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Farmers e-nabled - Markets Not Antipathic To Masses
The Economic Times - 26 May 2004

Editorial

Shining in the rural Indian market can help corporates achieve international recognition. That could be one way of interpreting the news that ITC's e-choupal has just won the first World Business Award, instituted jointly by the United Nations Development Programme, the International Chamber of Commerce and the Prince of Wales International Business Leaders Forum. The award seeks to honour business initiatives that reduce poverty by creating sustainable livelihood opportunities, in tune with the Millenium Development Goals articulated by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

Mr. Annan had wanted the world community to halve poverty and hunger by 2015, achieve universal primary education, promote gender equality and reverse the spread of HIV/Aids, malaria and TB. Mr. Annan had acknowledged that "We cannot reach these goals without support from the private sector. We cannot reach them without a strong private sector in the developing countries themselves, to create jobs and build prosperity."

ITC's e-choupal was selected for the award from 64 nominations in 27 countries. The e-choupal initiative is perhaps the single largest information technology (IT)- based intervention by a corporate entity in rural India. Through kiosks set up at convenient places in the rural hinterland, the e-choupal enables the Indian farmer to access crop-specific real-time information in his language. ITC's rationale is that the e-choupal will help the farmer align his output with the projected demand in Indian and foreign markets, thereby improving his earnings. There is also the logic that the farmer can secure higher quality inputs at lower costs with the e-choupal network aggregating demand on the lines of a co-operative. ITC estimates that some 24 lakh farmers are covered by 4,100 e-choupal installations in 21,000 villages in six states. The target is to cover 100,000 villages - one-sixth of rural India - over the next decade. Concepts like e-choupal prove that markets are not antipathic to the masses and that business profits can go hand with social purpose.