are underway to deliver health and education services also on e-Choupal platform,’’ says Sivakumar about e-Choupal’s future plans.

 

Sanchalaks (mostly a farmer) manage the e-Choupal kiosks and assist the farmers to avail the features of crop-specific websites created by ITC-IBD in local languages. The farmers get to know about the current prices, price trends in the market, details of risk management and weather forecast.

 

ITC-IBD has installed over 5000 kiosks for the project. About Rs 250 crore has been invested so far for e-Choupal.

 

iShakti, the ICT segment of Project Shakti, developed by Hindustan Lever Limited enables farmers to have a solution for a pest problem. iShakti too runs through kiosk run and operated by Shakti entrepreneurs. It provides information and services to the farmers through a portal, which has contents pertaining to a variety of rural issues. The project engages content partners like CARE International and Azim Premji Foundation, which provide the relevant inputs to the farmers. Online experts suggest appropriate pesticides for the farmers and also answer kiosk users’ queries.

In Andhra Pradesh, i-Shakti tied-up with APonline. Among others, agricultural grievances also form a part of the services.

 

Launched in 2001, iShakti has users running into thousands and is being implemented in 12 states.

 

esagu, devised by the International Institute of Information Technology, Hyderabad in 2004-2005 crop season, is an extension system that involves farmers, coordinators and scientists. The coordinators are appointed out of the educated youth in the villages. The benefit can be gauged by the fact that the project has resulted in a net gain of Rs 3820 per acre. This has been due to reduced input cost over complex fertilizers and pesticide sprays, and increased yield. It has also increased production by 1.5 quintals per acre, saved fertilizers by 0.76 bags and pesticides by 2.3 sprays per acre. Within a span of two years the project has been extended to 35 villages in six Andhra Pradesh districts.

 

“The response time is 24-36 hours. We have 12 experts who address farmers’ problems. Each village has coordinators who work from Monday to Friday and obtain crop status through digital photographs and texts. The status is sent to the experts who advice the farmers through the coordinators. The response time is 24-36 hours,” explains G Shyamasunder Reddy, research scholar, IIIT.

 

The three-tier system consists of farmers as end users, coordinators as intermediaries to obtain crop status through digital photographs and text and communicate the advice to the farmers. The scientists with knowledge system prepare farm advices.

 

“Farmers cultivate the crops with suggestions from agricultural scientist. Crop and location specific advice are given to the farmer. The lag period between research effort to practice is also reduced,” adds Reddy.

 

However, improper bandwidth is a cause of concern for the authorities handling esagu. Another grey area is some of the farmers are not willing to pay for the esagu service. Though a free service initially, farmers now have to pay Rs 200 per acre every year. “At the moment only 30-40 percent of the farmers are willing to pay. In future we expect more farmers who are willing to pay for the services,” says Reddy.

 

To negate the bandwidth problem, courier service is being employed. All information, saved in a CD is sent to experts.

© CyberMedia News

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Posted in Villages in INDIA | 2 Comments »

Internet and Channe Gowda’s daily trips

Posted by egovernance on August 19, 2006

Internet and Channe Gowda’s daily trips
With the Internet coming to the aid of the Indian farmer, the tribe of middlemen, who used to fix the price for farm produces, is seeing red
http://www.ciol.com/content/news/2006/106081003.asp
Thursday, August 10, 2006
Srinivas R

The gamble with the monsoon notwithstanding, the travails of the Indian farmer do not stop with a good harvest. Getting the right price for his produce has almost been a distant dream with middlemen claiming a significant share of the farmer’s profits.

Thanks to the Internet, the Indian farmer is now realizing his dream of getting the right price. He now also knows where to sell his produces more profitably.

Additionally, he is empowered to make right decisions based on the information he gets almost on a daily basis. He is better informed about high-yield seeds, right fertilizers, crops to be cultivated, pest control, weather, etc.

It is this information that powers Channe Gowda’s daily trips to Bangalore from Hindupura, a small town in Andhra Pradesh bordering Karnataka. This 43-year-old farmer now sells his vegetables at the Raita Sante in Yelahanka.

Earlier, Gowda used to sell his yield at his local town, meekly taking the price middlemen dictate. He knew that he never got the right price for his efforts.

