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Empower the poor for growth
Hindustan Times - 27 May 2004

Jayanta Das

ITC's unique "e-Choupal" project has been turned around to portray a good example of how corporate objectives and social responsibility can be married.

The project being awarded the inaugural 'World Business Award' instituted jointly by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), and the HRH (His Royal Highness) Prince of Wales International Business Leaders Forum (IBLF) further showcases that perceptible difference to the quality of life could be made by the private sector.

The 'e-Choupal' initiative is the single largest information technology-based intervention by a corporate entity in rural India.

'e-Choupal' enables the Indian farmer to readily access crop-specific real-time information and customised knowledge in his own native language. It thus improves the farmer's decision-making ability, thereby helping him to better align his farm output to the projected demand in Indian and international markets.

The farmer's ready and easy access to expert knowledge helps him significantly improve the quality of his crop and the productivity of his land, thereby fetching him much better returns. The network also helps aggregate demand in the nature of a virtual producers' co-operative, in the process facilitating the farmer's access to higher quality farm inputs at lower costs.

Effectively the activity seeks to empower the farmer to take his decisions and act based on market feedbacks.

At present, reaching out to more than 2.4 million farmers in 21,000 villages and six states through 4,100 e-Choupals, they are also customised based on specific products like soya and aquaculture.

Forming a crucial part of the value chain from the farm to factory gate, essentially for the economy as a whole, it also serves the purpose of lower costs and better returns.