‘Soochna Se Samadhan Sewa’ 28 September 2006, New Delhi, India

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Meenakshi Datta Ghosh, the secretary of the Ministry of Panchayati Raj opened a phone-based information service for farmers, ‘Soochna Se Samadhan Sewa’. The service, which is part of a new community project in support of one of the UN Millennium Development goals on digital inclusion, is aimed at helping developing countries to become part of the digital society.

OneWorld is working in collaboration with BT and Cisco to implement this programme which brings agricultural and veterinary advice to farmers in selected villages in North India. Using the power of digitally engineered information the farmers are able to get answers by phone to questions that are key to improving their lives.

Based on an Interactive Voice Response System (IVRS) the farmers can access the service by dialing – 022-39116000 – to register their query. The system stores the call on a web-based application and knowledge workers seek answers from experts and provide these back to the farmers within 24 hours. The content and agriculture information is being provided by Indian Society of Agribusiness Professionals (ISAP) while TARAhaat is helping in implementing the service.

Speaking at the service launch event in Delhi, Meenakshi Datta Ghosh said: “This initiative will demonstrate the use of Information Communications Technology to empower people provided it penetrates the rural areas. It is a unique initiative as it is not an urban-centric technology like Google-search or dial-a-query.”

Providing details about the initiative, OneWorld Project Manager TN Anuradha said: “We aim to use the power of ICT to deliver content and capability to farmers using the most-used communication tool – the phone in this instance – for this initiative. We have done this based on feedback from grassroots communities and farmers on how this technology will best provide them the information they need.”

Highlighting the benefits of the initiative, ISAP chairman PV Thomas said: “We find that the phone is one of the most acceptable mediums of receiving information because it is faster and more economical than postcards. Another advantage is that information is provided to the farmers in their own language and the only thing that they have to do is to ring us up.”

Thomas added that the initiative is being launched at a time when morale amongst many farmers in many parts of the country is low and it is expected that this initiative will supplement implement ongoing research and funding to improve agriculture output and improve farmers’ livelihood.

Ghosh hopes that the initiative will also lead to improved governance and have an impact on government schemes like National Rural Employment Guarantee scheme (NREGA), the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) and similar other initiatives.

Chief Financial Officer (CFO) TARAhaat Ranjit Khosla said: “Through projects like these we are trying to deliver innovative solutions to developmental issues. Our end aim is to make development self-sustaining for which we have to ensure that the market accepts our products.”

Speaking on OneWorld’s work in development issues Chair of the OneWorld International Board Rajendre Khargi said: “We want to use new media and information technology in a way that will empower communities. We also recognise that to be successful all such projects have to be demand driven.”

Khargi thanked the farmers for providing vital feedback and the inputs while setting up the technology which helped in improving the ‘Soochna Se Samadhan Sewa,’ service. The project is currently being run in Bundelkhand in Uttar Pradesh and will soon be started in Shimla and Solan in Himachal Pradesh.

Reported by Rahul Kumar

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