“Spoken Web Service” For Indian Farmers To Be Launched By The Ministry Of Earth Sciences In Collaboration With IBM

By Riddhi

It is common knowledge that entrepreneurs are being encouraged in India. Every week we get to hear about a number of new startups launched. Most of these cater to urban India, which has become comfortable with spending money online and spends a sizeable part of its day performing various online activities. Rural India is mostly, if not completely, ignored.

The market potential of rural India is quite apparent (The Centre for Development Finance and the World Resources Institute have estimated just the Indian rural market potential for clean energy is up to INR 97.28bn (US$2.11bn*) annually) and it would seem that any new startup should lap up this opportunity. Yet there are very few startup’s which address any of the issues that plagues rural India and calls for innovative solutions.

The mobile revolution should be the benchmark for any entrepreneur planning a foray into the Indian heartland. Current IAMAI figures put the number of mobile connections in India at over 900 million and it is expected to cross the 1 billion mark by 2013.

Surprisingly a recent initiative of the Indian government provides a great pointer to future entrepreneurs about the potential that rural India presents. Last week the Ministry of Earth Sciences announced that they are planning to launch a spoken web service for the Indian farming community. This service will provide farmers access to information regarding agricultural practices, innovations and weather related information without having to travel anywhere. This service will designed by IBM in collaboration with the Ministry of Earth Sciences.

The service will allow farmers to call a toll-free number and ask questions related to agriculture or the weather and will receive real-time information from the other end. There are similar SMS based services as well, which provides farmers information in a number of regional languages. The advantage of a spoken web service is that even illiterate farmers can benefit from it.

This is just one example. There are so many other spheres that an innovative startup can explore in the agriculture context. The Agromet services have already led to over Rs. 50,000 crore economic benefits. Currently only 24% of the farmers in the 550 districts where this service is available utilize it. It is expected to rise to over Rs. 211,000 crore if majority of the farming community starts utilizing it.

Initiatives in micro-finance have been explored but its potential has not been tapped to the fullest. In India most farmers own small pieces of land and access to finance will be a godsend. It will allow them to incorporate modern farming methodology, which will improve the quality and quantity of the harvest. Another crucial sector where startups can explore interesting possibilities is eliminating the middle-men in agriculture. Farmers get a fraction of the revenue as middle-men dupe them. Startup’s on a similar line as Craftsvilla.com is the need of the hour.

Technology is a great equator and providing agriculture professionals with that power gives them a more competitive chance of surviving in the market. The reason why startups should target this segment is because a startup environment allows more space for innovation and customization, which is required to create products and services for the farming community.