mKrishi – More power at farmers’ hands

The Hindu reports about mKrishi (mobile Krishi) a mobile agro advisory system launched by Tata.  It can help farmers get personalized advise and updated information on their mobile phones about factors that may affect their crops such as weather.

Prima facie, this looks very similar to Nokia’s LifeTools that ThinkChange India reported a few days earlier.  However, there is one critical aspect in which mKrishi goes one step further. mKrishi mobile phones, that run on Tata Indicom’s network, are equipped with sensors that can read and send data about the current status of their crops.  This combined with an on-phone camera, should help agricultural experts provide specific advise experts understanding the on-field situation correctly.

According to K. Ananth Krishnan, vice-president and chief technology officer, TCS, personalised information and advice are given after farmers submit the soil nutrient and farming pattern data (The Hindu)

Further, it is also usable by illiterate farmers to make a query from a cell phone using voice-specific functions and get a response as an audio message.

This initiative has fetched TCS Wall Street Journal Global Innovation Technology Award for 2008. As I researched further to form my own opinion, I came across Ramesh Jain’s post on mKrishi.  He is a Professor of Computer Science and Engineering at University of Michgan, Ann Arbor and an entrepreneur.  I suppose his testimony should have better credibility than mine!

This project is truly revolutionary — it goes farther than most similar projects do.

Pizzas are good for these senior citizens

What do the words “new start-up”  and “garage” bring to your mind? The old stories about how all the tech companies started off to make today’s Silicon Valley? If that sounds a little too boring now, here is something as appetizing as a pizza. Started right here in India’s Silicon Valley by by Padma Srinivasan, 73 and Jayalakshmi Sreenivasan, 75 (as against in The Silicon Valley by a bunch of youngsters), Pizza Haven pumps in the revenues that it earns by catering to school kids and software companies (like HP, now that is some coincidence!) to running an old age home – Vishranti.

“Granny’s pizzas are a hit among the software professionals, not just because they are delicious, but also because they are sold for a cause,” said Padma.

The profit from pizzas and generous donations from some well-wishers have helped in completing the home for the eldely, named Vishranthi (Rest), in June 2008 (news from newkerala.com)

What is there to be learnt from this story? Of course, a for-profit model makes this home’s future secure. But there is a more important lesson. Sustaining a social initiative doesn’t always need a complex innovation! All it needs is for one to look around yourself and identify what they are looking for!

With the current model up and running, is the Vishranthi executive team looking for expansion? Absolutely!

“In Vishranthi, I am also planning to start an orphanage and vocational training centre for poor rural women. And again our pizzas will come in handy to finance all our projects.”

Nokia poised to help farmers to expand its rural base

Nokia is about to launch a set of “Life Tools” to be embedded in its mobile phones in an effort to expand its base into rural India. These Life Tools cater to the needs of the rural community with information on three different sectors namely Agriculture, Education, Entertainment. On agriculture, the Life Tool is likely to offer updated information on weather and market prices for the farmers produce on the mobile phone in the farmers native language.

As the old proverb goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. Nokia’s datasheet on Life Tools provides an easy-to-understand picture. Evidently, this tool is developed not just to penetrate into rural India, but rather to the “rural world”.

If my everyday observation is any testimony, Nokia seems to have a wide user base at the lower economic sections of India, and this tool can be an excellent vehicle for informational empowerment of the rural Indian community. However, given that the rural buy is likely not going to buy these phones off a Nokia Priority Showroom, how Nokia is going to market this tool so that the buyer buys a low cost Nokia phone for its Life Tools rather than its ruggedness, ease of use or longer life would be an interesting point to observe. This may also be the crucial factor that may determine the tool’s success.

Social Entrepreneurship workshop and competition at IIT-Madras

The India chapter of Asia-Pacific Student Entrepreneurship Society (ASES-India) operating out of IIT-Madras is set to conduct workshops running up to a competition in which the best social business plan will be rewarded. Times of India reports,

Participants must submit executive summaries of their business plans by January 25 after which around 15 to 20 teams will be short-listed and mentored.

Results of the first round will be declared on February 1 and the formal mentoring including development of prototypes of short-listed projects will commence on February 15. In all five awards will be given.[Source:

The website created for the competition, named Genesis, indicates that while prizes in the competition bring for good publicity for the winning ideas, the workshops will offer valuable lessons to learn to all the participants, who may also stand to gain from their interaction with people from IIT, Rural Innovations Network, Ashoka, Indian Angel Network, TiE – the partners of ASES-India for this competition.

UFV-CRRID partnership promises grassroot-level business development

Indian Express and Abbynews.com report that University of the Fraser Valley (UFV), Canada and The Centre for Research in Rural and Industrial Development (CRRID) have signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to “empower the rural entrepreneurs of North India.”

“India needs entrepreneurs at the grass roots level, and our partnership with CRRID allows us to fuel business start-ups and the development of SMEs outside the city centres, in the areas that need it most,” said Professor DJ Sandhu, UFV President’s Advisor.

A quick look at the university’s website to find out what the nature reveals some of the ways means of intervention this partnership will possibly employ.

…for example, students enrolled in UFV’s BBA degree at SDCC will be able to work with research faculty at  CRRID to implement projects aimed at uplifting businesses involved in such industries as agriculture and agrifoods.

In a way this partnership is similar to Tata International Social Entrepreneurship Scheme (TISES), a partnership between TATA sons, UC Berkely and Cambridge University. Continue reading

Information sharing improves earning capacity of farmers

About 138 farmers in Pune stand to gain in their productivity today thanks to their membership to Abhinav Farmer’s Club. According to a report in Business Standard, Dnyaneshwar Bodke, using his education in Horticulture Training Center founded the club to share his knowledge on farming exotic fruits, vegetables and flowers to his fellow farmers in 2004.  Funded by National Bank for Agricultural and Rural Development (NABARD) and Canara Bank this club since then seems to have transformed into a peer-to-peer knowledge sharing platform in which farmers brainstorm various aspects of farming. As a result, the sophistication of their farming methods and their productivity seems to have vastly improved.

“Traditional farming compelled the farmers to wait for the required weather conditions to start farming. But, since we do our business in greenhouses and sheds, we are able to control the conditions in which the crops grow. That’s the reason why we are able to excel as we don’t have to depend on nature for the right time to begin,” adds Bodke.

How has this helped the stakeholders? Apart from earning bounties to the farmers, this has also provided employment to over 700 others in the periphery.

The numbers are there for all to see. In 2007, AFC produced 13.2 million flowers and some 250 tonnes of vegetables. Its yearly turnover is a little above Rs 10 crore. Farmers affiliated to the club use drip irrigation and operations in the farms are labour intensive. This keeps their costs under check.

The example set by Abhinav Farmer’s Club along with and the now famous e-Choupal initiative by ITC seems to support the point that access to information is probably the best way to empower the rural India – a point valued by Comat Technologies, a successful social business earlier covered by ThinkChange India.

First XLRI Conference on sustainable development

The Social Entrepreneurship Trust and Social Initiative Group for Managerial Assistance (Sigma) of XLRI, in association with Ashoka and Indianngos.com has planned its first XLRI Social Entrepreneurship Conference. The conference is scheduled to be at XLRI Jamshedpur on January 31st and February 1st 2009.

The theme of the conference would be “providing access for sustainable development” while its purpose is to showcase innovative social entrepreneurship ventures by individual entrepreneurs, NGOs, corporate executives and government agencies.[source The Telegraph]