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Thursday, January 27, 2011

ICT intervention in Agricultural Marketing in Meghalaya - By C.S.Shabong*

            Mr. Freeman Rangtong is a progressive farmer from Umsning. He usually sends his broomsticks to wholesale buyers in Mawiong Regulated Market, situated on the outskirts of Shillong; and Ginger to distant wholesellers including outstation buyers/traders. Being a leading farmer from his village, he was informed by agriculture extension workers that current wholesale market prices in Mawiong Regulated Market and Iewduh (the biggest unregulated wholesale market in Shillong also known as BaraBazar and is managed by the Syiem of Mylliem Dorbar) can be viewed and accessed through the computers installed at the Community Information Centre (CIC) located at Umsning Block Development Office. He soon realised that this is indeed a very convenient way of capturing prevailing market prices with the help of the internet, which can be freely accessed through the CIC’s.

Farmers use market information in two ways- current or immediate information to negotiate with traders, to decide whether or not to go to market and, in some cases, to decide which market to visit or supply. Historical information, such as a time series of prices over several years, can be used to make decisions regarding product diversification or the production of out-of-season crops. It can also be used to help subsistence farmers identify opportunities for a cash income.
The task for providing farmers with timely, accurate and relevant information of economic value has eluded many government authorities because of many constraints. Farmers face the dilemma of what crop or combination of crops to plant in the very first instance and their decision are not always invariably linked to market but rely on traditional agricultural practices followed by their ancestors and forefathers. The next decision that a farmer face is when to plant the crop and this decision is usually based on past experience or those recommended by the extension workers and agricultural scientist. The last and important decision is where he will be able to dispose of the produce which is usually his farmgate or nearby rural primary market. Sometimes farmers also sell directly to itinerant traders who visit farms during harvest time, or take their produce to the wholesale market and sell to wholesale traders or directly to consumers. Few farmers also opt to send or take their produce to a more distant market. In some instances, however, farmers may have relationships with traders who have provided them with some form of credit, and they must therefore sell at least part of their produce through those traders.
               In making the decision on where to sell, farmers must consider a number of factors, such as the costs involved in the marketing of the produce, including transport, packaging, and labour. A key consideration in making the decision on where to sell is the farmers’ expectations of prices which may be obtained in the different markets. In making the immediate decision on where to dispose of produce which has already been harvested or needs to be harvested in the near future, farmers need to be aware of the current prices for the produce in different markets.  Knowledge of current market prices would assist them in the bargaining process with traders.
              Mr. Amit Kharmawphlang, also a local youth, on the other hand is a new generation educated businessman with a Master of Business Management (MBA) degree from the Indian Institute of Foreign Trade, New Delhi. He regularly sources ginger from Ri-Bhoi district and sends to outstation buyers in Delhi and other States in the country. He also use the internet/email in his day to day business transaction and regularly scans prevailing market prices of ginger, broomstick, pineapple etc. through the internet to locate business and trade opportunities as well as to keep himself informed of market movements. 
             In the year 2003, The Department of Agriculture, Meghalaya under the leadership of Shri. K. N.Kumar, IAS, Commissioner and Secretary, Agriculture, Government of Meghalaya was very keen to use ICT intervention in order to provide quality information to farmers to enable them to take immediate decision of whether to take their produce to the market or whether to wait for favourable prices. Realising that ICT could be quickly deployed to provided  relevant and need based information to market users, which include not only farmers but even traders and businessmen like Mr. Amit.  In order to maintain credibility, the challenge was to provide information that is meaningful, understandable, reliable and impartial, timely and accurate.

The decision to use the internet for desiminating market and prices information through web based application was a carefully thought out step to harness modern Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) for agriculture development and ushering an era of market driven agriculture in the State. With the able assistance of the National Informatics Centre, Meghalaya Centre, the Directorate of Marketing and Inspection, Shillong and the Meghalaya State Agricultural Marketing Board, the Department of Agriculture was able to conceive, design and successfully implement an internet based market information system which displays prices and arrival information on a wide range of agricultural commodities grown in the State, in real time. The immediate objectives being speedy collection and dissemination of market information from various Rural Primary Markets in the State for its efficient utilisation, to provide timely agricultural market information to stakeholders in the agriculture sector and any other interested parties, to increase the efficiency in marketing by effecting improvement in the existing market information system, to facilitate improved access of agriculture market information to all stakeholders in the agriculture sector and to maintain a reliable database of agriculture marketing on important local produces of the State.
The Tools used for the project were Microsoft Windows 2000 Server, SQL RDBMS at the Back end and Microsoft ASP with VB and JAVA at the Front end. NICNET servers were used to host the web based application and user id’s were created for all the market users from every District and CD Block and Market Centres within the State.          
            This portal is the first web enabled application in the field of agriculture marketing in the State which utilises the 32 Community Information Centres (CIC) for uploading price and arrival information on a wide range of agriculture and horticulture crops grown locally and marketed through those market centres. These CIC nodes are equipped with Server and desktop computers, VSATs based internet connectivity including 2 trained computer operators. Data on prices and arrivals from various rural primary markets are collected by the Horticulture Extension Officer belonging to the directorate of horticulture during each market day, (usually held once in a week) and  entered online on the portal on the same day.
            Through this portal, price and arrival data of 62 markets and 2 daily markets i.e. Iewduh and Mawiong Regulated Market in the East Khasi Hills are displayed.  The web portal can be accessed at Hence efficient, accurate and reliable agricultural marketing information delivery on crop prices and market arrivals including price trends analysis was made possible for the first time in the State including the North Eastern Region. These prices are also used by corporate business organisation like Frito Lays India Ltd. during their market price feasibility studies. Media channels like Doordarshan Kendra Kissan Channel, All India Radio, Kissan Call Centre, Community Information Centres etc. for further propagation to the masses.
( *The writer is presently working as Agriculture Development Officer, Directorate of Agriculture, Government of Meghalaya, Cleve Colony, Shillong-793003 and can be contacted at

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