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Sahara Samay: Farmers use ICTs to reap profits

by admin last modified 2013-02-14 17:20

More and more marginal farmers in Uttar Pradesh are using an Interactive Voice Response system (IVRS) to improve their farming practices and incomes.

Marginal farmers in Uttar Pradesh are using a telephonic helpline to raise their incomes by improving their farming practices and diversifying into other agri-businesses.

Saying that nobody ever imagined that such a service would ever be available to small farmers, Manvendra from Chandura village of Jalaun near Lucknow adds, “The telephonic agriculture helpline doesn’t just give answers to our specific queries, but it also introduces us to innovative ways of farming and businesses to help us gain the most from our limited means.”

He elaborates, “When I said I own a very small piece of land, it was recommended that I cultivate flowers like Gladioli, which are in good demand in big cities like Lucknow. I was also advised about the type of seeds and fertilisers I should use to get the best yield. To my pleasant surprise, most of the production enhancing manure could be made from locally available ingredients like the farm residue, which also helped me save costs to a great extent.”

The value of this tech intervention is obvious from the fact that small farmers are even willing to pay for them. Santosh Kumar from Katra village near Lucknow says, “I don’t repent spending Rs 10 for seeking remedies to my farm related queries. Not only do I find this service affordable, it also gives us the kind of solutions which can be practically applied with minimal costs.”

Manvendra and Santosh are just two of about 1,50,000 farmers, who have availed of the ICT (information and communication technology) service. The helpline is currently charging Rs 10 per query in its quest to become sustainable. As of now LifeLines-Agriculture is a corporate social responsibility project of Cisco Systems and British Telecom and is run by OneWorld South Asia, an NGO.

LifeLines-Agriculture has probably the biggest database of over 450,000 frequently asked questions on agriculture in the country. When a farmer calls in the Interactive Voice Response system (IVRS), using a field volunteer’s phone, his query gets recorded against an identity number.

At the back-end an agriculture expert sitting in Delhi retrieves the query, searches the database for the answer and records it back into the system within 24 hours to enable the farmer to access the answer with the same identity number at a time convenient to him. If the answer is not available in the database, the agriculture expert sources it from a senior panel of agriculture advisers.

A spokesperson of LifeLines-Agriculture says that the technology is not only helping farmers improve farming practices, but also complement their incomes with the help of related agri-businesses. For example, more and more farmers are focusing on small agricultural practices like beekeeping, poplar plantation and cultivation of mushrooms and flowers.

The helpline also makes a conscious attempt to guide farmers to pursue sustainable agriculture practices. The LifeLines spokesperson adds, “We ask farmers to go for organic solutions like cow dung, organic composts, green manure and vermin composts which are locally available for free and are also environment friendly.”

Source: Sahara Samay