Mobile Applications to Revolutionise Rural India

Different Truths serialises JAMMAI that focuses on the development in India. An initiative of the present government, it’s an ambitious project. We hope that the blueprint on paper matches the political will of the Modi government. Here’s the third part of the six-part article, Anirban reports.

We dwell on the third topic, Mobile, in the JAMMAI series and elaborate on it. Here’s the detailed discourse on Mobile and Policy Implementation on Mobility.

Business Case: Mobile Usage in Vernacular Languages

Every farmer is concerned about the monsoons, weather report, type of seeds, type of soil, land irrigation methods, time of plantation and many more attributes.

Due to this asymmetric information, the farmers were at a point that allowed them to be fully informed about the attributes beforehand via the suitable means of telecommunications? What if they received messages and information via their vernacular language in their handset? Bangladesh has successfully attributed a part of their success in transforming lives of the farmers, by providing a low cost carrier at the palms of the farmers.

The introduction of simple mobile services designed to help small-scale farmers in emerging markets could boost the farm gate incomes of 7 crores Indian farmers by over Rs. 56,000 crores, in 2020. Simple mobile services could enhance earnings of almost two-thirds of such farmers by an average of Rs. 8,000/- per year, creating a positive impact in communities.

Crop Insurance using mobile


India’s crop insurance program is the world’s largest with more than 25 million farmers need to be insured. But delays in the payment of claims were a major issue and 85 million farmer households remained uninsured. When the monsoon rains failed, or pests and disease ruin their crops, insured farmers often received their claim payments after eight to 12 months, defeating the very purpose of insurance. Delays in settlements, in turn, made it challenging for farmers to repay the bank loans they had taken for buying seeds and fertilizers at the time of planting. This jeopardised their ability to borrow again for the next crop, reducing their planting, or pushing them into a vicious cycle of debt with money lenders. Several attempts to tackle this issue had not met with success. Since it was virtually impossible to measure the yield of each farm given the millions of small landholdings, the prevailing practice was to estimate the average yield of a particular area by harvesting and weighing the crop from part of a field in a Crop-Cutting Exercise (CCE). If the yield proved to be below the historical average, insurance claims for the area were valid. But data from CCEs was unreliable and prone to manipulation, and there were long delays in it reaching the insurance agencies, leading insurers to raise farmer premiums to compensate for the greater risk. In addition, local weather conditions such as hailstorms that impact only a few farms within an area could not be accounted for, making it difficult for farmers to put in a genuine claim.


Since getting reliable and quick data on crop yields was critical to the success of the insurance program, Global Positioning System (GPS) and video-enabled cell phones were used to record the entire crop-cutting process. Under the process, a government field worker conducting the CCE would take geo-tagged and time stamped photos on a mobile phone, video recording the entire harvest in one continuous shot. The geo-tagging, which recorded the GPS coordinates, and time stamping ensured that insurance workers were indeed at the right place at the right time, leaving no room for data manipulation. A mobile phone app then transferred the recorded data—yield, date, time, nature of crop, location of CCE, weight—to large servers on a near real time basis. The data was then uploaded onto a website for consolidation and analysis, creating a database of CCEs, and can have the processing and settlement of insurance claims.


To get the best results, these are the following points:

  1. Premiums– Insurers can have to receive a transparent, reliable and timely crop data, reducing the possibility of data manipulation, and allowing for lower insurance premiums.

2. Balance– Insured farmers benefit from the faster payment of claims. The new method that allows for an interim payout to farmers, closer to the time than the actual loss was incurred. This arrangement provided an estimated 400,000 farmers with much needed cash flow during the cropping season, with the balance to be paid to them at the end of the season. Previously, when a farmer would normally have had to wait for several months for a claim to be settled, he can potentially get the money in a few days.

  1. Partners– The Government of India (GOI) may have historically focused on crop insurance to mitigate the natural risks of farming. The country’s main crop insurance program, the National Agriculture Insurance Scheme (NAIS), can be implemented by the public crop insurer, the Agriculture Insurance Company of India (AICI).

  2. Moving Forward– The government of India can express interest in scaling up this initiative across the country. Because it is difficult to conduct yield verification exercises (CCEs) over millions of very small land holdings across the country, the use of remote sensing technology is being considered to help concentrate the exercise in areas where there is a higher incidence of crop failure. This option will help to compensate farmers accurately who genuinely deserve insurance payments.

