In this interview we speak to Dr Arun Pande, who has been heading up the team developing mKRISHI, a mobile phone based agricultural advice service which is set to revolutionise India's rural farming communities.
1) Please provide a short description of the project.
mKRISHI is developed by Tata Consultancy Services Ltd (TCS) as an innovative platform to offer personalized and integrated services to farmers. TCS mKRISHI platform combines multiple technologies to bring vital information regarding local weather, fertilizer requirements based on soil conditions, pest control, and current food grain prices in local markets in a rich content format to the farmer’s low-end mobile handsets. It allows farmers to send queries in their local languages, as well as images and voice activated SMS through a mobile phone and provides personal responses with advice or relevant information in these languages.
2) What was your motivation behind the mKrishi project?
Agriculture is a key contributor to the Indian economy and presents several business opportunities for ICT companies to deliver various services to farmers. TCS undertook to research problems faced by the agricultural community by travelling to rural communities to talk face to face with diverse stakeholders to understand the issues relating to Indian farmers, their low productivity and efficiency issues. It was evident that farmers did not have an easy way to get their personalized queries answered and continue to use traditional, inefficient farming techniques.
It was during this study that we realized that the farmers required several services besides agro advisory, such as poultry, cattle, micro credit, crop insurance, government policies, storage and selling of crops. mKRISHI system was conceived to address all these challenges. To the best of our knowledge this is the first serious attempt to solve age old problems faced by farmers using the latest technology
3) What could you highlight as the key benefits of the project for the local community / users?
Some of the key benefits to farmers are:
- Advice on pesticides/fertilizers, such as how much and when to spray
- Advice on when to harvest in relation to weather to limit crop damage
- Combining yields allows efficient collection of goods
- Market prices made available so they can choose where and when to sell
- Current pricing information for NCDEX, future prices and global rates
- Bankers can use the mKRISHI programme – enabling more rapid loan payments to farmers
- Useful information such as rural Yellow pages, as well as bus times and railway reservations could improve farmers’ activities.
Benefits to others in the community are:
- Agro product companies: can get direct access to farmers, enabling closer links to customer base. If mKRISHI charged these firms could then subsidise the network.
- Banks and Insurance Companies: mKRISHI efficiently relay information pertinent to obtaining loans from banks or developing more personalised insurance packages.
- Government: able to communicate new government policies to farmers and government could obtain information regarding farmers to develop further policies.
- Employment to Village entrepreneurs: mKRISHI operates using a network of village level employees, which would also tap into the large agricultural graduate resource base currently underused.
4) What could you highlight as the key business benefits of mKRISHI?
Some of the key business benefits to TCS because of mKRISHI are:
- New market for the company
- Direct Contribution to existing business
- TCS Brand as a Pioneer and Innovative Company
- Enhanced reputation of the company
- Positive perception of the company by stakeholders
TCS has been invited to discuss the mKRISHI programme with a number of organizations, companies and even national governments across the world.
5) Which were the main challenges you encountered?
Some of the major challenges we faced were:
- Mobile based agro advisory system platform integrates several technologies. Establishing communication of server with the sensors in the field was a big challenge.
- Weather station and sensors did not perform well during monsoon since the solar panels did not charge the battery properly because of long cloudy days.
- It was taking time to convince the government to participate in field trials with their experts.
- Although the technology was provided to farmers at a subsidized cost, we found it challenging to convince farmers to explore the features and benefits of mKRISHI.
- Agri-input companies did not show interest in commercial development.
- Farmers were initially reluctant to pay for this service – hence we reduced the subscription fees.
6) Could you see this project being replicated in other sectors or countries?
During interactions with small and marginal farmers, we realized that the farmers in villages were expecting better primary health care than they had access to. We studied the primary health care infrastructure in villages and tribal areas, and realized that the current system meant that non emergency patients currently have to travel to receive treatment. We were convinced that the productivity of doctors and village health workers could be improved many fold by using mKRISHI like platform.
We tuned mKRISHI platform (internally called mHEALTH – PHC Platform) for delivering primary health care to villagers. Instead of farmer and his soil analysis details, we provided patient’s health record and his query. Doctor could remotely prescribe the medicine to patient through village health workers. Such delivery of primary health care remotely could be termed as “poor man’s telemedicine” – since the entire set up is inexpensive and uses the existing wireless network.
Similar to mKRISHI platform, working with the health industry, across a range of organizations, such as medical professionals and pharmaceutical companies, would allow the successful development of the platform.
7) What are you most proud of about your mKrishi Project?
The fact that the farmer was now more confident about himself after using mKRISHI really made us proud of our innovation. For instance, the farmer was now capable of arriving at informed decisions regarding the appropriate choice of pesticides for his/her crop, instead of just relying on the dealer’s word for it.
We also take pride in the fact that the mKRISHI platform would help bridge the gap between farmers and their stakeholders, in addition to empowering them towards resolving their issues anytime, anywhere through their mobile phones.
8) Finally, what does winning a BITC Coffey International Award 2010 Big Tick mean for you, your colleagues and the project?
Winning the Big Tick is an immensely satisfying moment for me, my team and my colleagues at TCS. This award is unique since it measures the all round impact of the innovation on business, community, employees and partners. The Big Tick will give the project greater visibility and this hopefully would produce deeper impact on the above stakeholders.
For more information on the Coffey International Award, please click here