That was sometime ago, before the Internet opened up a sea of information before him. He now sells his vegetables at Raita Sante, specifically created for farmers, who can sell their produces such as vegetables, fruits and oil seeds directly to the retailers or even the end customer.

Raita Sante is a project under the Ministry of Agriculture and Karnataka State Agricultural Marketing Department. Every morning, as early as 4 a.m., Raita Sante puts up the price of various farm produces like vegetables and fruits for farmers. These rates are from http://maratavahini.kar.nic.in/ and Horticultural Produce Cooperative Marketing Societies (HOPCOMS).

“Usually I sell around 100 kg of beans in Raita Sante a week. During the season, I also bring groundnuts here. For a small farmer like me, Raita Sante is an ideal place,” Gowda claimed.

Gowda is now a happy man, as he does not sell his produces to middlemen for a lower-than-market price; instead he gets the right price for his toil and sweat.

“I used to sell through middlemen. I never used to get the correct price from them. I started to sell through Raita Sante, where I get at least Rs 4 more per kg of beans, what I use to get earlier. More than the price, I have a satisfaction that I am selling at the right price.”

Gowda is not alone. According to officials, around 150 farmers visit Raita Sante daily to sell their produces.

“We show the rates, which are being displayed on the website to the farmers. We also consult HOPCOMS for the prices of those vegetables, which are not mentioned in the site. This website updates the prices every day and also alerts if there are any changes in the rates,” an official said.

This, however, is not a new concept. In 2000, ITC had demonstrated it through its e-Choupals. The e-Choupal site helps farmers find the best price for their produces at the village itself.

The site also provides farmers with specialised knowledge for customising their produce to the right consumer segments. The new storage and handling system preserves the identity of different varieties right through the “farm-gate to dinner-plate” supply chain.

Today, e-Choupal provides market prices for wheat, soybean and coffee covering 36,000 villages, with 6,000 e-choupal centers helping 3.5 million Indian farmers.

While the rural economy in India — with its geographical vastness and diverse nature — offers great opportunities for all pervasive growth and development, the major impediments have been the poor linkages between farm produce and production/processing centres, weak infrastructure, fragmented farms and existence of a level of intermediaries.

In this structure, intermediaries distance the consumer from the farmer, and the farmer is hardly market responsive. A farmer is unable to anticipate the consumer demand and therefore often faces situations of glut and scarcity. This market structure provides no incentive for farmers to standardize/grade and sort produce or to grow better quality.

To address disparities on the marketing front and recognizing the importance of Internet as a step towards globalization of agriculture, the Directorate of Marketing & Inspection (DMI) has embarked upon an ICT project in the country.

The NICNET-based Agricultural Marketing Information System Network (AGMARKNET), was established during the Ninth Plan for linking all important APMCS (Agricultural Produce Market Committees), state Agricultural marketing Boards/Directorates and DMI regional offices located throughout the country for effective information exchange on market prices NIC implements this project on a turn-key basis.

The AGMARKNET project started in 2000 has since completed five phases of implementations to connect over 2,700 Agricultural Produces Wholesale Markets (APWMs) and 190 Agricultural Marketing Boards/ Directorates and DMI Regional Offices.

The advantages of AGMARKNET database accrue to the farmers, as they have choices to sell their produce in the nearest market at remunerative prices.

“When this project started in October 2000, our objective was to create a national database of commodities, daily prices and general market details of all the APWMS across the country. Earlier, the method of capturing details was not transparent and was not allowed for public use. The government wanted to bring transparency across the agricultural markets,” said Prakash K Suri, National Project Director, AGMARKNET.

Started with 27 commercial commodities, Agmarknet today provides pricing and other details for over 300 commercial commodities of more than 2,000 varieties.

“We are working towards taking this information across rural areas. National e-governance project is planning to install one lakh IT kiosks in the rural India. We would be providing information through these kiosks,” Suri said.

AGMARKNET is aiming to provide information through 500 IT kiosks, which are being setup by IFFCO. “The second stage would be providing over mobile as an SMS and the third stage would be providing information over Interactive Voice Response — an automated telephony system that interacts with callers, gathers information and routes calls to the appropriate recipient.”

