‘IFFCO Kisan Sanchar Limited’ (IKSL) is a vision to empower poor and illiterate Indian farmers by converting ubiquitous mobile phones into a power house of knowledge and help them not only to fight their own poverty, but hunger of their fellow countrymen. IKSL leverages mobile phones to provide timely & pertinent advice to farmers to improve their income, reduce cost, improve yield, enhance quality, reduce wastage and educate them on livelihood, health, environment and other aspects.
At present, about 10 lakh farmers are already using IKSL’s services. Inclusion, accessibility, scalability, replicability, sustainability are the major features which are demonstrated by IKSL’s model. The challenge in the beginning was to overcome the high levels of illiteracy and the famer’s inability to deal with technology – the solution, a voice based service in their local language and a locally based support team. Results show a significant improvement with an increase in farm productivity, in terms of crops and animals.
Setting the context
70% of India’s population is rural with agriculture as the main occupation, almost one third of the world’s poor also reside here. 88% of nearly 240 million of India’s farmers have small land holdings (less than 2 hectares). Agriculture does not prove a viable occupation and most earn up to US$2 daily. Unless businesses, government, scientists and civil society work together to provide inclusive growth to rural farmers, sustainable economic growth is not possible. A necessary component of meeting the Millennium Development Goals, in many parts of the world is to create a more productive, profitable and sustainable agricultural sector.
The lack of timely & relevant agricultural information is felt to be a major impediment for farmers in India. The scarcity of relevant and timely information makes it very difficult to make informed decisions on subjects ranging from the choice of crops to be sown to methods of disposal of their produce.
Two of the major stakeholders in rural India – The Indian Farmers Fertiliser Cooperative Limited (IFFCO) and Bharti Airtel decided to address this challenge along with Star Global, a rural content development company . IFFCO is the world’s leading cooperative owned by 40,000 village level cooperative societies. Bharti Airtel is the leading telecom player in India with 175 million subscribers. Each of the entities has a demonstrated track record for undertaking welfare activities for the poor of the country. Together they created the IFFCO Kisan Sanchar Limited (IKSL), with a vision to leverage the ubiquitous low-cost mobile phone as an essential power house of knowledge for farmers.
Mobile Based Services for Farmers
- Voice Messages: Five free voice messages are delivered to the suscribers covering diverse areas such as soil management, crop management, dairy and animal husbandry management, horticulture and vegetable management, plant protection, market rates, weather forecast
- Help Line: Farmers can get a solution to their problems, queries by using this application.
- Call Back Facility: For those subscribers, who could not pick up the voice message call or have missed a voice message for any reason, facility is available to call a short code which provides opportunity for listening to the messages delivered on that day once again.
- Phone in Programme: Live phone-in-programs on specific subjects of interest to farmers are organized periodically
- Mobile Quizzes: Mobile based quiz programmes are organized to sharpen the knowledge levels of subscribers and present attractive gifts to winners. These quizzes provide an opportunity for subscribers to assess their retention levels.
- Focused Communities: To further improve the effectiveness of its services, IKSL promotes Focused Communities / Groups with common interest . This provides an opportunity to extend more focused services to the Community members.
• IKSL doubled its customer base from 1 million in the 1st year of operations to 2 million in the 2nd year of its operations. In addition, through a series of strategic programs, customer acquisition has accelerated and the company has achieved an overall base of over 4 million customers, of which more than 1 million customers listen to their content regularly.
• 70% of IKSL’s customer base is the marginal farmers earning less than 1US$ daily.
• A survey on customer satisfaction revealed very positive results. 99% of the respondents confirmed that the information provided was a trustworthy and an effective solution to their problems.
In Dec 2010, the service was also among the 10 most innovative agricultural practices to be showcased to Mr Barrack Obama, the President of USA, as part of the joint Indo US initiative on Agriculture which aims to improve Food Security and fight Global Hunger.
• Significant increase in farm productivity, in terms of crops and animals, at individual farm level is resulting in the increased availability of food and higher income generation for farmers, which in turn is helping to mitigate hunger and eradicate poverty.
• Small farmer Shivalinge Gowda was able to get only 6-8 litres of milk from his two cows. However, after listening to one of the messages on increasing milk yield, he started feeding his cows with maize (250 g) and groundnut cake (200 g) supplement every day. He could double milk production and treble his profit to more than US$100 per month, giving his family a higher disposable income. Over 750 scientifically tracked and proven success stories have been documented by IKSL’s field representatives and content experts.
• IKSL promotes Focused Communities whose members have a common interest and provides information on areas of common interest to the group.
• A pool of 500 rural entrepreneurs have been sourced from the local villages to work with the farmers in the neighbouring areas. They promote the use of IKSL’s services by acquiring new subscribers and in the process earn their own livelihood and supplement the family income.