When farmers go online...

When farmers go online...

When farmers go online...

For the last two years, Gajanana Vaze of Belthangady taluk has been using a new way of sharing information and innovation with his fellow farmers, not just in the State but across the country. "Be it a new method, a problem, a bit of useful information, or a government policy, data is available at my fingertips," he quips. Needless to say, he is an active member of social media platforms formed with the specific purpose of enriching farming experience. Irappa, a farmer in Bagalkot district, recalls how he got a good  price for his produce with the help of an agriculture app. Several organic farmers in the State have created WhatsApp groups to sell their produce directly to the consumers.  

From agriculture apps to Facebook groups, online platforms have revolutionised the way  knowledge is shared among farmers and farm enthusiasts. Over 10 Facebook groups and several WhatsApp groups are actively engaged in sharing farming-related information in Karnataka. "Earlier, I had to make several calls to agriculture scientists and visit the nearby research station to get a convincing solution for a problem. Now, it is just a click away. Whenever I have a doubt, I take a photo and post it on an appropriate group. Discussion follows and within hours, I not only get a solution but the cause, experiences of other farmers, views of scientists, and many other aspects of the issue," says Chowdahalli Sadashivamurthy, a farmer in Gundlupet taluk. Though youngsters are more in number, farmers of all age groups are using these forums.

Multiple  initiatives

Take the instance of Agriculturist, a Facebook group. It was created by a farmer and a farmer-journalist with an aim to have a common platform for farmers. "Be it in real life or virtual world, farmers are a neglected lot. We felt that an online platform would be useful to share information which is crucial for the success of the occupation," says Ramesh Delampady, a group admin.

Valuable discussions on a range of topics such as credibility of agri inputs, farming methods, value-addition efforts made this group popular. What started as a forum for areca growers of Dakshina Kannada eventually embraced farmers from other regions, covering a variety of crops, and like-minded people. Now the group has over 2,35,000 members, and Ramesh says that they get over 1,000 requests every day to join this closed group. To ensure the smooth functioning of the group, admins have put up a list of dos and don'ts, and ensured that the members remain focused on agricultural issues. If they find the intentions of a member are not in line with the theme of the group, they block the person. At the same time, if a product is found useful for the farmers, they allow the manufacturers or dealers to introduce it in the group. Rural innovations and value-addition efforts are encouraged in the group. "Apart from connectivity problem, the urge to respond to every post even when it is not necessary and intrusion of people who want to improve their business are some problems that we have to deal with on a daily basis," says Ramesh.

Connect Farmer is an initiative by farmer-entrepreneur Shrikrishna Hegde Ullane, in Siddapura taluk of Uttara Kannada district. Contrary to the common trend of youth migrating to cities after graduation, Shrikrishna decided to stay in his village and support farmers. To start with, he targeted kokum, a crop known for its medicinal properties, but largely unexplored. He decided to tap its potential through value addition.

To his surprise, he found many such efforts in the coastal region, but without success, due to poor marketing strategies. After thorough research, he found that several products in Uttara Kannada including sukeli (sun-dried banana), areca sheath products and jackfruit products had not made it big in the market despite the possibilities.

"There is no proper market support for farmers and that stops them from becoming successful in spite of being innovative," says Shrikrishna. To address the issue, he along with a few like-minded  persons created an online space, called Connect Farmer, in 2012, and listed farmers and rural entrepreneurs, along with the details of their products. There was a good response and the farmers started getting orders from cities. "We encouraged farmers to fix the price themselves, but guided them whenever necessary. People with rural roots, those with a taste for traditional food and consumers who endorse healthy products liked this setup," says Shrikrishna. This effort ensured that the farmers' share increased in the value chain.  

Overcoming challenges

Though there seemed to be a good start, both farmers and consumers felt the need for a moderator to manage the demand and supply chain. Eventually, the core team of Connect Farmer had to intervene. "Thus we changed from directory service system to e-commerce model," Shrikrishna says. Over 50 products are listed on the website in different categories like forest produce, spice and herbs, papads etc. Interested farmers can register on the website and after initial scrutiny, the team publishes the details online. So far, 50 farmers have registered and every month the team gets around 50 enquiries. "We don't have scientific assessment methods to ensure the quality of the products due to the lack of resources. So we couldn't expand beyond a point," he rues. He is disappointed with the failure of both State and Central governments to support rural ventures like this. "If properly nurtured, this concept could help improve the lives of thousands of farmers. But the administration has not recognised its potential and whatever financial help and entrepreneurial guidance we have got are from foreign countries," says Shrikrishna.  

Krishi Kannada is  a unique portal that is dedicated to documenting and sharing Karnataka's agricultural knowledge. With its user-friendly modules such as question and answer, identification of pests and diseases, farmers directory, scientists directory, e-marketing etc., the effort caters to the various requirements of those engaged in farming and related fields. The highlight of the effort is that information is available both in Kannada and English.  

Adike Patrike, a Kannada farm magazine published by Farmer First Trust in Puttur, has a column that provides information about useful online resources. Magazine's editor, Shree Padre, feels that social media is a wonderful tool that is not yet properly utilised. "While it makes life easy for farmers, its insensible use has eclipsed its worth," he says.    


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