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By HETAL ADESARA
Posted on 23 October 2004

Taking the Internet to the villages and empowering rural India with information at the click of a button is what best describes ITC's much acclaimed initiative - e-Choupal.

ITC's unique web based initiative offers farmers of India all the information, products and services they need to enhance farm productivity, improve farm-gate price realisation and cut transaction costs. With the e-Choupal farmers can access latest local and global information on weather, scientific farming practices as well as market prices at the village itself through this web portal - all in Hindi. It also facilitates the supply of high quality farm inputs as well as purchase of commodities at their doorstep.

Given the literacy and infrastructure constraints at village level, this model is designed to provide physical service support through a Choupal Sanchalak - himself a lead farmer - who acts as the interface between computer terminal and the farmers. Full contents of this site are therefore made available to the registered sanchalaks only.

In a presentation recently made on e-Choupal, ITC's International Business Division head of research J Ravindra Kumar showed how the e-Choupal initiative gave farmers the power of scale and better bargaining power when it came to selling their produce and buying agri-inputs.

Kumar further said that through ‘real-time multicasting’ ability of the Internet, it was now possible to delink ‘information’ from ‘transaction’ and this in turn places the freedom of choice in the hands of the farmer. Economic empowerment of the farmers was what the e-Choupal aimed at. The e-Choupal also made it possible for the farmers to bundle ‘information’, ‘knowledge’, and ‘transaction’ from independent participants in a collaborative business model to deliver unique value to the farmer and the business enterprises simultaneously. Thus, the heavy dependency on the traditional institutional infrastructure was reduced.

IT can make a difference with regard to heterogeneity was what Kumar emphasised. He said that the Internet provided low-cost one-to-one interactive notwithstanding the fragmentation and geographical dispersion.

e-Choupal Construct

At the end of the day what a farmer wants to achieve is higher income through increased yields, improved quality and reduced transaction costs, which is exactly what e-Choupals provided. These e-Choupals provided the power of scale to the small farmers, customised knowledge despite heterogeneity and real-time information despite distances.

ITC's e-Choupal leverages IT to improve farmers’ decision making ability to align farm output with market demands, and to improve productivity and brings in best of breed partnerships. The company targeted the bottom rung of the farmers first as the company's vision was to cover the largest segment of rural India thus spanning 100,000 villages across 15 states by building capability to deliver superior shareholder value sustainably. ITC's only mandate was that of “Improving quality of life in rural India.” And that it did.

 

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