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My parents live in a farm house in a town called Ambala in Haryana, India. When I visit them, I go on early morning walks with them, walking through the surrounding farms, villages, temples and gurudwaras. Along the way we run across farmers starting off their day, walking to their farms in dejection. During my visits, I often feel I have gone back in time and from the looks of it, it seems that the farming practices in India haven’t changed in years. The green revolution and the aggressive variety of crops that were grown in these farms in the last century have made the land incapable of growing indigenous crops. As farmer suicides increase on a yearly basis, farming practices in India need addressing. Farmer issues have been raised in mass media and was most recently seen in a form of a black comedy movie called Peepli Live. I also watched another film called Harvest of Grief that dealt with the same issue at the Sikh Film festival last year. Indian farmers have limited access to information regarding farming advice. Questions like ‘Which pesticide will protect my crops’ often go unanswered and trial and error methods often costs the farmer money, crops and time.
Answering such questions and linking farmers to expert advice was the reason and inspiration behind mKRISHI, a platform developed by Tata Consultancy Services (TCS). The platform is two fold. It allows farmers to submit questions to agricultural experts using mobile phones and the experts get environment-specific details when the farmer enters his location on mKRISHI. The farmers are given mobile phones with special software to submit queries. This works for both low end and high end phones. The farmers can submit photographs with phones that have a cameras (as can be seen in the video above). The mKRISHI service costs a farmer between $1 to $2 per month. The experts, on the other hand, are sent updated agricultural metrics for a farmer’s land by sensor networks and a weather station in the village. This is made possible when the agricultural sensors connect to geo location services like GPS and Google Earth to deliver local weather, soil conditions, common pests and food grain prices. All of this information can be accessed by the expert through a web console where-in the expert can weigh in all the options and send back advice to the farmer by either text or voice message.
mKRISHI is working on creating a robust wireless sensor node so that every farmer can afford to install one node per one acre of land thus making crop disease forecasting more precise as data from the sensors powers the disease prediction model. After a certain threshold is reached the farmers phone is triggered automatically so as to warn him to take measures to ensure a healthy crop cycle. TCS innovation labs is headed by Arun Pande and he is the force behind mKRISHI. In a Wall Street journal article, he says, ” In the absense of correct information and advice which is specific to him, the farmer relies on what other farmer do – or on his traditional wisdom.”
TCS launched mKRISHI in 2009 in Punjab and Uttar Pradesh where it now serves 500 farmers. There is a clear call to action to expand the service so that the service can positively help a lot more farmers and one such strategy is to partner with major IT companies. There is also talk of taking mKRISHI to other developing countries. For now it is concentrating it efforts in India and hoping that when a farmer needs help, there is always a helping hand out there to pull him out of doubt, questions or anything else that might be plaguing him. Thus making sure that farming is no longer a suicidal business in India and that, with the right tools it can be profitable and not just dependent on intuition and mother nature.