Saturday, January 14, 2012

India to launch spoken web service for farmers

Farmers across the country can soon get their agriculture and weather-related queries answered quickly. The Indian government is planning to launch a spoken web service that will provide an interactive medium for the farming community.


In a country where close to 60 percent of the 1.21 billion population still depends on agriculture for a living, the spoken web service can be a boon to farmers in distant areas.

The Ministry of Earth Sciences has approached IT giant IBM to design a dedicated agromet (agriculture meteorological) service for farmers. The company has recently launched a similar service for farmers to connect them to Amul Dairy.

The ministry already provides SMS and an Integrated Voice Response System (IVRS) service to farmers, giving them farming information, weather and climatic details to help them meet agricultural targets.

The need for the spoken web service was felt to provide information in an interactive mode. "Through SMS and IVRS service, farmers only get updates but through spoken web service they can ask questions and get answers for their queries related to agriculture," Shailesh Nayak, secretary in the ministry, told IANS.

Nayak said the ministry has approached IBM for developing the dedicated service for farmers.

However, IBM denied any information on the project.

Spoken web is a project where people can speak and interact with web information through voice. Farmers can dial a toll-free number and ask questions and get them answered. Specific questions would be recorded and later answered by experts.

"Spoken web service will be of great use to illiterate farmers who are not technologically equipped," he said.

The SMS and IVRS mode were launched in 2009 covering 5,000 farmers. It now covers 2.8 million growers and by 2017 the method would cover 20 million.

While the India Meteorological Department (IMD) dishes out the weather report, the Integrated Agromet Advisory Service -- involving organisations like the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), Ministry of Agriculture (Central and State) and State Agricultural Universities (SAUs) -- gives weather-based agro advisories specifically meant for the farming community.

The SMSs are being sent to farmers in their regional language on their mobile phones. The IVRS was developed keeping in mind illiterate people as they can listen to an automated message and get farming information.

The short and timely alerts to farmers about the weather have led to economic benefits worth a whopping Rs.50,000 crore annually.

According to a National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER) report, roughly 24 percent of farmers in over 550 districts are either aware or using the Agromet services, while two million farmers are availing themselves of the mobile SMS service which started over a year ago.

The report says the Rs.50,000 crore figure could rise to Rs.211,000 crore if the entire farming community in the country was to judiciously use the Agromet information and apply it to agricultural activities.