Surabhi Mittal, a Senior Fellow at ICRIER specialising in Agricultural Economics, Sanjay Gandhi, a consultant with expertise in private sector development, and technology and business strategy in emerging markets, and Gaurav Tripathi, a researcher at ICRIER address four questions:
- Which types of agricultural information have the most value for farmers and fishermen?
- Are mobile phones in practice being used much for agricultural purposes, and if so how?
- Have mobile phones helped drive agricultural productivity improvements for farmers and fishermen, and if so how?
- What constraints are there on the potential for mobile phones to improve agricultural productivity?
Farmers require access to a wide-range of accurate information. The report explains, "Of this range of information requirements, we found that small farmers prioritized weather, plant protection (disease/pest remediation), seed information and market prices as the most important. In Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan, close to 90% of farmers reported seed information as the highest priority while over 70% cited market prices as the most important category."
There are a few mobile-enabled information services available to farmers in India. The Vodafone report evaluated two mobile services targeting farmers, IFFCO Kisan Sanchar Limited (IKSL) and Reuters Market Light (RML). IKSL delivers five free voice messages daily with weather information, crop/animal husbandry advisory, market prices, fertiliser availability, electricity timings, and government schemes. A helpline is available at Rs. 1/minute.
RML delivers four daily SMS-text messages containing weather information, crop-advisory, market price (2 crops and 3 markets of choice), and news (commodity specific and general - occasionally includes market demand estimates). There are a few subscription options: Rs. 175 for a three month package, Rs. 350 for six months, and Rs. 650 for one year.
With respect to the impact mobile phones have on India's agriculture sector, the report found the following conclusions:
- Customization and frequent updating add substantial value. Generic information triggers dissatisfaction and reduces the frequency with which farmers access the service. The most frequent criticism we heard was that information was old and routine.
- Secondly, where literacy concerns are not paramount, text messaging offers significant advantages over voice-based delivery in terms of convenience and content flexibility.
- Finally, information should be in the local language and any platform should be intuitive for subscribers to understand. Most of the farmers we interviewed were prepared to pay for information services as long as they felt that they would get the information they wanted – relevant, timely and reliable.