  3. Crop Insurance Mobile App.- The Government of India spends huge amounts in extending crop insurance to the farmers so as to provide them relief in case of unforeseen eventualities. Crop insurance is extended by both public and private insurance companies.  States/UTs nominate insurance companies to extend insurance cover for different crops in districts/blocks.  There is also a specific period during which farmers may avail this facility.  Due to administrative and technical reasons much of this information is not able to reach to the farmers well in time to take advantage of these schemes.  This Crop Insurance mobile app can be used to find out complete details about cover available but also to calculate the Insurance Premium for notified crops based on area, coverage amount and loan amount in case of a loan to a farmer. It can also be used to get details of normal sum insured, extended sum insured, premium details and subsidy information of any notified crop in any notified area.

  4. Agri Mobile App– Farmers sometimes have to suffer losses due to distress sales in absence of correct market information. They can take an informed decision based on information about the ongoing prices in markets around them as to which market they should take their produce for selling.  This App may be developed with an aim to keep them abreast with crop prices around them. Agri Mobile App can be used to get the market price of crops in the markets within 50 km of the device’s location. This app automatically can capture the location of person using mobile GPS and fetches the market prices of crops in those markets which fall within the range of 50 km. There is another option to get price of any market and any crop in case person does not want to use GPS location. The prevailing prices are fetched from the portal.

Mobile Projects that can come up in Rural India

Some of the applications that can come up in the rural India are:

Application No. 1: Real-time Decision-support Tools:

It can offer real-time decision-support tools to progressive farmers and organisations supporting progressive farming. The project can work on revenue generating business model. The services provided are broadly to farmers include, localised – remote crop diagnostic solution; audio prompted guide application (in English/Marathi/Hindi); remote crop and land properties based disease diagnostics; micro-weather info (temp, cloud cover, precipitation); SMS enabled register and query mechanism; online poll for registered users; spam, search, rank features; and service is available on GSM and CDMA networks. It is a problem-solving system dedicated to find solutions to problems posed by Indian farmers – small and large. Answers to agro-related queries are sent in 24 to 72 hours depending on the difficulty.

Application No. 2: Fishermen Friendly:

Upon sending a single-button-click request from an icon-based software module on mobile, fishermen gain access to vital updates on wave height, wind speed and direction, potential fishing zones, news, government schemes and market prices. All content is displayed in the local language.

Application No. 3: Connect Farmers to Ecosystem:

It can connect farmers with an ecosystem that empowers them to make efficient decisions about agriculture, drive profits, and conserve the environment. This allows the farmer to make a query in a local language from a mobile phone and receive personalised advice or relevant information on the same in local language. This is the project that can work on private partnership based revenue generating business model in Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh states. It is testing to test its sustainability with Indian farmers needs. The services that can be provided are broadly to farmers include, crop disease diagnosis; sensors based remote land & crop property recording (grape, cotton, soybean and potato); micro- weather Information (temp, cloud cover, precipitation) and service is available on CDMA networks only, but not on GSM networks.

Application No. 4: Customised Price Information to Farmers:

It can offer Indian farmers up-to-date, local and customised commodity pricing information, news and weather updates. The project is working on public private partnership (PPP) revenue generating business model in Maharashtra and Punjab states. The broad services provided to farmers include, localised – commodity pricing (Onion, Cotton, Soybean, Pulses, Pomegranate et al); weather updates; news (agriculture & general) and service is available on GSM networks only, but not on CDMA networks.

Application No. 5: Use IFFCO’s Extensive Reach:

The idea is to make use of IFFCO’s (Indian Farmer Fertiliser Co-operative) deep extensive reach and establish a low cost telecom distribution channel through the network of cooperative societies. To accomplish the task, IFFCO can tie up with Airtel, and can build and offer a platform for the farmers through the cooperative society network. The unique venture provides the farmer the much desired inputs on real time basis which is going to help a farmer on agri-related issues and would guide him for his day to day chores. The project can work on public-private-NGO partnership based revenue generating business model across major states covering in two stages. The services to farmers include, telecom products and services of Airtel; free daily voice updates on VAS platform (mandi prices,  farming  techniques,  weather  forecasts  and  fertilizer  availability)  and  dedicated helpline for farmers to answer their queries.

Application No. 6: Catering to Emerging Markets:

It will be having a range of agriculture, education and entertainment services designed especially for the consumers in small towns and rural areas of the emerging markets. It works on private partnership (PP) based revenue generating business model in India. The services include information on seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, weather (temperature, rainfall, wind conditions) and prices in English, Marathi and Hindi language option and prevailing market prices, education service in dual language display option.

Application No. 7: Increase Farm Productivity:

It aims to assist farmers by providing exhaustive information covering all areas in timely and customised manner to meet specific local needs to increase the overall productivity of agricultural practices. The services provided specific to farmers include, information on seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, disease and farming input; market prices and weather (micro-climatic, rain/storms, temperature, humidity, precipitation, wind speed) on weekly and monthly basis.

