May 2017

The digital revolution

Gurtej Singh is one among the many farmers who rely on mKrishi mobile platform to solve their agricultural problems and get a fair price for their produce

Gurtej Singh on his agricultural land with his cellphone
Seventy per cent of India’s population depends directly or indirectly on agriculture. Yet, farmers don’t seem to be able to take advantage of the advances in agricultural technology. Gurtej Singh was one such farmer. A resident of Ramgarh Chungah, in Shri Muktsar Sahib District in Punjab, Singh’s main livelihood is from agriculture. Completely ignorant about high yielding cultivars and other improved agricultural practices, Singh followed the cotton/wheat cropping cycle, farming his eight-acre holding using traditional ways.

All this changed once he joined the Trusts’ Cotton IPM project being implemented by Reviving Green Revolution Cell (an associate organisation of the Trusts), and began to attend village-level farmer meetings. Once he adopted recommended practices, his cost of cultivation went down, and he began to see a significant improvement in his income. Connecting with the project, and attending village-level meetings was soon expedient, but it was also difficult to fit these in amidst his work on his fields and at home.

This is where mKrishi, a mobile application developed with the help of TCS, comes in.  Aiding the last-mile technology transfer to the farmers, mKrishi provides the latest agricultural university recommended practices directly to a farmer’s mobile handset via SMS, calls and IVR. A toll-free number has been set up in order to allow farmers to send in their queries as needed. Responses are quick to follow, either via call-back or IVR. The entire system is backed by existing field staff in project areas, and agri-experts / consultants who act as quality checks for the information that's being sent out. According to Gurtej Singh, ‘mKrishi is a great tool for advanced agriculture. Its weather advisory feature is very reliable.’ The weather advisory message on 6th March 2017, had helped Singh save his crop from water logging.

Current and future plans

As of March 2017, nearly three lakh farmers across Punjab, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat and Maharashtra have signed onto the mKrishi platform. Crop information for Cotton, Groundnut, Onions, Basmati Rice, Wheat, Red Gram and Soya is being disseminated through messages and voice recordings. Digitising agriculture has paid rich dividends. Still, the Trusts are not resting on their digital laurels just yet. Their endeavour is to reach out to 5.5 lakh farmers by March 2018.

In the current fiscal year, the Trusts are focusing on running small-scale agri-businesses on the mKrishi platform. In partnership with TCS, further enhancements are being made to the mKrishi app in order to replicate an e-commerce platform, so as to drive four agri-businesses on this platform. A producer company model is being experimented upon to further focus on service delivery.

The divide between advances in technology and the farmer as the end-user is being bridged as the Trusts experiment with further digitisation.