m- Kisan Portal - Mobile Based Services for Farmers in India
Authors: Chandan Kumar Rai1, Arti2, Gajanand Palve1and Sanjeev Kumar1
1Ph.D. Scholar, Dairy Extension Division, NDRI, Karnal-132001, Haryana, India
2Ph.D. Scholar, DES&M, NDRI, Karnal-132001, Haryana, India

Pervasive and extensive use of the ICT is an important tool of agricultural extension. Under the National e-Governance Plan – Agriculture (NeGP-A), various modes of delivery of e-enabled services have been envisaged. These include internet, touch screen kiosks, agri-clinics, private kiosks, mass media, Common Service Centres, Kisan Call Centres, and integrated platforms in the departmental offices coupled with physical outreach of extension personnel equipped with pico-projectors and hand held devices. However, mobile telephony (with or without internet) is the most potent and omnipresent tool of agricultural extension. The project conceptualized, designed and developed in-house within the Department of Agriculture & Cooperation has widened the outreach of scientists, experts and Government officers posted down to the Block level to disseminate information, give advisories and to provide advisories to farmers through their mobile telephones. SMS Portal was inaugurated by the Hon’ble President of India on July 16, 2013 and since its inception nearly 50 crore messages or more than 152 crore SMSs have been sent to farmers throughout the length and breadth of the country. These messages are specific to farmers’ specific needs & relevance at a particular point of time. These messages generate heavy inflow of calls in the Kisan Call Centres where people call up to get supplementary information. SMS Portal for Farmers has empowered all Central and State Government Organizations in Agriculture & Allied sectors (including State Agriculture Universities, Krishi Vigyan Kendras, Agromet Forecasts Units of India Meteorological Department, ICAR Institutes, Organization in Animal Husbandry, Dairying & Fisheries etc.) to give information/services/advisories to farmers by SMS in their language, preference of agricultural practices and locations. To put it succinctly, almost every Government Department, Office and Organisation from the Ministry Headquarters down to the level of Block having anything to do with agriculture and allied sectors in every nook and corner of the country has been authorised to use this Portal to provide information to farmers on vast gamut of issues.

USSD (Unstructured Supplementary Service Data), IVRS (Interactive Voice Response System) and Pull SMS are value added services which have enabled farmers and other stakeholders not only to receive broadcast messages but also to get web based services on their mobile without having internet. Semi-literate and illiterate farmers are also targeted to be reached by voice messages.

Genesis of the requirement : Extension services in India have gone through vicissitudes since the Green Revolution (from monologues & speeches to personal outreach to farmer to farmer extension to bulk use of non-P2P methods) when targeted approach centred around specific crops in irrigated areas of North India became the major focus. Before modified Agriculture Technology Management Agency (ATMA) scheme was launched in the year 2010, there was no dedicated manpower for extension in agriculture and allied sectors. The Government officials and specialists were also burdened with multifarious duties of implementation of projects, scheme and programmes besides participating in various meetings. Thus a large number of villages remain deprived of interactive methods direct training which were launched after Training & Visit Programme lost its relevance due to sheer disproportionate numbers (farmer population : extension workers) in the rain-fed area that was being focussed upon. Due to vast size, huge population and difficult topography of the country, dissemination of information in timely manner was a major challenge. Electronic media also had its own constraints due to limitation in time slot available and vast area & subjects to be covered in variegated scenario of Indian Agriculture. Despite major improvement in the state of affairs on extension front, the divergent need of the farmers could not be fully addressed. Specific requirements of the farmers based on their crops and agro climatic situation also could not be addressed on a large scale. Therefore, during the XII Plan, a National Mission on Agricultural Extension & Technologies was formulated encompassing not only Extension & ICT but also Seeds & Planting Material, Mechanisation and Plant Protection. SMS Portal has been conceptualised to give a quantum leap in coverage of farmers and geographical area in a timely, specific, holistic and need based knowledge dissemination among the farmers by leveraging the power of mobile telephony in such a way that all sectors use this platform to not only reach out to the farmers but also to address their concerns and queries.

The Objectives of the Project : A centralised knowledge base was first created purely from the farmers’ perspective and was termed Farmers’ Portal ( www.farmer.gov.in) (in Beta version as it is currently only in Hindi and English). While over 800 websites of various departments and organisations related to Agriculture & allied sectors in the Central and State Governments and 80 applications/portals of the Department pertained to agriculture & allied sectors from organisational and schematic view-point, not even one portal existed for the farmers and that was the genesis of the Farmers’ Portal: of which SMS Portal was an integral part. Considering popularity of the portal as reflected from tens of thousands of hits being received by SMS Portal everyday by the user department / organisations as well as farmers & other stakeholders, a new third level domain has now been created for all mobile based services for farmers on a Unified Portal www.mkisan.gov.in.

