Have you ever imagined, how would you feel if you didn't have a computer and Internet connection? Might be you would not get the instant information you are seeking, or you end up asking your friends and seniors about the thing you are so anxious to know. Might be you had something in mind and you forgot it. You scratch your head but don't retrieve the piece of information. You can imagine how frustrating the moment is. But we all have the super tool with us – the search engines, forums, chat rooms where you can find the answer to your queries instantly.
Now imagine the case of a farmer in a remote village. The monsoon has started and he doesn't know where to get the seeds, fertilizers and advices to grow the crop. He depends upon the well-tried methods in the past and compromises for the seeds and fertilizers available in the market nearby. In the process, he ends up paying more than the actual market price. The seeds he ought to get at Rs. 600 per quintal may cost him Rs. 700 per quintal and similar might be the case with the fertilizers. The price ends up ballooned at the consumers' end till it travels from the distributor to the retailers.
The story is similar when the time comes to reap the benefits after a hard day's work. When the farmer harvests the crop and makes his mind to sell it, again he is the loser. If the market price is Rs. 1000 per quintal, he ends up receiving just Rs. 800 per quintal. The rewards of his hard work are eaten up by the intermediaries like brokers and petty traders.
He knows that his part of meal is snatched by someone else but he has no means to retaliate against it. He is a mere spectator at the hands of so called fate. He takes the moment as it appears and he is helpless.
So, is there no solution to provide relief to these farmers? Yes, certainly there are more ways to tackle this trauma, the only problem is we are in the fast paced world of access at click and they are in the laid-back world of brick and mortar. To bridge the gap we need a digital revolution to reshape the lives of these farmers in remote villages. Now the question might arise - how to include a farmer who has never seen a computer, into our circle of information sharing?
We can have a look at the e-choupal initiative by ITC, one of India's largest consumer product and agribusiness companies. By the help of this initiative, today lakhs of farmers are in thousands of villages in India are conducting e-business.
The e-choupal initiative by ICT is like an Internet kiosk, village gathering place and e-commerce hub all rolled into one. The word choupal means "village gathering place" in Hindi just like chautari in Nepali. These e-choupals are run by operators called the sanchalaks, who are one among the farmers recruited by ITC to be the interface between the computer terminal and the farmers. ITC has designed a hardware solution that includes a desktop computer with power backup through batteries charged with solar panels and has convinced local telephone exchanges to upgrade their equipment to support data transmissions. To overcome illiteracy, ITC made the transactional capabilities of the site available to farmers through the registered sanchalaks.
Now look at the benefits both ITC and farmers are reaping through this initiative. ITC, which exports millions worth of agricultural commodities, sources a fair amount of commodities from these e-choupals. By purchasing directly from farmers, ITC can source better quality produce that commands high prices in the international market. By avoiding intermediaries for conducting the transactions, ITC saves money on procurement. The sanchalaks get a commission for every transaction they process, which translates into healthy earnings for them. The farmers gain from better prices and lower transaction costs. Traditionally, they had to wait for days to sell their produce at local markets and auctions. They also had to pay for bagging, loading and unloading their produce in the local market. In the e-choupal system, farmers take only a sample of their produce to a local kiosk and receive a spot quote from the sanchalak. If the farmers accept the quote, they can drive their produce directly to ITC's collection centres and get paid within a couple of hours. The farmers save on doing so. Farmers also benefit from improved information and price discovery. With help from their sanchalak, they can access real-time information on crop prices, weather and scientific farming practices online. Ultimately, ITC envisions the e-choupal as an e-commerce hub for the village—a single point of contact among farmers and a wide range of suppliers of agricultural inputs and consumer products.
So, isn't it possible in our country? I say it's more than possible and in the process it will bring prosperity in Nepal, which will eventually lead to peace. A group of young people can not only deliver the benefits to farmers but also make a hub of engineers, farmers, designers, agriculturists and thinkers who can put their inputs in that initiative. With the inputs from farmers, the engineers and designers will design equipment to plant, water and harvest crops. With the help of agriculturists, the farmers can take up farming rewarding crops like Aloe-vera, vanilla, coffee, soyabean in lieu of traditional rice and wheat. But all of it will take a single initiative from a leader among ourselves.
The gap between the haves and have-nots has increased reasonably in the recent years and I think this type of initiative will at least stop others from snatching the food from the mouths of the have-nots in our villages, help them stand tall and help us in bridging the gap. So, let's come together and join hands before the ditch turns into an abyss!
I have included the information about e-choupal from Professor Mohanbir Sawhney's article and ITC's website.