'Mobile' solution to farmers' woes

The story of Subash Arwe isn’t any different from his fellow farmers. A grape cultivator in Borgaon, Maharashtra, Subash says farming isn’t as lucrative as it once was. The reason for that is higher use of pesticide -both preventative and curative. “This may go up to 40 applications a season,” Subash mentions. “This means I’ll have to cough out large sums and also expect my land to be polluted and useless very soon.”  
Unlike several other problems, the one Subash faces has a straight forward solution: there has to be a system to forecast pest attacks when they are imminent. If someone had mentioned this as a ‘solution’ even a few years back, he may have been laughed at since detecting the approach of pests and communicating it effectively across the region would have been near impossible.
Now though, farmers like Subash have the solution nestled nicely on top of their palms —that is, their mobile phones. Armed with MKrishi, an ‘agro advisory solution’ from TCS (Tata Consultancy Services), Subash is very much in touch with the experts in his region and can prevent pest attacks by using the chemicals just before the parasites arrive on his farm.
“The goal behind the solution is to remove the so-called ‘last-mile gap’ between farmers and the expert, farmers and the market, farmers and the government,” says Dr Arun Pande, head of TCS Innovations Lab that developed MKrishi, which has been piloted in several parts of Maharashtra.
Before starting to device the solution, Dr Pande visited farmers and NGOs across the region trying to understand what they expect a mobile-based solution to deliver. The diversity of requirement startled him. While farmers like Subash —whose case is part of the study Dr Pande conducted — wanted a ‘warning system’ of pest attacks, those in Nashik and Vidharbha wanted a system for weather prediction. A few others felt market information (especially how much their produce would fetch them in the market on a given day) to be important.
“All these have to be brought on a single solution,” Dr Pande explains. “It should work even on the commonly available phones. And, of course, it should be simple-to-operate for farmers.”

End-to-end solution

So the team worked on a platform that can integrate various technologies and services to provide an end-to-end solution. It created a framework consisting of soil and leaf sensors, along with automatic weather stations. It had also arrived at an understanding with experts from organisations such as Rallis India, Panjabrao Krishi Vidyapeeth, Tata Chemicals and MS Swaminathan Research Foundation to provide remote advice to farmers. Four villages in Maharashtra — Borgaon, Waifad, Ganori and Bichaula - which grow grape, cotton, soybean and potato crops.

“This system allowed farmers to send out a query to the expert located remotely. Through the solution we have installed on his PC, the expert can access important data such as soil, crop and weather condition to examine and suggest a solution to the farmer in the local language,” Dr Pande says.

The ability to provide localised information has been one of the most attractive features of TCS’ solution. For instance, it can display graphically weather forecast for a particular village for seven days. Similarly, farmers get commodity information from the local market on their mobile screens. They can interact with the expert through voice or SMS.
Though the solution works well on virtually all kinds of mobile phones, those with certain features may require more personalisation. With a special ‘Indian language’ font engine, farmers should be able to use the texting features of the solution.

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