K. Anvar Sadath, who won the prestigious i4d Award 2007, in an exclusive interview with i4d speaks of how the ‘Akshaya’ model clearly demonstrates the use of ICTs for the well being of the whole society with special emphasis to ‘e-Krishi’ initiative, addressing the farmers of the state of Kerala.
What are the objectives of the project Akshaya, and that of e-Krishi under its broader spectrum?
The prime objective of Akshaya is to provide ICT accessibility and services to the common man, thus to bridge the gap between the ‘Information Rich and the Information Poor’. Akshaya project was conceived to achieve this objective by developing ICT access points (e-Centres) primarily, and also addressing issues in the areas like Skill Sets (e-Literacy training to at least one member in 6.4 million families in the State of Kerala), Content Development (relevant to local people in Malayalam in web and digital media) and Services Delivery (e-Learning, e-Business, e-Payment, e-Governance).
e-Krishi is piggy backed on the successful Akshaya platform. e-Krishi initiative is aimed at providing basic inputs and value added information to the farming communities as well as to all the stake holders in the Agriculture sector in Kerala.
Who are the supporting partners of e-Krishi project?
The e-Krishi project is funded by UNDP-NISG under ICTD- Rural Livelihoods theme. Besides Kerala State IT Mission (KSITM), the Agriculture Department and Indian Institute of Information Technology and Management-Kerala (IIITM-K) are associating with the Project.
What is the vision behind e-Krishi with relevance to the farming community?
e-Krishi is a market driven agricultural initiative through IT enabled Agri Business Centres in Kerala State that addresses the existing gap in agriculture information flow and transaction management, which are the gray areas in the agriculture sector.
It envisages facilitating and enabling farmers and other stakeholders through Agri Business Centres to interact with agricultural service providers in the private, government and non-government sectors. The project will provide a web-based solution enabling the small and medium farmers as well as owners of large land holdings.
How did the Kerala State IT Mission harness ICTs to its best?
Kerala State Information Technology Mission (KSITM) is an autonomous nodal IT implementation agency for Department of Information Technology, Government of Kerala, which provides managerial support to various initiatives of the Department.
KSITM’s primary responsibilities are (i) interfacing between the government and the industry, (ii)interacting with potential investors, (iii) strengthening the IT/ITES industry base, (iv) holding promotional campaigns for hard selling the state, (v) ICT dissemination to bridge the digital divide, (vi) e-Governance, (vii) developing human resources for IT & ITES, (ix) advising the government on policy matters, (for details log on to:
How are the entrepreneurs being selected to run the kiosks /information centres to cater to the needs of local farmers?
Akshaya works on a Public Private Participation (PPP) model. Selected local entrepreneurs are permitted to run Akshaya Centres. The investment for setting up the e-Centres is made by the entrepreneurs. It would come around INR 3.00 lakhs (0.3 million INR, or approximately US$ 7,500) for setting up an Akshaya e-Centre with 5 to10 computers, printers, scanners, web camera, other peripherals and necessary software. High performing Akshaya centres were selected to run e-Krishi programme, based on a grading system.
How were the farming communities encouraged to avail the facility in the initial stages of its implementation?
Attracting farmers to use Internet was a tough task. They had to be lured to this new concept through constant training and showing the benefits of this new system. Our main drawback was that there was no successful model to be shown to the farmers. Fortunately the e-Krishi portal (www.e-krishi.org) which is integrated with the KISSAN portal was very helpful in demonstrating the usefulness of ICT in agriculture. Through this many farmers got better prices for their produce and were able to get up-to-date information on their doubts, and were able to get immediate reply through the net on plant protection, availability of planting materials, fertiliser calculation, etc. Once farmers came to know the benefits, there was no turning back.
How far have technology interventions enabled to build a strong network of farmers and traders in India and abroad?
Use of ICT in the farming sector is in a formative stage. But the pilot project at Malappuram district has clearly shown that there is ample scope. The main advantage of networking is in the aggregation of the agri-produce of small and marginal farmers and reducing the influence of the middlemen. It has been shown beyond doubt that just by aggregation, it is possible to get better price for different agricultural produce.
