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Mobile phones save Indian farmers from crop losses

08-25-2012 18:09 BJT

KOLKATA, India, Aug. 25 (Xinhua) -- In India, mobile phones are being used increasingly not only in the country's business districts but also in its farms.

Atul Bharve, a farmer from India'western state of Maharashtra' s Marathwada district, has said that a mobile phone message has averted his crop losses.

When the rains were delayed this year, he sent an SMS to Nokia Life Tools-a text message-based information service to seek advice on what to cultivate; he was promptly advised to focus on fodder.

"When the rains didn't arrive in early June, I panicked. But that crucial SMS from Nokia was a lifeline of sorts for my family," Bharve said.

Out of 929 million mobile phone users in India, 407 million belong to rural India of which majority of the owners are farmers.

Kapil Mehta, a traditional paddy farmer from Sabarkantha district in India's north western state of Gujarat, took up a cash crop cultivation, which requires less water, this season in line with a voice message advisory from Iffco Kisan Sanchar, a joint venture between mobile carrier Bharti Airtel and fertilizer firm Iffco.

If India has avoided heavy crop losses due to deficient monsoon rains this year, part of it is due to the specialized mobile-based advisory services provided by Iffco Kisan Sanchar, Nokia Life Tools, and Reuters Market Light, which are helping millions of farmers across the country to cope with erratic weather conditions.

"Our database confirms that nearly 1.2 million farmers are listening to our voice messages everyday...many are monsoon- related," said S.Srinivasan, CEO of Iffco Kisan Sanchar, adding that most of its messages are related to monsoon rains.

Finnish mobile handset maker Nokia says nearly 30 million customers subscribe to its Nokia Life Tools service and a sizeable chunk of this group are farmers.

Reuters Market Light, an initiative of news and information firm Thomson Reuters to provide personalized agricultural information through text messages in local languages to farmers for 999 rupees (18 U.S. dollars) a year, boasts of one million unique subscribers.

These service providers are now working overtime to respond to urgent queries from farmers. And their queries are unlikely to subside since the meteorological office has predicted a 15 to 20 percent shortfall in rains in early August.

"Many farmers in Maharashtra have opted for these services and have benefited," Umakant Nangat, Maharashtra's commissioner of agriculture, said.

Experts believe mobile-based farmer advisory providers will play an increasing role in India's agriculture sector in the coming years.

Swapan Kumar Dutta, deputy director general for crop science of Indian Council of Agricultural Research, said these service providers can alert farmers about crops that require less water if they get advance information about monsoon patterns.

"It is easier for them to play a larger role as they are in direct touch with rural subscribers. Service providers also need to collaborate more with agri-scientists," he said.

Iffco Kisan Sanchar, which has 13 Kisan call centers in different parts of the country, has devised contingency plans in consultation with the State Agriculture Department & Research Organization to assist farmers adversely affected by the delayed monsoon. "We have urged our subscribers to adopt moisture conservation practices and explore ways to improve water utilization,"CEO Srinivasan said.

B. V. Natesh, director of emerging markets services of Nokia Life Tools, said: "Since the Indian farmer now faces significant monsoon-related challenges, we have been providing our subscribers with best practices and tips on water and soil moisture conservation, alternate crop selection in low rainfall scenarios and five-day weather forecasts."

Nokia Life Tools provides personalized text messages on 270 commodities in 12 languages across 22 states and can be accessed by farmers on a daily basis.

Editor:Zheng Limin |Source: Xinhua

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