Empowering the masses
The eChoupal advantage
ITC's eChoupal project is a winnerfor farmers who get
better remuneration and for the company that's assured quality inputs for its
V V R Babu
Imagine an illiterate farmer in a remote village in Madhya
Pradesh sitting at a desktop wired up to the WWW through a small VSAT link,
powered by a tiny power generator by the side, and surfing away to glory downloading
invaluable information about weather forecasts and sowing trends.
Imagine farmers checking prices for soya beans at the nearest
government-run market, or even on an international commodities exchange. A
few years ago such a scenario would have seemed outlandish but today its
a reality, says V V R Babu, CIO, ITC (eChoupal Project).
IT for the Masses
The eChoupal project covers over 35,000 villages in Madhya
Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan, Haryana
and Uttaranchal providing millions of farmers with critical information on farming.
The Choupal services are being delivered by over 6,000 Sanchalaks and over 17,000
Upa Sanchalaks to these remotest areas.
Farmers can look at weather forecasts, order fertiliser and
herbicide, and consult an agronomist by e-mail when their crops turn yellow.
At some eChoupals they can even buy life insurance, apply for loans and also
check their childrens exam results.
While much has been written about the social benefits of
ITCs eChoupal, the matter of the fact is that the project was conceptualised
with a pure business focus to create farmer communities in villages to facilitate
sourcing of high-quality farm produce for the companys fast growing agribusiness.
In IT parlance, eChoupal is an intelligent blend of applications
like CRM and supply chain management. For instance, by helping the farmer identify
and control his inputs and farming practices, and by paying more for better
quality, ITC has been able to preserve the source and improve the quality of
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 eChoupal 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 portfolio of commodities sourced has been vastly expanded
to include maize, barley, sorghum, and pulses, and the sourcing cycle is extended
almost around the year. In the commodities market, these two factors are helping
ITC create a definite competitive advantage.
Initially we 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 15 months we found that the experience
was not satisfactory, explained Babu.
Power cuts in rural areas can run for eight to 10 hours.
ITC even went so far as to provide gensets at a few locations hoping to spur
DoT to doing the same. It didnt work out and in 2001 ITC shifted its focus
to using Ku Band VSATs. Power remained a problem and it was solved by using
The EChoupal Roadmap
ITC now plans to leverage its eChoupal infrastructure to
sell third-party products, provide rural market research services, and in the
social sector, to provide services like health advisories and enable e-governance.
ITC eChoupal has embarked in on providing best of the class
retailing and shopping experiences to the rural consumers by building retail
shopping complexes that provide integrated facilities under one roof. Under
the brand Choupal Sagar, these shopping complexes housea procurement
centre, retail store, food court, farmer facility centre and healthcare clinic.
In healthcare services, a pilot project has been launched
along with leading corporate healthcare service providers, to extend reliable
and quality healthcare services to the remotest villages. Several health camps
conducted during the pilots are encouraging and the project is in the midst
of scaling up to other locations.
ITC eChoupal is currently piloting delivery of quality education
services to the rural areas leveraging the physical and digital infrastructure
developed for commodities sourcing and consumer retail services.
With updates from Vinita Gupta