LifeLines brings e-change in farmers' lives

Technology in governance reaches out to rural masses

sarthak

Sarthak Ray | January 26, 2010


Reaping benefits of technology

Shailendra Singh grows flowers on his land in Naya Khera village in Niwari, Uttar Pradesh. With each call he has made in the last two years to the LifeLines helpline, he has also helped grow a knowledge bank that farmers like him use to reap never-before profits.

One World South Asia's Lifelines agricultural extension service uses simple, easy to use technology to connect rural farmers with agricultural experts. Farmers from 2,011 villages in four states – Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Haryana – call up on the helpline number with queries on pest management, weather information, inter-cropping, handling drought, irrigation methods, crop diseases and cycle.

One World South Asia's director Naimur Rahman says, “There is a near-total absence of agri-extension services in the country, mostly because of the remoteness of the farming locations from the experts' workplace. We have tried to bridge this gap using both mobile phone technology and the internet.”

Over 1,00,000 farmers are already using the fast-growing LifeLines services. One of the reasons for LifeLines' success is the ease with which it overcomes what Rahman calls the 'triangle of barriers' – that of language, literacy and connectivity. The farmer using the service makes a call on the helpline number and an 'integrated voice response system (IVRS)' records his/her query. An unique query id number is then generated by the call centre which records the call. The farmer can then call for advice on his specific query 24 hours later using this number. The recorded query in the meantime is translated, transcribed and mailed to one or more of the experts on service. These experts then mail back a reply which is then recorded at the call centre and delivered by IVRS when the farmer calls back for the response.

A seamless connectivity between rural telephone networks and peri-urban and urban internet enable call centres ensures a response within 24 hours.

“I don't have to go all the way to a agri-extension clinic or have a field officer come and record particulars of my problem. I just make a call and the solution is delivered at my doorstep,” Singh says.

“My profits are looking up as I can now make timely interventions,” he adds.

With 400 callers a day, LifeLines has queries that are bound to be similar or at the least, overlap. The ingenuity of the project lies in the fact that queries are tagged with keywords and run through databases in case a similar query has been answered earlier. LifeLines today has a knowledge-bank of 2,80,000 frequently asked questions (FAQs).

Despite the success of the project, Rahman refuses to call it a governance support tool – whether it be e or m. “This is a service. Governance is not. Our e-governance set-up is still so nascent,” he says.

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