Objectives of the Portal include: To make SMS and other mobile based services as a tool of 2 way agricultural extension in which not only information/advisory services are provided to farmers as per his/her need in a broadcast mode (in keeping with selection of crop / agricultural practice, requirements and location) but they can also raise specific queries through Pull SMS or USSD.

Making use of huge spread of mobile telephony in the rural areas to cover every farm household in the country to overcome the major impediment in bringing level playing field for small and marginal farmers. Presently, there are about 38 crore mobile telephones in rural areas as against nearly 9 crore farm households. Centralized system wherein different modes of information flow are channelized and spread to the farmers in their own language. Integrated Portal to ensure proper storage in previous advisories/messages and also effective monitoring at various levels. Integration of database of farmers from the State Governments, Universities, KVKs web based registration, Kisan Call Centres etc. Since effective internet penetration in the rural areas is about 5% only, text messaging in the language of the farmer transcends the barriers of digital divide.

Provision of web based services through SMS or USSD is thus the fulcrum of the whole Project.

Integration with other farmer-centric services such as Kisan Call Centres, Common Service Centres, Web Portals for extracting relevant information and also for feeding data from remote locations where Internet is not available or is unreliable.

Unique features of m-Kisan : The SMS Portal has unique features like database to sift farmers down to Block level & to select specific agricultural commodities/animal/bird/fish, rating/correction of messages by the supervisory officers, searchable database of previous advisories, phone number-wise status report on a dashboard, drillable & graphical dashboard, query review interface with email piping etc. Some of the key features are explained in succeeding paragraphs. Nearly 3000 officers and experts from the Government of India (DAC, ICAR, DAHDF, IMD, CWC) and State Governments & its organisations down to Block level, SAUs, KVKs and AMFUs have been activated and are using the Portal in 12 different languages by using easy phonetic typing. More than thousand more such officers & experts have recently applied to get activated.

About 70 lac farmers have already opted to receive advisories & services on their mobile phones. The farmers have been grouped based on the State, District, Block and the Crops/Activities selected by respective farmers. Messages are sent based on technical literature prepared by the authorities, Government orders, websites and, most importantly, Farmers’ Portal (Beta Version) of which SMS Portal is a part. Now, nearly 20 web based services across the country have already been integrated with the SMS Portal and many more are in the queue. Some of these include Buyer-Seller Interface, choice of machine & dealer, Kisan Call Centre, market prices, agro met advisories, NeGP-A roll-out, farm-mechanization, micro-irrigation, animal-husbandry, fertilizer testing etc.

The Portal also has following useful concepts:

  • Concept of approval request protected by mobile and email verification and further safe-guarded by physical cross-check by Activation Authority. This is necessary as messages have monetary value and Portal should not get inadvertently in to the hands of unauthorized persons.
  • Rating and monitoring of messages (including supersession of an earlier message)
  • Drillable dashboard down to the level of every message.
  • Automatic reminder by SMS and email to Activation Authority in case of delay in approval.
  • Blocking and Unblocking wrong and mischievous users.
  • Concept of Guest User for testing of the interface till the stage of composing message (but not sending the same).
  • Auto-signatures in language selected.
  • Deregistration in case of transfer, retirement etc.
  • SMS Delivery Report for every mobile number along with reasons for failure, if any.
  • Integrated Feedback and Query option
  • Uploading of Database.
  • Search by topic, location, administrative unit, location and keyword among previous messages.
Governance Practices Involved: Registration of experts has been simplified and made more broad based reaching out to every nook and corner of the country in every aspect of agriculture and allied sectors in terms of personnel and gamut of issues. The software captures relevant credentials of the expert / officer followed by verification through email and mobile. As a third level safeguard, persons registering for sending SMS to farmers have also to be approved by an administrator before being able to send the message. Apart from advisories and information, a number of government services have been integrated with the portal viz. e-Payment, Licensing of Dealers (Seeds, Fertilizers and Pesticides), Soil Testing and Soil Health Cards, Commodity Price Alerts etc. Monitoring of advisories sent by the experts at different levels is also an inbuilt process wherein a senior officer can view the advisories sent by his subordinates and also rate the same. Wherever needed, these advisories can be revised and resent to the farmers in supersession to the earlier ones. The Dashboard of the portal provides a transparent view of the SMSs sent by experts, which can be drilled down from National to Grass-roots (Block) level officers presenting the messages sent by individual experts at respective levels. Instead of generic advisories & information, area and crop specific information and technical inputs are provided.

