ITC's e-Choupal: Landmark in Rural Deployment

by Muntazir Abbas    Feb 27, 2009

Company
 
ITC Limited is one of the premier and diversified conglomerates. From a traditional tobacco and cigarette producer, it has grown into a group of companies that deals in hotels, agribusiness, information technology, and fast-moving consumer goods (FMCGs). ITC initiated its e-Choupal a few years back with a focus to streamline its dealings with Indian farmers. This is one of the mega projects in rural India. It has covered more than 40,000 villages in various states, including Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Karnataka.

Background

With the initial launch in June 2000, e-Choupal has become one of the largest initiatives in rural India. Today, the services through this system serves more than 50,000 villages through over 7,000 kiosks in various states, including kiosks across ten states - Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

Objectives

The initiative was launched with a view to providing instant access to real-time information in regional languages for crop cultivation, as well as empowering farmers with decision-making ability. A Web-based initiative of ITC’s International Business Division, e-Choupal is one of the leading programs that offers the farmers with the necessary information and services for the enhancement of farm productivity and improvement of farm-gate price realization, as well as reduction in transactional costs.

e-Chaupal offers farmers access to the latest local and global information on weather, scientific farming practices and market prices at the village itself through the Web portal - all in Hindi. e-Choupal also facilitates the supply of high quality farm inputs as well as the purchase of soybeans at the farmers’ doorstep. ITC plans to operate such kiosks so that they can create an electronic stock exchange for the marketing of agricultural commodities through the use of ICT.

Y.C. Deveshwar, chairman, ITC, said that certain restrictions on buying farm produce and stocking them were causing concern at the grassroots’ level. A strong e-Choupal network in the country would help restore confidence in the farm community, which looks upon e-Choupal as a single-point interface for all its farm needs.

Need

Nearly 60 percent of the total population in India lives in villages, and crop production contributes heavily to the national economy. As the landscape of Information Technology (IT) is changing in the country, the e-Choupal initiative is one of the most sought projects in the rural region in order to empower the farmers with information. The farmers were not aware of the basic information related to crop production and cultivation, seeds availability, weather and market. Due to unavailability of information, they had to incur heavy losses in terms of crop damage. The small and marginalized farmers were the most affected in the agricultural sector. 
 
IT-driven Solution

The Agri Business Division of ITC has implemented e-Choupal project in order to tackle the most pressing demands of the agriculture sector in India. The solution provided under this project serves farmers through several essential modes, as well as addresses their basic needs. Through the e-Choupal portals, farmers can access the latest local and global information on weather, scientific farming practices, and market prices at the village level. It also facilitates the supply of high quality farm inputs as well as purchases of produce at the farmers’ doorstep.

This IT-backed business solution includes a computer, stationed at a farmer’s house, and is linked to the Internet via VSAT connection. This single point of communication serves an average of more than 500 farmers within a radius of 5 km. Each e-Chaupal comes with an expenditure of nearly Rs.1.5 lakh with a maintenance cost of somewhere between Rs 5,000 and Rs 10,000 annually. However, the host farmer- sanchalak incurs some operating expense and gets substantial benefits from all e-Choupal transactions.

From an IT perspective, the solution is one of the landmarks in the rural segment. The Web-driven project offers scalability and effectiveness of communication mechanism, as well as real-time information and facilitates collaboration between various parties for the spectrum of farmer needs. The allocation of technology requirements in the project include:

VSAT - 52 percent
PC - 28 percent
Power - 11 percent
Printer - 5 percent
Technical support - 4 percent.

Benefits

e-Choupal facilitates farmers with the latest weather reports and best farming practices. The virtual mandi system for the price availability eliminates wasteful intermediation and multiple handling of crops. In addition, the real-time information enhances the decision-making ability of farmers. The information is retrieved from the Internet or caches on hard disks, and is made available in relevant local languages. Moreover, the static content is installed on hard disks and is made available on CDs.

Additionally, e-Choupal offers various farm-critical services, such as soil and water-testing for the betterment of yields. The kiosks also provide information related to soya and oilseed, besides other crop. Farmers can also avail information related to the purchase of motorbikes and tractors. Farmers get latest local and global information on weather, farming practices, crop cultivation and market prices within their reach.

The approach to e-Chaupal is based upon local language content. With user-friendly interfaces in Hindi, the farmers can also access information in Marathi, Kannada and Telugu. ITC has also provided the software that facilitates the typing of Hindi characters using a standard English keyboard. With ‘Hinglish’ approach, it also enables Hindi in English characters.   

Social Impact

The system helps in bridging the information and service gap in rural India. e-Chaupal facilitates dissemination of knowledge, as well as leverages technology for the benefit of a large section of the rural community with just a click. The e-Choupal Website and e-commerce system enable sanchalaks who are trained to apply these techniques to their fields to bring a drastic change with the leverage of IT.

e-Choupal demonstrates a two-way exchange of goods and services between rural India and the world, thus empowering the national economy and society.