In 2002, KR Srivathsan, then director of the Indian Institute of Information Technology and Management, Kerala, dreamt of using modern tools of communications to help farmers optimise the produce from their fields and sell it for a good price.
“I wanted to create an information system wherein farmers could interact with agriculture experts, scientists and relevant government departments and seek professional help in various aspects of farming,” said Srivathsan.
“Active involvement of the government was necessary for such a project,” said Srivathsan.
On the first website, farmers could post their queries, which would be answered within 24 hours by experts. Farmers could also send questions through phone and SMS. The second portal offered trade facilitation advisory services.
The websites would get between 15 to 20 new questions answered everyday. The impact was visible in terms of increase in productivity, reduction in crop losses and better earnings for the farmers.
However, creating awareness was a big challenge for the success of the project. Srivathsan’s team, with help from the state government, conducted a survey of, and held discussions with, nearly 1,000 village panchayats before implementing the project.
Making the task tough at the time was the low penetration of both computers and mobile phones. So they had to fall back on television — about 270 episodes were telecast on Asianet, a popular local channel.
“What helped me was my experience of ernet,” the first major initiative of the Indian government to provide Internet service in the country.
Much has changed since 2003, especially with penetration of mobile phones and availability of technologies such WiMax. Srivathsan’s ambitions have also got bigger.
The 60-year-old engineering professor, who is now the pro vice-chancellor at Indira Gandhi National Open University, wants to emulate the Kerala model in other parts of the country, besides looking to extend the experiment to education.
“The scenario has changed in the last five years. I am exploring new technologies such as 3G and WiMax.”
(KR Srivathsan is a Pro vice-chancellor, Indira Gandhi National Open University)