Calling for help

One the aspects we are looking at is how to get information to the smallholder farmer. The University of Heryana operates one of India’s many agricultural call centers. The photo above is of the call center answering a farmer’s question. I have to admit that I was expecting to see banks of operators to answer questions but this single phone is what is 1.3 million farmers get. It’s not that the university does not know there is more demand – especially with the phone being operated only six hours a week – but they cannot afford to operate more phones because the toll-free number is too expensive for more use.

One of the possible solutions we offered was that of using SMS messaging. Most of the farmers who call have cell phones with SMS messaging capability. SMS messages are inexpensive in India. While SMS broadcast messages clearly don’t answer some questions, much information is routine, such as when is the best time to plant or what pesticide to use for the current infestation. The university had considered SMS messaging but they thought that typing Hindi characters on the mobile phone would be too difficult. While typing Hindi characters on a mobile phone keyboard is very difficult, it’s not a problem to send from a computer. Given that the SMS would be a broadcast from the university to farmers that subscribe, the limitations of typing on a cell phone – or mobile as they call it here – is not an issue.

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