On the evening of November 11, Nashik grape farmer Arun More’s cellphone beeped with an SMS from a lab 220 km away at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Mumbai. Sent by three-month-old Agrocom Pvt Ltd, the text message predicted unseasonal rain two days later in his village of Pimpalgaon Basant.
And that’s exactly what happened. “But since I had prior information, I could spray fungicide accordingly. I managed to save my orchard from the mildew that would have destroyed the crop,” says More.
Agrocom is the brainchild of a group of software engineers associated with IIT’s Developmental Informatics Laboratory. In 2004, tying up with the state’s Krishi Vigyan Kendra, it set up the online portal Almost All Questions Answered (AQAA), getting experts to answer farmer queries from all over Maharashtra, and now other states, usually within 24 hours.
“Our interaction with farmers suggested that there was a crying need for accurate and timely weather information. Agrocom wants to address that,” says its marketing head Shantanu Inamdar. And the SMS service did just that.
This is how it works: Farmers pay a monthly charge of Rs 50, and receive SMSes every three days — more frequently if forecasts are grim — from Agrocom that predict cloud cover and rain. “We source our information from the state Krishi Vigyan Kendra’s Nashik and Pune centres. After farmer feedback, we are working towards providing them with temperature and humidity forecasts too,” says Inamdar.
The group has notched up 180 subscribers in its first month of service — mostly grape farmers in Nashik, Sangli, Pune and Aurangabad. It is now looking to reach out to cultivators in Vidarbha and Marathwada, including village panchayats.
“In the next few months, we will formulate training programmes on crop cultivation and poultry, mechanics, as well as rural health issues like dengue treatment,” informs MD Anil Bahumani.
Bahumani says Agrocom wants to keep subscriber fees at their current low rates, the revenue model relying on “targeted ads related to farmer queries on our website. Something like the ads you see in your Gmail.”
More says the SMS service is simple, but valuable. “We could rely on TV’s INSAT picture or the internet, but that doesn’t work for villages where there are connectivity and electricity problems.
Imagine, if farmers in Vidarbha had monsoon predictions, they wouldn’t have to deal with the scary prospect of an expensive re-sowing at the start of every season if rains are delayed.”