Mobile phone service helps farmers sow seeds

Mobile phone service helps farmers sow seeds

New Delhi: It was in late 2008 that Sudhanshu Jain and Rajeev Ranjan, working with mobile value-added service (MVAS) provider Handygo Technologies Pvt. Ltd, conceived of an information delivery mechanism for farmers.

“Our company had been offering MVAS services in verticals (business segments) that included astrology, religion, health, games and finance," said Jain, head project division. “We figured (that) the agriculture information delivery space was relatively untapped."

Listen to Praveen Rajpal, CEO of Handygo Technologies, talk about Behtar Zindagi

Handygo was founded in May 2000 by Praveen Rajpal, and claims to operate in over 20 telecom circles.

In August 2009, the company launched Behtar Zindagi (better life), a rural integrated voice response (IVR) service in 18 regional languages besides Hindi and English.

“We launched this service after a few months of research," said Ranjan, project coordinator (rural projects). “It provides critical information on different verticals relevant to farmers."

Today, Behtar Zindagi has a subscriber base of around one million, Ranjan said. Subscribers have to call a toll-free number to sign up as well as to access the service.

It provides farmers real-time information on crop cultivation practices, weather, fisheries, livestock management, market prices, education, rural finance and health.

Within these segments, information is provided on activities ranging from irrigation to field preparation, harvesting, storage, weed control, fertilizers, crop rotation, livestock breeding and vaccination.

Information on fish breeds, wave height and wind speed, state-wise comparative crop rates, government health schemes, women and child healthcare and so on is also provided. The information is typically sourced from the meteorological department, farmers co-operatives, financial services companies and other organizations.

“The entire information is provided via the IVR system," Ranjan said. “We do not use SMS or voice calls as tools for information delivery, but only as means of promoting the service or for alerts."

He said while most of the content is developed in-house, the company also has some content partners. Handygo has tied up with six mobile service providers—Airtel, Tata Indicom, Uninor, Idea Cellular, Reliance and Aircel.

The service works on a differential pricing model. A subscriber can typically sign up for 10, 20 or 30 days by paying Rs10, Rs20 or Rs30, respectively. The tariffs, may, however, vary depending on the operator and the telecom area.

“Simply put, it works out to Rs1 per day for the subscriber for any package he opts for," Ranjan said.

The revenue is divided between Handygo and the telecom operator. “Typically, 75% of the revenue goes to the telecom operator, while we keep the remaining 25%," Ranjan added.

Both Ranjan and Jain admitted the mechanism is skewed in favour of operators. “This is the norm the world over," Jain said. “So generating revenue is a challenge." The two did not share investment and revenue figures, but said Behtar Zindagi is expected to break even soon.