As part of the program, the content is being provided in nine Indian languages. AGMARKNET is planning to come out with region-specific, localized portals.

In a country like India where 70 per cent of its population live in the villages and depend on agriculture, accurate and timely information about the market prices of the agricultural commodities is of extreme significance. Agricultural Marketing in India is undergoing a significant metamorphosis, thanks to economic liberalisation and globalisation.

Many state governments are providing some market information, if not complete, over the Internet for the benefit of market users such as producers, traders and consumers. However, the prevailing systems of dissemination of market information are mostly based on conventional methods due to which dissemination of information to different target groups is being delayed.

Like ITC, HLL is trying its luck through its HLL Shakti or I-Shakti. Reliance is also in the process of using Internet to reach out to rural India, according to reports.

However, India still needs to address some of the basic needs such as Internet infrastructure, computer literacy and rural connectivity to reach out to the masses, and eradicate the layer of middlemen, who eat into the small-scale farmer’s meager income.

© CyberMedia News

Posted in Villages in INDIA | 1 Comment »

Real power of Internet is in connecting rural India

Posted by egovernance on August 13, 2006

Real power of Internet is in connecting rural India Accessing rural India has been a challenge, which will be what Internet and web will enable

Latha Chandradeep

http://www.ciol.com/content/special/anniversaryspecial/default-1.asp?aid=6

Internet is just 15 years old and in these short 15 years it has wrought profound changes in our perception of the world.

Among all the changes it has brought about, an area that it has had the biggest impact is in making “Information” available easily without discrimination.
Latha Chandradeep, executive editor, CIOL This silent revolution in the “information space” has not totally undermined or rendered media and publishing houses, once considered to have the sole right to disseminate information” irrelevant. But it has certainly changed the perceived importance of their role in daily lives.

In recent times, we have witnessed blogs and Wikipedia making 100-year “institutions” go weak in the knees, including the venerated New York Times.

If we were to interpret this phenomenon through the Information Systems’ spectrum, it does appear as if the challenge facing Enterprises have come calling on media houses as well. For instance, for the enterprise it is a constant challenge to be able to deliver products and services that meet consumers changing demands.

In this case, the question would be how would media companies continue to create “information” that is valuable to their countless nameless-faceless readers? We are not talking of “delivery” yet as that is merely a question of form factor. The challenge is in the creation itself–both speed and context will become key differentiators.

What is the implication of this to media companies across print, television and online?

As India’s leading online information provider on the ICT industry celebrating its 10th anniversary, we have posed this question to some of the best minds in the media and internet space to write on their perceptions.

We have an interesting mix of Editors and entrepreneurs–and, in their own right thought leaders–from print, television and online giving their views.

Interestingly, media companies will be in the thick of this debate for some time to come. As the purveyor of “validated and opinionated” information, their role will get refined and will be valued but the question of commercial economics will continue to plague the sector.

Looking beyond media, Internet as a platform and the slew of technologies and applications around it has made significant difference and impact on various aspects of India’s social fabric. In this anniversary special, we will be bringing you some instances of how the Internet has helped agriculture, education and healthcare sectors.

We have only seen a glimpse of what the web can do. Today, India, as one of the largest emerging economies, poses more than enough opportunities for the web to play out its true potential, across rural India.

If we start to look at Internet and the world wide web as a social networking platform to bridge the gap between rural and urban India and enable large number of “consumers” to earn through the platform as “stakeholders” without ownership, it promises to be a great “mass motivational” tool.

It has the promise to change the business landscape of physical face-to-face intermediaries such as channels into warehouses within a large hub-and-spoke, and point-to-point logistics model of an Amazon.com. The web would get be deployed at the individual spoke to deliver local language support through local partnerships, which will form part of the large stakeholder ecosystem.

It has the promise of taking away the escalating cost of access, reach, training, support at the local level with technologies such as webcast, podcast, and so on which combine the broadcast element of radio and television on a one-to-one platform.

