Nirmal: One of the sectors that will stand out in contrast if one were to do a ‘before and after’ analysis in Telangana State would be the farm sector. Pre-2014, the region was a parched stretch of land devoid of any noteworthy agricultural activity, but the transformation in just five years has been mind-boggling. The various farmer-friendly initiatives, construction of several irrigation projects and supply of 24 hours quality power to the sector, have changed the landscape of rural Telangana, with lush green fields replacing the drought-cracked agriculture fields.
With the State taking giant steps in farm production, mechanisation and use of modern technology have become the mantras for success. Quick to respond to the situation that demanded constant evolution of techniques to meet the growing needs of farmers, Nirmal District Collector M Prashanti hit upon the idea to use mobile phones to help them, particularly the marginal farmers, gain easy access to farm machinery such as tractors, rotavators, harvesters and the like. “Rythu Yantra,” a mobile app, is the result of a year-long study of the farmers’ needs in the district, long brainstorming sessions with stake-holders and determination to come up with something unique and useful that would help both the marginal and big farmers. “It is something like the Uber app. The farmer can order for any equipment that he requires, and pronto, he gets it,” says Prashanti in a chat with Telangana Today.
No need of smartphone
What is also unique about the initiative is that the app can not only be downloaded on smartphones and used, but even a farmer who has a feature phone can access the service just by sending an SMS.
“The target group is essentially the small and marginal farmers, owning less than five acre, who hitherto could not afford such luxuries as harvesters and tractors. Since they comprise 85 per cent of the farming population in Nirmal district, we were determined to facilitate access to these machines. Not only do they get quick service and hiring by the hour as per their needs, the cost of hiring is much lower than the going rate in the market,” says the enthusiastic district collector, pointing out that in just four months after its launch, the app facilitated 578 farmers to place their orders for various machines.
How does the arithmetic work for the farmers, the marginal ones who comprise the customers and the big farmers who are the vendors having the machines at their disposal.
“It’s simple. Its a win-win situation for both the small and big farmers, the former because they get the machines at a cheaper rate, and the latter, who as vendors, do not have to keep their machines idle. There was some resistance put up by the big farmers when it came to the issue of pricing for hiring their equipment, but we convinced them over a series of meetings that the sheer volume of business would offset the lower price factor,” Prashanti said, and goes on to add that over 280 vendors have registered themselves on the platform.
So, what motivated the District Collector to look for such solutions to farmers’ problems? “In just the past two to three years, the area under cultivation and agricultural production in the district really took off, thanks to the State government’s programmes like Rythu Bandhu and initiatives like ensuring 24 hours power supply to the farm sector. Agriculture activity more than doubled with 30,000 acre of new land coming under cultivation, and all these meant higher demand for farm machinery. Supply had to match new demands, and this prompted us to work on the issue. We also realised that in every household, be it farmer or otherwise, at least one person has basic knowledge of technology, and we decided to use this to leverage our efforts,” Prashanti says.
With the app proving effective, there would have to be efforts to improvise and offer better services, right? “Yes. Our endeavour is to make it a vibrant platform which also has agriculture extension officers on board. We are expanding the scope of the app in the next one month, adding various other services like video-based agriculture awareness programmes, advisories, access to best agriculture practices, expert advice, locators for fertilizers, and subsequently facilitate placement of orders for fertilisers by farmers and information on schemes pertaining to horticulture and fisheries. All these would be incorporated to make it a completely farmer-friendly and highly useful app,” the district collector said.
Little wonder then that Prashanti and her team of agriculture officials won the “Digital Transformation” award instituted by the Union Information Technology and Communication Ministry for developing ‘Rythu Yantra.”