The August 31 2008 issue of The Week magazine features e-Choupal among the '10 biz ideas that changed India'.
The Article says:
building a farmer-centric ecosystem that is not government-owned and
run and creating virtual markets in rural India
Entrepreneur: S. Sivakumar
Its aim is to ultimately become a universal platform for any kind of
information-farming, social services, finance-that villagers would want
access to. But like all transforming ideas, it was initially dismissed
as 'unrealistic and impractical'. But S. Sivakumar, head, international
business and agricultural division, ITC, was unfazed. He was convinced
that as long as the process was simple and visibly useful and
beneficial, the Indian farmer would learn to use IT to his advantage.
Sivakamar was proved right. Within a short while of being rolled out, the concept caught on.
Operating out of village internet kiosks managed by the farmers, called
sanchalaks, the e-Choupal gave to the agricultural community convenient
access in their local language to information on weather, market
scenarios, scientific farm practices and risk management and
facilitating the sale and purchase of farm inputs (with embedded
knowledge on how to use optimally).
Appreciating the imperative of the much-abused middlemen in the Indian
rural context, it makes use of their physical transmission capabilities
like aggregation, logistics and bridge financing, while eliminating
them from the chain of information flow and market signals.
But how did the idea germinate? It all started when Sivakumar
emphasised to group chairman Y. C. Deveshwar that if the company wanted
to grow in the agri business, it needed to pump in more money along the
value chain. Deveshwar had initially suggested using models similar to
that of Ebay and Amazon. But he finally fell in with Sivakumar's
concept and the first e-Choupal became operational in June 2000.
Sivakumar admitted though that initially even he was not sure whether
the project would be able to establish trust with the farmers.
But the problem was just in the mind. Having set aside two days for
training six sanchalaks to begin with, they were taken by surprise when
they completed the first phase of training in only three hours.
Said Sivakumar: "Unlike the typical urban methodology of starting with
the basics, we started with the benefits of e-Choupal and how farmers
could derive them." With input from the farmers, the choupal web portal
Since it was aimed at making markets more transparent and enhancing the
bargaining power of farmers, it saw some resistance from traders. But
by 2004, e-Choupal became firmly established through nearly 6,500
kiosks across nine states (MP, Haryana, Uttaranchal, Karnataka, Andhra
Pradesh, UP, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Kerala).
ITC aims to reach 15 states by 2010, covering 1,00,000 villages with
20,000 choupals. It also plans to expand its horizon of services:
including fruits and vegetables in its portfolio of agricommodities,
besides adding information on health services, vocational education and