Clearly, we are the cusp of very interesting times. When and how it will all come together and what its impact will be–good and bad–can only be debated until the change is upon us and then there will be just no choice but to go with the flow.
(The author is executive editor, CIOL)
© CyberMedia News

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Indian village uploads itself onto Internet

Posted by egovernance on August 13, 2006

Indian village uploads itself onto Internet
Visitors to Hansdehar village”s Web site can see the names, jobs and other details of its 1,753 residents, browse photographs of their shops and read detailed specifications about their drainage and electricity facilities
http://www.ciol.com/content/news/2006/106081301.asp
Sunday, August 13, 2006

By Jonathan Allen

HANSDEHAR, India – An Indian village has uploaded itself onto the Internet, giving the outside world a glimpse of life in rural India.

Visitors to Hansdehar village’s Web site (www.smartvillages.org) can see the names, jobs and other details of its 1,753 residents, browse photographs of their shops and read detailed specifications about their drainage and electricity facilities.

Most of the residents can’t yet surf the Hansdehar Web site as the village is not yet connected to the Internet.

But the villagers hope the site – and their imminent first Internet connection – will put them in touch with the world beyond the flooded rice fields surrounding Hansdehar, located in a rich agricultural belt in the northern state of Haryana.

“It will be a revolution,” said farmer Ajaib Singh.

He and other villagers hope the connection with the outside world will help speed up improvements to Hansdehar’s woeful infrastructure and services such as a lack of a dispensary and unreliable electricity. The village has long been neglected by the Indian government, locals complain.

“Now we can put our problems on the Web site, and then the government can’t say ‘we didn’t know’,” he said.

But younger villagers — most of whom are yet to send their first email — plan to use the Internet to help hasten their exit by searching on-line for college places and jobs in big cities.

In preparation, Jasvir Singh, 21, has hired what is only the second computer in the village to learn to type. He says he can do 25 words a minute and is getting faster.

Singh wants to get into one of India’s prestigious institutes of management and one day score a foreign posting.

Quietly-spoken Nanki Devi, 21, says her future will be limited to employment as a housemaid if she stays in the village, whose women demurely veil themselves in the presence of unrelated men.

“Only in a city I can be independent,” she explained as she looked shyly towards her feet.

These kinds of ambitions are exactly what Kanwal Singh hoped to stir when he set up the Web site for the village he was born in.

NEW OPPORTUNITIES

There are few jobs available in Hansdehar beyond farming or running small shops supplying goods to farmers.

While the richest one or two households own cars, most have cows parked in their front yards. The dusty roads are almost completely empty of traffic, bar the occasional farmer chugging past atop a tractor, bhangra music blaring.

The village council — or panchayat — is pictured on the Web site holding a meeting about a missing bull. It was never found, villagers say, suspecting theft.

Kanwal Singh, who long ago left to work as a Web site developer for the local government in Chandigarh, said that until recently a lack of opportunities left villagers with few options beyond agriculture.

On a recent visit he gave a dozen or so villagers a mild scolding, telling some of them they lacked initiative. No one answered back.

“Some of the young people here have a lot of potential and they just aren’t reaching it,” he later told Reuters, visibly frustrated.

Which is why he set about convincing the village council of the benefits a Web site and an Internet connection would bring.

Few villagers had much of an idea about the Internet, but Singh was soon able to explain the fundamentals.

Pick any Bollywood actress, he told them in a slideshow presentation, and you can access hundreds of photographs of her.

But he was quick to highlight the net’s other uses.

Now Hansdehar farmers hope they will be able to get better prices for their crops by trading online through the National Commodity & Derivatives Exchange Ltd., cutting out middlemen.

Carpenters and masons will tout their services online. Others will upload their resumes to job hunting Web sites when the village’s first Internet point is hooked up in Kanwal Singh’s mother’s house in the coming weeks.

Hazoor Singh, a local maths teacher, will have space on the Web site to publish his forthcoming paper, in which he describes parallels between the nature of God and mathematical set theory.

And at least one young bachelor said he would start browsing for a potential wife.

But the grand aim is to encourage more of India’s 640,000 villages to upload themselves and unite in online networks to advance the cause of rural India, home to a tenth of humanity.

“We had to start somewhere, so why not here? Charity begins at home,” says Kanwal Singh. “But now all the nearby villages are impressed and they say they want a site of their own.”

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