Technological Aspects

  • Data Centre created for DACNET Projects and now for NeGP-A is being used for providing these services. No additional hardware/software tools have been procured especially for this project. Thousands of officers who have been sending these messages to farmers have been using hardware already available in their office. .NET Framework with C# and SQL Server 2012 have been used for this project under NeGP-A implementing agency is HP India Sales Pvt. Ltd. which is supplying its own branded hardware.
  • Messages from SMS Portal can be sent to the farmers in in the language of their choice at the time of registration for the service. This is being achieved with the help of easy phonetic typing in 12 different languages. Google, Microsoft and CDAC APIs are being used for this. There has been overwhelming adoption of local languages by the experts as easy phonetic typing is very simple & intuitive to use. Through the use of Email piping all replies given by users/experts from any platform are converged on the dashboard irrespective of the device or interface from which the responses are sent.
Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) - This is a service as old as mobile telephony itself. This can be accessed through any GSM handset – even good old Nokia 3115. There is no special application or internet access required on mobile handset to access USSD.

  • A user dials a short code from his/her handset and chooses among various options provided in a set of response menus during a session of up to 3 minutes in case of mKisan.
  • The progress of one session into the next depends on the user's response. USSD messages in English are 150 alphanumeric characters in length and up to 45 to 60 characters in Unicode (for local language). Local language support depends on type of handset.
Pull SMS: is used by farmers and various stakeholders to extract information from databases by sending SMS in a particular format to any of the following two numbers. 51969 or 7738299899. Pull SMS Service has been currently made available in English script only as all phones have English keyboards. Response will nevertheless be in the language of the State. Gradually all regional languages will be enabled for pull requests also.In case of 7738299899, Pull SMS will be charged as per the rental or special-pack plan of the subscriber.Users will be charged as per the following table (rates applicable as on date) for the messages sent to 51969.

Interactive Voice Response System (IVRS) : is an automated telephony system that interacts with callers, gathers information and routes calls to the appropriate recipient. An IVR application provides pre-recorded voice responses for appropriate situations, keypad signal logic, access to relevant data and potentially the ability to record voice input for later handling. Using computer telephony integration (CTI), IVR applications bring in efficiency in terms of call handling. Generally an IVR system consists of telephony equipment, software applications, a database and the supporting infrastructure.

Types of IVRS calls in mKisan

Outbound Calls – These are used for obtaining feedback of farmers regarding the advisories they are receiving from experts and also on the quality of information being given to them by KCC agents. A farmer can rate the advisory or answer given by KCC agent on the scale of 1 to 5. This service is available in 12 different Indian Languages.

Inbound Calls - Farmers or all other stakeholders can call this number (022-67870177) for giving useful feedback on the services or for obtaining any information from a predefined menue.

PUSH SMS: Although there are about 38 crore mobile telephone connections in rural areas, however internet penetration in the countryside is still very low. Mobile messaging is still the most effective tool so far having pervasive outreach to nearly nine crore farm families. mKisan SMS Portal for farmers enables all Central and State government organizations in agriculture and allied sectors to give information/services/advisories to farmers by SMS in their language, preference of agricultural practices and location. Push SMS portal was inaugurated by the Hon’ble President of India and since then nearly 49 crore messages or more than 152 crore SMSs have been sent to farmers throughout the length and breadth of the country.

Officers from different departments and organizations of Central and State Governments can register themselves for sending advisories to farmers through this portal. Detailed procedure for registration of users is given in the “User Manual” at login page. On approval of registration request by superior/designated officer of the intended user, he can commence using this application for reaching out to the farmers under his/her jurisdiction. Farmers can register themselves for receiving these messages on their mobiles as per their specific needs & relevance at a particular point of time. They can register themselves for this service through any of these channels:-

State/District or block agriculture offices

Source: http://mkisan.gov.in/aboutmkisan.aspx

About Author / Additional Info:
I am currently pursuing PhD (Agricultural Extension Education) at ICAR-NATIONAL DAIRY RESEARCH INSTITUTE, Karnal-132001, Haryana (INDIA).