ITC's Agri Business Division, one of India's largest exporters of agricultural commodities, has conceived e-Choupal as a more efficient supply chain aimed at delivering value to its customers around the world on a sustainable basis.
The e-Choupal model has been specifically designed to tackle the challenges posed by the unique features of Indian agriculture, characterised by fragmented farms, weak infrastructure and the involvement of numerous intermediaries, among others.
'e-Choupal' also unshackles the potential of Indian farmer who has been trapped in a vicious cycle of low risk taking ability > low investment > low productivity > weak market orientation > low value addition > low margin > low risk taking ability. This made him and Indian agribusiness sector globally uncompetitive, despite rich & abundant natural resources.
Such a market-led business model can enhance the competitiveness of Indian agriculture and trigger a virtuous cycle of higher productivity, higher incomes, enlarged capacity for farmer risk management, larger investments and higher quality and productivity.
Further, a growth in rural incomes will also unleash the latent demand for industrial goods so necessary for the continued growth of the Indian economy. This will create another virtuous cycle propelling the economy into a higher growth trajectory.
Appreciating the imperative of intermediaries in the Indian context, 'e-Choupal' leverages Information Technology to virtually cluster all the value chain participants, delivering the same benefits as vertical integration does in mature agricultural economies like the USA.
'e-Choupal' makes use of the physical transmission capabilities of current intermediaries - aggregation, logistics, counter-party risk and bridge financing -while disintermediating them from the chain of information flow and market signals.
With a judicious blend of click & mortar capabilities, village internet kiosks managed by farmers - called sanchalaks - themselves, enable the agricultural community access ready information in their local language on the weather & market prices, disseminate knowledge on scientific farm practices & risk management, facilitate the sale of farm inputs (now with embedded knowledge) and purchase farm produce from the farmers' doorsteps (decision making is now information-based).
Real-time information and customised knowledge provided by 'e-Choupal' enhance the ability of farmers to take decisions and align their farm output with market demand and secure quality & productivity. The aggregation of the demand for farm inputs from individual farmers gives them access to high quality inputs from established and reputed manufacturers at fair prices. As a direct marketing channel, virtually linked to the 'mandi' system for price discovery, 'e-Choupal' eliminates wasteful intermediation and multiple handling. Thereby it significantly reduces transaction costs.
'e-Choupal' ensures world-class quality in delivering all these goods & services through several product / service specific partnerships with the leaders in the respective fields, in addition to ITC's own expertise.
While the farmers benefit through enhanced farm productivity and higher farm gate prices, ITC benefits from the lower net cost of procurement (despite offering better prices to the farmer) having eliminated costs in the supply chain that do not add value.
Launched in June 2000, 'e-Choupal', has already become the largest initiative among all Internet-based interventions in rural India. 'e-Choupal' services today reach out to over 4 million farmers growing a range of crops - soyabean, coffee, wheat, rice, pulses, shrimp - in over 40,000 villages through 6500 kiosks across ten states (Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Uttarakhand, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Kerela and Tamil Nadu).
The problems encountered while setting up and managing these 'e-Choupals' are primarily of infrastructural inadequacies, including power supply, telecom connectivity and bandwidth, apart from the challenge of imparting skills to the first time internet users in remote and inaccessible areas of rural India.
Several alternative and innovative solutions - some of them expensive - are being deployed to overcome these challenges e.g. Power back-up through batteries charged by Solar panels, upgrading BSNL exchanges with RNS kits, installation of VSAT equipment, Mobile Choupals, local caching of static content on website to stream in the dynamic content more efficiently, 24x7 helpdesk etc.
Going forward, the roadmap includes plans to integrate bulk storage, handling & transportation facilities to improve logistics efficiencies.
As India's 'kissan' Company, ITC has taken care to involve farmers in the designing and management of the entire 'e-Choupal' initiative. The active participation of farmers in this rural initiative has created a sense of ownership in the project among the farmers. They see the 'e-Choupal' as the new age cooperative for all practical purposes.
This enthusiastic response from farmers has encouraged ITC to plan for the extension of the 'e-Choupal' initiative to altogether 15 states across India over the next few years. On the anvil are plans to channelise other services related to micro-credit, health and education through the same 'e-Choupal' infrastructure.
Another path-breaking initiative - the 'Choupal Pradarshan Khet', brings the benefits of agricultural best practices to small and marginal farmers. Backed by intensive research and knowledge, this initiative provides Agri-extension services which are qualitatively superior and involves pro-active handholding of farmers to ensure productivity gains. The services are customised to meet local conditions, ensure timely availability of farm inputs including credit, and provide a cluster of farmer schools for capturing indigenous knowledge. This initiative, which has covered over 70,000 hectares, has a multiplier impact and reaches out to over 1.6 million farmers.
ITC's e-Choupal has won numerous awards:
- United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) Award at the international conference on Sharing Innovative Agribusiness Solutions 2008 at Cairo for ITC's exemplary initiatives in agri business through the e-Choupal.
- The Ashoka - Changemakers 'Health For All' Award 2006 for the Rural Health Services model for delivery of health services through the e-Choupals.
- The Stockholm Challenge 2006. This award is for using information technology for the economic development of rural communities.
- Innovation for India Award 2006 for ITC e-Choupal in the Social Innovations category for business organizations. The first of its kind in India, based on parameters of number of lives impacted, degree of impact on organization and environment, uniqueness, leverage of resources and whether it was scalable and sustainable, e-Choupal was declared as one of 'India's Best Innovations'.
- The Development Gateway Award 2005 (previously known as the Petersberg Prize) for the trailblazing e-Choupal initiative. ITC is the first Indian company and the second in the world to win this prestigious award.
- The 'Golden Peacock Global Award for Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in Emerging Economies for 2005'. The Company received this award for its e-Choupal and social and farm forestry initiatives that are impactfully transforming lives and landscapes in rural India.
- The Corporate Social Responsibility Award 2004 from The Energy and Resources Institute(TERI) for its e-Choupal initiative. The Award provides impetus to sustainable development and encourages ongoing social responsibility processes within the corporate sector.
- The inaugural 'World Business Award', instituted jointly by the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), the HRH Prince of Wales International Business Leaders Forum (IBLF) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). This award recognises companies who have made significant efforts to create sustainable livelihood opportunities and enduring wealth in developing countries.
- The 'Enterprise Business Transformation Award' for Asia Pacific (Apac), instituted by Infosys Technologies and Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
- PC Quest's IT Implementation Award in the 'Best Project' category.
- The Golden Peacock Innovation Award 2004.
- The NASSCOM award for 'Best IT User in FMCG' in 2003. The Award is a recognition of ITC's successful integration of its IT usage with its business processes.
- The Seagate Intelligent Enterprise of the Year 2003 Award, for the most innovative usage of Information Technology.
|IT Guru Mohanbir Sawhney's article on e-Choupal||Chairman Y C Deveshwar speaks on the e-Choupal|
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