A simple app devised by Ruchinilo Kemp is helping farmers in the remote villages of Udaipur district reach out to agriculture experts across the country.
Farmers across the country are similar in many ways. They worry about the monsoons, they pray for a good harvest, they spend sleepless nights fretting about the health of their crops and despair about getting the right price for their efforts – all with little to no guidance from experts in the field of agricultural sciences.
Farmers in Kotra Tehsil, however, have been breathing easy for the last few months. They have all the information they need to deal with each of these situations right at their fingertips.
Image for representation only. Source: Facebook
Today, a farmer from the small village of Cheekla can connect with professors in Udaipur’s Maharana Pratap Agriculture University and find a way to revive his dying crops. Experts from the Krishi Vigyan Kendra can help a farmer deal with his diseased crops by assessing the situation through photographs and videos. Farmers from Gura and Buriya can, through texts in their mother tongue, reach out to scholars at the Indian Council of Agricultural Research in Delhi. All thanks to Ruchinilo Kemp and his app.
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In April 2015, Ruchinilo graduated from IIT Guwahati with a Masters in Development Studies: “I was on the lookout for a programme that would not only help me create an impact, but would also help me explore myself. That’s when I learnt of the SBI Youth for India Fellowship through a senior,” recalls Ruchinilo.
Ruchinilo joined the Fellowship in August 2015, and began working with Seva Mandir, an NGO that deals with a variety of issues related to rural and tribal development.
“It was when I was out in the field that I realised one of the biggest problems farmers face is communication. Farmers, implementing agencies and NGOs and, on a larger scale, even agro-exporters, are all stakeholders. But farmers find it difficult to convey what is happening on the ground to others,” Ruchinilo explains.
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He was also made aware of the problems the farmers were facing in cultivating hybrid vegetable seeds: “It is all still new to them, they haven’t been cultivating these seeds for long, and the problem is that these seeds – unlike regular seeds – are more prone to climate variations and water scarcity issues,” says Ruchinilo.
“They need a lot of support to cultivate the seeds at optimal level; they need guidance from the NGOs as well as technical help from external experts.”
Initially, Ruchinilo thought of buying and distributing mobile phones among the farmers, thereby giving them the means to call and connect with experts directly: “We are working in nine villages. So I thought I’ll buy nine phones, one for each village,” Ruchinilo says.
But the issue of power relations between donors and beneficiaries kept him from pursuing the idea:
“If I buy phones to give them, they will have a sense of indebtedness to me. They will think of it as an act of charity and will not have a feeling of ownership, of entitlement about it,” explains Ruchinilo.
Determined to ensure that the farmers developed a sense of ownership about the project and viewed him not as a donor but as a partner in their development, Ruchinilo urged the farmers to pitch in and buy common smartphones or use existing phones for their respective communities.
Ruchinilo’s determination to ensure the participation of the farmers also led to him expanding his project to include the development of a multi-purpose app:
“I used Information Communication Technology (ICT) in the form of a mobile interface to develop an app for farmers where, if they are facing any problems, they can reach out to experts. They can also use the app to create reports about their farm and build a knowledge bank. This will prove to be very useful to the communities in the future,” he explains.
“The objective is to connect farmers with individuals who are experts in the agriculture sciences in order to promote knowledge sharing and sharing of best farming practices,” Ruchinilo elaborates.
With the app, a farmer can reach out to five experts in different parts of the country. He can communicate using photographs, videos or even text messages in his mother tongue.
Queries and requests for help from the farmers are then picked up by the Cloud. These make their way to Ruchnilio and his team, who filter the messages and direct them to the appropriate experts.
The experts receive the messages in the form of email notifications. They are also able to access the location and other relevant information about the farmer on their ‘dashboards.’ Typically, these experts respond within a few short hours.
“It’s like an agricultural extension service,” Ruchnilo sums up succinctly.
The project was launched in October 2015 and, in just eight months, the app has already met with resounding success. “In the months of January and February, we saw close to five or six queries from farmers a day,” Ruchinilo says.
The app has helped 44 farmers in nine villages across Udaipur district connect with experts who can help them efficiently navigate the choppy waters of being a farmer in India.
What’s more impressive is that the entire initiative required no funds: “I have a background in programming and assembled the app myself, using open data sources,” Ruchinilo says.
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There were quite a few challenges along the way: “Our biggest problem was getting the farmers and the communities to internalise the use of the app,” says Ruchinilo.
“We ran training programmes, taught them how to use the app, and also helped them realise the value and power of the Internet.”
The Fellowship has been an unforgettable experience for him: “Since the beginning of the Fellowship in August 2015, the journey has taken me to different opportunities, learnings and challenges.”
“It has been a humbling and invaluable experience to meet people from different communities and organisations. I think the entire experience has equipped me with the foresight to observe things maturely,” he says.
Ruchinilo is now looking forward to scaling up his initiative and impacting the lives of more farmers in the state.