How to survive on less than five acres in India: Three ways farmers can go mobile

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How to survive on less than five acres in India: Three ways farmers can go mobile

Smallholder farmers often lack access to expert agricultural advice and services. Mobile technology is helping link Indian farmers to expert advise and knowhow. Photo: Thatcher Cook for Mercy Corps

India’s 1.2 billion people depend on food grown on the small farms that dominate India’s rural landscape. Despite their critical role in feeding India’s expanding population, smallholder farmers are overwhelmingly poor and have little control over the ups and downs of the marketplace. But three organizations are helping them turn the tables through mobile technology.

An Indian Council for Agricultural Extension study highlights that 86 percent of Indian land holdings are less than two hectares, or about five acres. These farmers face higher costs and more risk than large commercial farms. Increasing smallholder production could be key to feeding the country and lifting farming families out of poverty. Can these solutions make the kind of impact needed?

mKrishi: Replacing traditional wisdom with expert advice

Smallholder farmers often live far from universities, cities and knowledge centers. Distance makes it difficult for these farmers to access resources. mKrishi uses mobile apps and technology to connect rural farmers to agricultural expertise--and each other.

Farmers who pay the $1 to $2 monthly fee get access to personalized weather, soil, pest and crop price information as well as the ability to ask experts questions. "In the absence of correct information and advice which is specific to him, the farmer relies on what other farmers do—or on his traditional wisdom," Arun Pande, the mKRISHI project lead, told the Wall Street Journal in 2010.

Smallholder farmers can use the platform to step away from the isolation that an information void creates. As an added benefit, farmers can group together to buy fertilizer and seed in bulk or to secure lower loan rates.

Kissan Kerala: A farmer’s self-help YouTube guide

Smallholder farmers in India’s Kerala region can use many digital tools to connect to Kissan Kerala’s agricultural information and advisory services. The Kerala Department of Agriculture program offers a weekly television program, voice or SMS advice, web-based information and YouTube video advice.

The many access points help farmers connect to expert advice to make well-informed agriculture decisions. Farmers can access weather information, farming best practices and local market information, like produce prices. The project aims to provide "Right Information to the Right Person(s) at the Right Time in the Right Place(s) and in the Right Context" to help eliminate the information gap for farmers.

eKutir: Franchised system brings solutions in person and online

eKutir’s business model increases smallholder farmers' productivity while boosting local “entrepreneurs” or agents. Local agents sell a suite of services to interested farmers, including soil testing, crop planning, seed selection and fertilizer planning.

“Farmers need relationships and constant engagement,” Suvankar Mishra, eKutir’s chief operations officer, explained in a recent interview with Global Envision. That’s the local agent’s job. Smallholder farmers use eKutir agents to connect to services and receive hands-on training with the products. The farmer makes payments for the service and the agent, in turn, makes money for each service the farmers use while paying eKutir a monthly franchise fee.

eKutir distributes many of its services through mobile apps, such as the ankur app that helps farmers select seed to increase productivity. The company has partnered with multinational corporations, such as Intel, to develop the apps to serve rural smallholder farmers. These partnerships allow eKutir to tailor digital services to the farmers while reaching them in person through the company’s trained agents. The system provides needed services to the farmers, much-needed jobs to the agents and income streams to eKutir: a three-way win.

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