“Mobile value added services (VAS) will be a Rs 67,100-crore market by 2015 contributing 31% to overall wireless revenues. . . . Growth will be driven mainly by mobile data contributing 54 per cent of the overall MVAS market by 2015,” according to Analyses Mason Vision Document on Mobile VAS, released by Internet Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) last week.
A February 2011 Mc Kinsey report asks : Almost 1,500 years ago, Indian mathematicians Aryabhata, Brahmagupta and Pingala transformed mathematics by conceiving the rules of the binary numeral system. Binary mathematics lies behind the technology that underpins the Internet. After more than 1,500 years, India could again lead the world in a technological revolution. The consumer demand exists. The opportunity is real. Is India up to the challenge?
TCS (Tata Consultancy Services Ltd.) has already taken up that challenge. It has developed a solution known as mKrishi that provides farmers information on weather, prices, inputs, and all that they need through a cell phone and web interface.
mKrishi – TCS
In 2007, Arun Pande, the head of TCS Innovation Labs and the leader behind mKRISHI traveled through different parts of rural India to meet farmers and understand their business. After listening to their concerns – Will it rain enough in my village this season? Will my crop catch my neighbor’s crop disease? Where can I take out a loan? – he saw the opportunity to grow a business by providing personalized responses to such questions. TCS launched mKRISHI in 2009 in the agricultural states of Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, where it now serves about 500 farmers. But TCS believes at least 1,000 farmers benefit via the farmers’ social networks.
mKrishi costs a farmer between Rs 40 and Rs 80 a month. TCS partners with wireless operators to allow farmers to download the platform on high-end phones, and TCS has set up “mini-mobile sites” that farmers can visit to have the platform installed on low-end phones. The mobile phone overcomes the lack of power and wire-line communication infrastructure in rural areas, enabling farmers to get advice one-on-one from experts.
The platform’s technology not only allows farmers to submit questions to experts, but also provides environment-specific details that give the experts a kind of agricultural map of the issue at hand. For example, when a farmer enters his location on mKRISHI, agricultural sensors connect to geo-location services like GPS and Google Earth to deliver local weather, soil conditions, common pests and food-grain prices to the expert on the other end. Farmers can also attach photos if they have mobile cameras.
The experts, who have at least two years of agricultural study or experience, access mKRISHI on the Web. Currently six experts – two in Punjab and four in Uttar Pradesh – work on mKRISHI. TCS plans to provide expert system tools to agriculture workers to improve quality of their advice and FAQ and best practices on the farmer’s mobile phone so as to reduce the number of routine queries coming to the expert for response. Eventually, TCS hopes to partner with other major IT companies “and generate thousands of micro enterprises in villages” serving 50,000 farmers. Besides improving the platform with new tools, TCS sees its responsibility as playing “the leadership role in creating a consortium of partners and facilitating village entrepreneurship.
mKRISHI is available in three versions : Lite, Regular and Plus.
mKRISHI Lite is an entry-level service, with an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) – based system. The farmers dial a published number to avail this service. They listen to and select the appropriate audio prompts in the local language of the region. They record their questions and get a question id for each question.
Experts analyze the queries and provide the appropriate audio advice. An SMS is sent to the each farmer indicating that his / her question has been replied to. When the advice is available, the farmers enter the query id on the phone to listen to the expert’s advice. Experts can also send out various alerts like the weather forecast, market prices, a package of practices, etc. in either English or the local languages to the farmers.
mKRISHI Regular is a mobile-based service, wherein a mobile application resides on the farmers’ handsets. All the farmer interactions for the service happen through this application, in the local language. Farmers can download the mKRISHI application on their mKRISHI-compatible and GPRS-activated handset. Upon starting the application, they have to provide some basic information about themselves and their farms. The menus are programmed in the local language. A partner’s business-process-specific service customization and partner-specific branding are possible.
mKRISHI Plus offers Automatic Weather Station (AWS) within a farmer’s environment, along with the mKRISHI Regular service. The AWS sends updates about various weather parameters like rainfall, temperature, moisture, etc. related to the installed location, at regular intervals. This integration provides a more personalized environment for farms and is recommended for orchard crops such as grape and some citrus fruits.