New Delhi: The idea germinated on the rice fields of Kaithal, Karnal and Kurukshetra, while Kamal Jeet, a worker with the Haryana State Cooperative Supply and Marketing Federation Ltd (Hafed), was advising farmers.
“We found that despite signing contracts for selling their produce to Hafed, many farmers did not turn up,” he says. “The farmers said there was no way in which they could get information about prices of basmati rice.”
Hafed could only provide price information until the purchase centres; there was no mechanism to inform farmers directly—until Jeet hit upon one: a mobile phone-based information delivery system.
Listen to Mr. Kamal Jeet of Kisan Sanchar talking about the idea behind Kisan Sanchar, the problems and its future. (Download here)
That was in 2008. Today, Jeet’s advisory service Kisan Sanchar helps some 33,000 farmers across seven states in northern and western India—Haryana, Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Delhi, Rajasthan and Gujarat—by sending them farming advice and crop prices on mobile phones.
It has not been an easy journey, says Jeet. “I had doubts about its efficacy. Farmers tend to ignore text messages, and if the message is in English, most may not understand it. Moreover, most farmers do not own mobiles that support regional language alphabets,” he says.
To get around this, Jeet started a pilot by sending 15 farmers a message using Hindi words written in the Roman alphabet. “Immediately, four farmers called back. The success ratio was good.” A few weeks later, Jeet, along with a few volunteers, began sending information to about 250 farmers attached to the government-run Krishi Vigyan Kendra (KVK) in Kurukshetra, including the daily prices of basmati.
“We did not have sophisticated mobile phones that could store numbers in bulk. Then we started using the services of websites that provide bulk SMS facilities at 10-20 paise per SMS,” Jeet says. “As the procurement season began in October 2008, we would get crop rates on a daily basis. We flashed the same to the farmers, and contacted paddy purchasers between 7-7.30 pm. The idea worked perfectly and 90% farmers reached and reported at the purchase centre.”
But a month later, Hafed pulled out, the funding dried up and the service hit a roadblock. At this stage, Shrishti Gyan Kendra, a Rohtak-based non-governmental organization (NGO), stepped in with Rs 20,000, helping restart the service. By 2009, around 4,500 farmers were receiving information on crop rates, crop diseases, agriculture subsidy schemes and issues related to farm animals.
In May 2010, the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) helped Jeet’s team develop a portal for the service.
“ICAR, along with the KVKs, provided the content. Our team then took on the role of delivering that content,” says Jeet. “In other words, now, we merely broadcast the content.”
Kisan Sanchar was formally launched in September with 50 KVKs attached to it. It is managed by Innovation Promotion Company, which Jeet formed along with his brothers. Now, 75 KVKs across the seven states provide content to Kisan Sanchar, which charges each of them Rs 3,000 as annual subscription fee for disseminating information. No fees is charged from farmers. “Our final goal is to cover all the 500 KVKs in India,” Jeet says. Each participating KVK or NGO is typically provided a unique login ID and password, using which it can upload content to be broadcast in text and voice format at the scheduled date and time after verification.
“Soon, we will begin providing career counselling to farmers’ kids. In future, we hope to provide information on district weather information, agriculture statistics, online chat among farmers for sale and purchase of agricultural commodities and equipment, and recruitment opportunities in rural sector,” Jeet adds.
He says the company is in the process of launching a scratch card. A farmer could buy it for Rs 50 and key in the code using his mobile phone to get linked to the system for a year. “This would streamline our revenue generation, help us reach farmers across the country.” Kisan Sanchar is also looking overseas. Jeet says farmers’ organizations from Sri Lanka and Bangladesh have approached him and his company will soon develop platforms to disseminate information to farmers in these countries in their local languages.