K.V. Kurmanath

Hyderabad, July 16

After creating a niche for itself in electronic-based agribusiness business activity in rural areas, the ITC-supported e-choupals are now set to graduate to the next level. The e-choupal network is set for both horizontal and vertical strengthening.

"We are expanding the scope. We are scaling up. While focusing on farm productivity, we will attempt to reduce the risk factor for farmers," Mr S. Sivakumar, CEO of ITC's International Business Division, told

Business Line

.

While strengthening the network with upa-sanchalaks in all of the 36,000 villages covered through 6,000 e-choupals, the company is looking at including fruits and vegetables to the list of things e-choupals dealt with.

While the 6,000 e-choupals are represented by sanchalaks, the upa-sanchalaks would provide immediate local contacts to farmers.

"We have appointed 20,000 of them so far and started giving training. We are evaluating various issues to provide physical digital infrastructure to these upa-sanchalaks. Digital experiments are on."

Mr Sivakumar said that this was part of the company's efforts to deepen human infrastructure. Building capacities for sanchalaks also form part of the efforts.

The division is planning to include fruits and vegetables in e-choupal activity as part of the vision to cover one lakh villages. "This will include new geographies and existing villages as well."

This would add to the existing list of grains, pulses, oil seeds and smaller quantities of coffee, aqua and spices.

Realising the importance of providing information on a variety of issues, the company had decided to scale up pradarshan khets (demonstration plots) along e-choupal villages.

The number would go up to 7,500 this year from 500 currently. "The idea is to make these centres further accessible to farmers. They need not go far. These plots would supplement the e-choupal portal."

Services on the anvil

Simultaneously, the company is toying with various options to enhance the quality of life of the farming community by offering insurance, health, and education, using the extensive network.It had grounded a pilot programme for health in Madhya Pradesh and one on education in Maharashtra. Telemedicine service too is on the anvil. As part of efforts to reduce risk for farmers, the company had done a pilot in weather insurance. "We are working with general insurance companies in this regard."

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated July 17, 2006)
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