How are the farmers ensured of getting a reasonable price for their commodities/products?
The current practice is of selling the produce to the middlemen and they in turn sell it to the wholesale markets. In this process, the products pass through different hands before reaching the final consumer. The farmers are, many a time, ignorant about the actual market demand and the prices of the produce. Through ICT intervention and through e-Krishi, the daily prices of the different produce in the different markets are made available to the farmers, which in turn gives them a bargaining strength. Apart from this, now it is possible to do forward trading using Internet, a thing not used before by the farmers for reaching the markets.
How is monitoring/evaluation of the activities done?
We have two project co-ordinators at the District Level and 14 field co-ordinators at the Block level, besides the 130 e-Krishi Centre entrepreneurs in Malappuram district. Apart from that ‘Bhoomi Clubs’ were formed in all 102 Grama Panchayats and 5 Municipalities, which meet once in a month to discuss issues. The President of the Grama Panchayat in each respective area is the Chief Patron of the Club, and the Agricultural Officer in the local krishi bhavans is the Advisor. Through this mechanism, we are doing the monitoring and evaluation activities. Also the Result Based Management (RBM) reports help to get the status/ feedback and the follow-ups required. This is a participatory learning methodology that is applied for M&E of the activities.
Do you feel that the e-Platform is still under utilised on account of accessibility in the state?
Yes, especially in the backward areas. However, there is a marked improvement in this sector. More than 25,000 farmers and buyers registered in the e-Krishi portal for selling and buying produce in Malappuram district alone.
Content is another challenging area. How do you address the issue of localisation?
Content in agriculture, as is in the other fields, is not valid if it is not current and constantly updated. For updating the content, the services of the agricultural scientists of the University and agricultural extension officers of the Department of Agriculture are being used. In Kerala, three agricultural portals are in operation, vis. e-Krishi; KISSAN and VUAT. These provide most of the information required by the farmers. There is a dedicated and exclusive team to update the content of these portals.
IT Mission with the help of agricultural experts have prepared an interactive CD on Agriculture called ‘Harithakeralam’ which provides information on thirty major crops of Kerala spread across 500 topics, in the local language, Malayalam. Harithakeralam contains nearly one hundred animations and video clips, one thousand high quality images, narrations, and a key word based index to facilitate easy search of the topics. The CD ROM also uses a web based technology solution for streaming multimedia content. Now, we have decided to update this.
Do you think technology driven intervention would solve the problems of farmers over time?
As in other sectors, technology driven intervention itself won’t solve all the problems without proper handholding. A holistic approach with proper man-machine interface is essential for the success of such interventions.
What are the other challenges being faced and how do you plan to address them?
As a novel project involving IT mediated business in agriculture, bringing all the stakeholders together in the rural sector has been a tougher task than anticipated, which involved several rounds of discussions. To streamline this it was necessary to engage field co-ordinators rather than solely depending on the portal.
During the implementation of the project it was originally assumed that farmers, agriculture officers and buyers would access the Internet and digital information without resorting to reading information on printed materials. Our experience has clearly showed that it is very difficult to convert the stakeholders from the hard copy to digital format. Most of the persons accessing the portal / CDs, etc. requested the hard copy for future references in their houses and so invariably there should be provisions in the e-Krishi centres to provide printed materials as well.
Roping in the traders, especially the local traders to use this facility, is a challenging job. Constant training and showing the benefits to them continuously are helping to overcome this challenge, to some extent. This is the weak link in the whole project, which needs urgent attention.
e-Krishi roll out
The project is implemented in Malappuram District, one of the 14 districts in Kerala through 341 Akshaya e-Kendras (www.akshaya.net), and is piggy backed on successful Akshaya platform. After the successful piloting in Malappuram, now KSITM has decided to rollout e-Krishi in seven more districts (Kollam, Pathanamthitta, Ernakulam, Thrissur, Calicut, Kannur and Kasaragode) through 1200 Akshaya centres. For further information on ‘e-Krishi’ please visit www.e-krishi.org