Meghalaya, a predominantly agrarian State, rich in agro-biodiversity is still yet to unleash its agricultural potential. Many of the States’ commercial and unique produce viz. Lakadong turmeric, organic vegetables, natural honey, coffee, cashewnut, strawberries, etc. are still absent in diverse intra and inter markets of the States. Majority of the farmers are confined to selling their produce in daily/weekly village markets or in main markets in the Districts. Walking through the streets of the biggest market in the state of Meghalaya, Iewduh Shillong, the streets are crammed with vegetables and fruits vendors and producers. This leads to high competition among them and paves way for the wholesalers and traders to suppress the price of the produce, thus depriving the producers of their rightful gain. A large majority of the farmers are still in the dark about different local based organizations or online portals for selling their produce and only a handful of the farmers in the State have access to such marketing platforms. Moreover, the lack of timely access to proper information and poor infrastructure like roads, cold storage facilities, etc. impede farmers from their well-deserved earnings.
The Department of Agriculture, Government of Meghalaya, with the motto of “Connecting farmers to markets’, launched the project 1917iTEAMS (Integrated Technology Enabled Agri Management System) in December 2017. The project which is based on Information Communication Technology (ICT) aims to cater to the needs of the farmers with just a phone call away as mobile telephony is the technology of choice for people from all walks of life today. Further, Meghalaya which ranked among the top 10 States of India with a potential growth rate in rural tele-density (Open Government Data Platform India, 2014), is in a much better position to capitalize on and take benefits from the various digital initiatives for digital empowerment of the masses and provision of digital delivery of various services to the citizens.
1917iTEAMS, a first of its kind project in the hilly terrain, is designed to connect farmers to the Agri- Response Centre(ARC) through a toll-free number 1917 for services related to agro-advisory services, market intelligence and transporting of agricultural produce by Agri-Response Vehicles (ARVs). The project is equipped with Incoming Communication Officers (ICOs) who are Agricultural & Veterinary Masters graduates as Level 1 Experts themselves and Dispatch Officers (DOs) in charge of ARVs. Farmers are connected to the ICOs through the Toll-Free number 1917, where the latter assists them in any queries related to disease and pest management, package of practices on apiculture, fisheries, Sericulture, scheme related information, health management of livestock, providing buyer information and any other allied sectors information. There are also Level 2 escalations to Subject Matter Experts(SMS) who are employees of the Agriculture and Allied State and Central Government departments.
|Photo 2: 1917 iTEAMS ARV loading farmer's produce for transportation|
Although still in its infancy, with just three months of implementation, the 1917iTEAMS project has been able to carry through its intentions and objectives. The project has been able to provide assistance to more than two thousand queries of the farmers especially on crop disease and pest management. In-spite of the fact that the project has not been advertised at large, the ARVs have been the service of choice of about Fifteen Percent newly registered farmers who were in need of transporting agricultural products to and from their villages to markets.
One of the main objectives of 1917iTEAMS is to connect farmers to markets eliminating wasteful intermediation and multiple handling by middlemen, thereby significantly reducing transaction costs. The project has been able to provide a market information platform for a significant percentage of its registered farmers who inquired about selling off their produce. A noteworthy story so far, a registered farmer of 1917iTEAMS from a remote village in Jaintia hills complained to an ICO of 1917iTEAMS about the poor marketing of his produce apropos to which a Shillong based organization was introduced to him for buying his produce. Through this introduction, a successful business transaction was built between the farmer and the organization, and additionally with the farmers of the entire and nearby villages.
Many other successful marketing networks has also been created between the poultry registered farmers of 1917iTEAMS with other Shillong based organizations and local chicken vendors. What is more, in many cases, a marketing network was created by 1917iTEAMS among the registered farmers themselves for buying and selling their required commodities. One such instance where this scenario was applied was for buying and selling of piglets among the registered farmers and this initiative was highly appreciated.
Agriculture is an important sector of Meghalaya’s economy and information is vital for development and well-being of the rural masses. ICT in agriculture can act as a driving force in this development process. 1917iTEAMS has applied ICT to the advantage of Meghalaya’s small, marginal and resource-poor farmers by disseminating timely agricultural information pertaining to soil enrichment, seed selection, disease and pest management, organic cultivation, prevailing markets, demand-supply status in respect of different products and their current market prices. The information helps farmers in taking timely decisions on crop product diversification strategies and positioning of the same in right market to get optimum revenue. With more milestones to accomplish, 1917iTEAMS aims to empower the farmers of the state of Meghalaya to reach their highest potential.
(Article written by 1917-iTEAMS Program Management Unit)