Close to two decades after its launch, e-Choupal, a well-recognised rural-digital infrastructure network of ITC Ltd, the FMCG, hotels, agri-business and information technology conglomerate, will take a new avatar as a mobile phone application.
The new digital platform, or the e-choupal 4.O, will serve as a plug-and-play platform for agri-startup companies in India and is expected to be launched by mid-2019.
E-Choupal was ITC's farmer empowerment initiative by providing internet kiosks in villages. This initiative now comprises about 6,100 installations covering over 35,000 villages and serving over 4 million farmers. While the existing e-Choupals and agri-extension programmes of ITC will continue to exist, it will not be expanded any further as the company will move to initiate the new plug and play ready digital platform for agri-startups to build and expand their businesses. "We are refining the services of more than 20 startups at the moment. These startups will be able to use our platform for providing many services including location specific weather forecasts, crop advisory, quality testing of crops etc to farmers," S Sivakumar, head, Agri and IT Business, ITC says.
E-Choupals, coupled with flagship agri extension programme - "Choupal Pradarshan Khet", has been famed for the dissemination of deep understanding of agricultural practices, collaborations with India's premier research institutes, and a competitive and efficient supply chain that helped ITC deliver immense value across the agricultural value chain. It has helped ITC's agri-business too as it routes its procurement needs almost entirely through such networks. In fact, ITC's strength in agri business is the extensive backward linkages it has established with the farmers. This networking with the farming community has enabled ITC to build a highly cost effective procurement system.
"The e-Choupal model has been specifically designed to tackle the challenges posed by the unique features of Indian agriculture, characterised by fragmented farms, weak infrastructure and the involvement of numerous intermediaries, among others. The e-Choupal model creates a significant two-way multi-dimensional channel, which can efficiently carry products and services into and out of rural India, while recovering the associated costs through agri-sourcing led efficiencies," the company states.
In line with its mission of improving the quality of life in rural India, ITC's agri business has launched a flagship extension programme called 'Choupal Pradarshan Khet' (CPK) or demonstration plots to help farmers enhance farm productivity by adopting agricultural best practices.
Started in 2005-06, ITC's Choupal Pradarshan Khet (CPK) or demonstration plots to help farmers enhance farm productivity cover a wide range of crop portfolio including soya, paddy, cotton, maize, bajra, wheat, gram, mustard, sunflower and potato. Over the years, ITC has undertaken 83,388 number of CPKs covering 4.4 Lakh acres under crop development project, in approximately 5,000 villages benefiting more than 10 Lakh farmers.
"Out of the 10 lakh aggregate beneficiaries, incomes of around 34,000 farmers have doubled (107 per cent growth) by adopting all the practices and recommended inputs. Balance farmer's income has also shown an income increase of 30 per cent to 75 per cent, depending on adoption of various recommended practices. It was found that the farmers are happy with the interventions by ITC as their yield and income has increased considerably, post ITC's intervention", the company claims.
Moving away from desktop-based interface at the village level to a mobile platform based e-Choupal 4.O will not change the basic features of ITC's approach to increasing farmer income, says Shivakumar, adding that addressing the four elements of the farmer profitability equation - improve farm productivity, improve product quality & integrity, reduce cost of cultivation & risk mitigation - will remain the focus.