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ITC e-Choupal 4.0 by mid-2019; shift to mobile platform, handholding of agri-startups key
Business Today - 24 Dec 2018

This initiative now comprises about 6,100 installations  covering over 35,000 villages and serving over 4 million farmers.

Close to  two decades after its launch, e-Choupal, a well-recognised rural-digital  infrastructure network of ITC Ltd, the FMCG, hotels, agri-business and  information technology conglomerate, will take a new avatar as a mobile phone  application.

The new digital platform, or the  e-choupal 4.O, will serve as a plug-and-play platform for agri-startup  companies in India and is expected to be launched by mid-2019.

E-Choupal  was ITC's farmer empowerment initiative by providing internet kiosks in villages.  This initiative now comprises about 6,100 installations covering over 35,000  villages and serving over 4 million farmers. While the existing e-Choupals and  agri-extension programmes of ITC will continue to exist, it will not be  expanded any further as the company will move to initiate the new plug and play  ready digital platform for agri-startups to build and expand their businesses.  "We are refining the services of more than 20 startups at the moment.  These startups will be able to use our platform for providing many services  including location specific weather forecasts, crop advisory, quality testing  of crops etc to farmers," S Sivakumar, head, Agri and IT Business, ITC  says.

E-Choupals,  coupled with flagship agri extension programme - "Choupal Pradarshan  Khet", has been famed for the dissemination of deep understanding of  agricultural practices, collaborations with India's premier research  institutes, and a competitive and efficient supply chain that helped ITC  deliver immense value across the agricultural value chain. It has helped ITC's  agri-business too as it routes its procurement needs almost entirely through  such networks. In fact, ITC's strength in agri business is the extensive  backward linkages it has established with the farmers. This networking with the  farming community has enabled ITC to build a highly cost effective procurement  system.

"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. The e-Choupal model creates a significant two-way  multi-dimensional channel, which can efficiently carry products and services  into and out of rural India, while recovering the associated costs through  agri-sourcing led efficiencies," the company states.

In line  with its mission of improving the quality of life in rural India, ITC's agri  business has launched a flagship extension programme called ‘Choupal Pradarshan  Khet' (CPK) or demonstration plots to help farmers enhance farm productivity by  adopting agricultural best practices.

Started in  2005-06, ITC's Choupal Pradarshan Khet (CPK) or demonstration plots to help  farmers enhance farm productivity cover a wide range of crop portfolio  including soya, paddy, cotton, maize, bajra, wheat, gram, mustard, sunflower  and potato. Over the years, ITC has undertaken 83,388 number of CPKs covering  4.4 Lakh acres under crop development project, in approximately 5,000 villages  benefiting more than 10 Lakh farmers.

"Out of the  10 lakh aggregate beneficiaries, incomes of around 34,000 farmers have doubled  (107 per cent growth) by adopting all the practices and recommended inputs.  Balance farmer's income has also shown an income increase of 30 per cent to 75  per cent, depending on adoption of various recommended practices. It was found  that the farmers are happy with the interventions by ITC as their yield and  income has increased considerably, post ITC's intervention", the company claims.

Moving away  from desktop-based interface at the village level to a mobile platform based  e-Choupal 4.O will not change the basic features of ITC's approach to  increasing farmer income, says Sivakumar, adding that addressing the four  elements of the farmer profitability equation - improve farm productivity,  improve product quality & integrity, reduce cost of cultivation & risk  mitigation - will remain the focus.

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