Application No. 8: Agriculture Information Services:

It can be an integrated, multi-modal Agricultural information system, which provides several dynamic and useful information and advisory services for the farming community across the states. The core deliverable and achievements of the project is an integrated multi-component, multi-modal delivery of Agriculture Information Services system that is accessible anywhere anytime by all concerned. The project can be adopted a strategy of providing right information to the right people in the right context and empowers the farmers with adequate knowledge, which helps them to take better decision. The project solves the problem of content gaps by providing the authentic agricultural information though various delivery methods like Television, Internet, Telephone, and Mobile. The farmers may choose any medium to seek the relevant information. The project offers the following major services through the effective integration of ICT systems and tools to reaching out to the farming community.

Application No. 9: Four Projects:

This scheme has four categories of projects under this scheme:

  • The provision of subsidised mobile VAS (mVAS) subscriptions to Self Help Groups(SHGs), which are valid for at least a year.
  • The setting up of SHG run mobile repair centres in rural areas.
  • The setting up of SHG run modem repair centres in rural areas.
  • The  setting  up  of  SHG  run  solar  based  mobile  phone/  Fixed  Wireless Terminals (phones) charging centres in rural areas.

It is widely accepted that access to Information and Communication Technology (ICT) may play a crucial role in the development to rural and remote areas and the people residing in such places. This programme envisages using ICT to facilitate the process of empowerment of rural women through delivery of information and skill enhancement.

Application No. 10: Agropedia:

Content availability and its intelligent organisation continue to be a serious challenge in agriculture. This prevents offer of meaningful and efficient advisory and allied services to farmers and other stakeholders. Agropedia is an attempt to infuse semantic and social networking technologies into agriculture information management to alleviate this problem. In its short span, it can have developed several path breaking concepts and demonstrated their feasibility:

  • Crop knowledge models (KMs) which are network representations of agriculture knowledge
  • Use of KMs for tagging content and people; useful for searching information and locating people with similar interest
  • Content management platform for storing and searching everything in agriculture
  • Agropedia deployment options appliances for off-line/on-line access where the connectivity is poor
  • Social  networking  platform like  wikis,  blogs,  chat  rooms  for  interconnecting agriculture community.

Agropedia also managed to attract human resources from FAO and could connect and link up with several National and International organizations.

The agropedia platform stands today as a model of content organisation, its core strengths being semantic web techniques and the methodology to build (and link) knowledge models for crop science and farming systems.  These elements have combined to make agropedia a  pioneering ICT enabler for  agriculture  in India. The addition of social networking technologies and open agri, a knowledge repository, can have added depth to agropedia’s capabilities.

The KVKs aim at technology assessment and refinement and work as knowledge and resource centre in the district. However, with a purpose of extending their reach to large number of farmers on real time basis, some experimentation on mobile applications have been worked out in collaboration with technology and subject matter institutions to create an architecture of content management and its delivery in the form of text and voice messages using mobile phones. A voice KVK (vKVK) is a set of advisors (KVK experts) and peers (lead smallholder farmers) connected through mobile and internet technologies. In the vKVK, the interaction between the two parties can be entirely electronic. The agropedia platform acts as ‘middle ware’ for this interaction providing amplification (one-to-many and many-to-one), persistence (messages are stored and can be searched, retrieved), monitoring and other utilities which are possible when the content is electronically stored and semantically indexed. Sub-systems are developed to address the needs of vKVK scientists, farmers and the middle ware to deliver advisory services, alerts and Q&A services over SMS, voice and Web. Mainly E to F (Expert to Farmer), F to E (Farmer to Expert) and E to E (Expert to Expert) services can be tested and operationalised in voice mode.

Conclusion: There have been experiments in technology dissemination using ICT, but the mobile applications recently started may revolutionalise the information reach to the resource poor small farmers on real time basis. The content development for different clientele groups in different languages is a challenge but voice messages give an easy option for delivery and its understanding by users in case of most of the handsets. Text messages in different languages may be a limitation on some of the handsets. The cost of voice messages is higher which may be brought down with technology development. The development of appropriate software, content development and its authentication and farmer friendliness, reducing cost of message delivery and involvement of different players may bring an environment of efficient use of mobile services. Timely and actionable information from trusted sources, locally relevant, storable and reference able and access of experts may enhance the effectiveness of mobile services. Video calling facility may further enhance the quality of communication.

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Anirban Kar

Anirban Kar is a technology and business consultant, who has earned his education degree in two continents, the USA and from India. His work started from 2003 in TCS, and comprised
of various clients ranging across geographies. His area of interest is business modeling,
enterprise architecture and investment analysis.