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Issue of December 2003 

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Case Studies of the winning companies

ITC's electronic choupal

ITC initiated its e-choupal project to streamline its dealings with Indian farmers in 2000. This is a project on a massive scale that ultimately aims to cover every sixth Indian village. Each choupal covers around eight villages and 15,000 villages have been covered to date in Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka, and Andhra Pradesh.

The Initiative

This Web-based initiative of ITC offers farmers of soya, wheat, coffee, and shrimps with all the information, products and services they need to enhance farm productivity, improve farm-gate price realization, and cut transaction costs.

The project was built using .NET. The first implementation of a Soya choupal took eight months but later extensions like the Aqua choupal for aquamarine farmers took between six and eight weeks.

Today e-choupal is a flexible, easy to deploy solution. ITC Infotech provided an in-house team of 25 to 30 people in the initial stage and this gradually came down to around 20 people, and finally a five-member team to maintain the project.

The Company, in association with the Tobacco board, had also extended the solution to leaf tobacco farmers in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka.

VVR Babu, Chief Information Officer at ITC Limited.

Given the literacy and infrastructure constraints at the village level, this model is designed to provide physical service support through a 'choupal sanchalak' (a lead farmer) who acts as the interface between the computer terminal and the farmers.

The Innovation

The e-choupal portals are based on Indian languages like Hindi, Kannada, and Telegu. Through the e-choupal portals, farmers can access the latest local and global information on weather, scientific farming practices, and market prices at the village itself, through e-choupal kiosks. E-choupal also facilitates supply of high quality farm inputs as well as purchase of their produce at their doorstep.

The problems

"Initially we boldly thought that we would work with DoT to upgrade rural telephone exchanges. The department was proactive in upgrading many rural exchanges to electronic ones. After fifteen months we found that the experience was not totally satisfactory," said VVR Babu, Chief Information Officer at ITC Limited.

Power cuts in rural areas can run for eight to ten hours. ITC even went so far as to provide gensets at a few locations hoping to spur DoT to doing the same. It didn't work out and in 2001 ITC shifted its focus to using Ku Band VSATs. Power remained a problem and it was solved by using solar panels.

The Benefits

  • Enhanced relationship with farming community across 15,000 villages so far.
  • Reduced transaction cost for its Agri-commodity purchases.
  • Information on inventory retained by the farmers that can improve the quality of trading decisions.
  • Provided means to expand the reach to the rural markets through the cross-selling of the company's products and services.
  • The project has become a hot topic with academics. Harvard Business School did a case study on it and 90 students came for three days to study e-choupal.

Future Roadmap

The e-choupal project has seen the implementation of around 2,500 information kiosks and ITC has made plans to increase the kiosks to around 10,000 in order to serve farmers in 100,000 villages by 2007.

However, it hopes to accelerate the pace of the project and complete it in another two to three years. ITC has initiated the rural distribution initiative for cross-selling products and services to the farming community to leverage e-Choupal.

Currently, the e-choupals in various languages for a variety of agri-products are distinct and the content management platform is varied. In order to facilitate the faster expansion to other products and Indian languages, these e-choupals will be integrated through a common portal with contemporary content management tools.

ITC also intends to add personalization so that farmers can be greeted with information relevant to commodities that they grow.

The company will let third parties put up content that will be vetted by it.

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Copyright 2001: Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Limited (Mumbai, India). All rights reserved throughout the world.
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