February 2010 | Cynthia Rodrigues
High tech at ground level
TCS’s mKrishi is a technology that enables farmers to access usable and customised expert advice, market information and weather data
Information technology and agriculture may seem to belong to different worlds but Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) has successfully employed innovative technology to add value to agriculture.
One such initiative that it has introduced is mKrishi, which uses mobile phones and the sensor technology to give personalised advice to farmers. Conceived in October 2006, it was felt that mKrishi had the potential to create new markets and offer its services at a low cost. It was, therefore, positioned as ‘disruptive innovation’.
The concept of mKrishi grew out of a need for understanding and resolving the problems of farmers, especially issues that were voiced in meetings with several small and progressive farmers, government officials, agriculture university faculty, NGOs, experts from agro product companies and agriculture scientists from research labs to understand the problems faced by farmers. It was clear from these meetings that there was no integrated system in place that addressed the farmer’s locale-specific queries. In the absence of such a system, farmers were left unsupported, as they struggled to make sense of varied, often unpredictable, issues such as weather, quality of the crops, condition of the market, etc.
Basically, mKrishi was planned as a mobile agro-advisory system that would allow farmers to send queries to agricultural experts in their local language through a mobile phone and receive personalised advice or relevant information in their local language. The service eliminates the hindrance that prevents illiterate farmers from accessing good technology.
The challenge, according to Dr Arun Pande, head of TCS Innovation Labs – Mumbai, “was to develop a scalable system which would also simulate the visits of experts to the farms. This was achieved by enabling the farms to travel to the expert instead of having the experts travel to the farms.”
Field trials were conducted with the active participation of farmers from four villages who cultivated grape, potato, cotton and soybean. The project received able support from Tata Teleservices and Tata Teleservices (Maharashtra) in terms of integrating the AWS with the CDMA network and offering mobile phones to farmers for the field trials. Rallis and Tata Chemicals provided the expert advice to grape farmers in Borgaon village and potato farmers in Bichaula respectively.
The initiative faced its share of challenges, including heavy rains and the subsequent water logging which affected the battery. The modem too required frequent redesign to reduce the current intake from the battery. Another challenge involved teaching the farmers to use the software on the cell phones. TCS had to ensure that they received a lot of training and handholding.
The innovation subsequently received the grand prize under the wireless reach programme of Qualcomm Corporation in March 2007. The company also won the Wall Street Journal Global Innovation Technology Award for 2008, Golden Peacock Award and was listed Nasscom’s Top IT Innovations.
TCS is now striving to meet farmers’ rising expectations by enhancing the mKrishi model. The company also hopes to demonstrate the benefits of mKrishi in terms of an increase in yield, reduction in cost, better prices and improved farming efficiency for a larger number of farmers.
In creating and developing mKrishi, TCS has offered farmers a tool that promises to revolutionise the way agriculture is managed and farmer is served in an integrated way. Another such initiative that TCS has created for the benefit of the farming and other communities in Andhra Pradesh is APOnline. This initiative is the intermediary between citizens in rural and urban Andhra Pradesh and business and government departments at the state level. It enables citizens to pay bills and seek information.
There were a number of challenges that TCS had to counter on the way to making APOnline a success. The IT infrastructure was poor and the company had to ensure that internet connectivity was improved before launching the service. Poor computer literacy among the rural population was another challenge. To counter this, TCS trained 1,200 rural operators on computer usage, internet access, etc. A massive campaigning activity was also undertaken to raise awareness about the service.
It is through initiatives such as these that TCS has reached out to rural communities to help improve their way of life.