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India to Triple Number of Farmers Using Mobile Phones to Get Weather and Market Data

Mobile phones are one way to ensure that weather information is reached by rural farmers. New project in India intends to triple the number of farmers accessing forecasts through their phones. Photo: N. Palmer (CIAT)
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Release date

Monday, April 16, 2012

As Monsoon Severity Increases, Mobile Phone Expansion Opens Potential
US$10 Billion Value for Smallholder Farmers

NEW DELHI (16 April 2012)—With India’s rainy season becoming increasingly stormy, the Indian government looks to triple the number of farmers who can access weather and crop forecasting through their mobile phones, from three million currently to ten million by the end of 2012.  The value of this information, provided through the Agromet Advisory Service, to the Indian economy has been valued at more than US$10 billion and is expected to rise as more farmers subscribe to the service.

Different approaches for putting weather information into farmers’ hands are currently being investigated as part of the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), a global research partnership. “Getting better climate and weather information to farmers is essential for adaptation and boosting resilience,” said Dr. Bruce Campbell. As part of its efforts to ensure food security in a changing climate, the program is assessing approaches for climate risk reduction.

At the Climate Smart Agriculture in Asia conference in Bangkok, Thailand last week, Dr. S.D. Attri, Deputy Director General of Meteorology for the India Meteorological Department (IMD), discussed the importance of mobile communications in preparing farmers for the increasing severity of monsoons.

“Up to 80 percent of the Indian population has access to a mobile phone,” said Dr. Attri. “We use print media, newspapers, magazines, radio, television, the internet, extension services and word of mouth to distribute forecasts, but the mobile phone is the best way of broadcasting weather information to the farmer.”

Twice every week, the IMD prepares a weather package for farmers in each of the 600 districts across India and sends this package out through SMS text messages.  These packages include a five-day forecast, a weekly outlook, maximum and minimum temperatures, expected rainfall, cloud cover and surface wind humidity. Farmers use this information to determine when to plant, water, fertilize, harvest their crops and increase their yields.

At present, only 10 to 15 percent of the farmers are benefitting from the mobile phone services and about 24 perfect of farmers are aware of it. The economic benefit of these services, however, has been estimated by India’s National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER) to be Rs.50,000 per year—approximately US$10 billion. If the country’s entire farming community were to tap this resource, that amount would more than quadruple, to Rs. 211,000 crores.

Farmers can also receive market data through their mobile phones. Dr. Raj S. Paroda, Executive Secretary of the Asia-Pacific Association of Agricultural Research Institutions (APAARI), explains that farmers previously had difficulty accessing market information, putting them in a weak position.

“Nowadays, farmers need direct access to retail outlets,” said Dr. Paroda. “In receiving pricing information from various parts of the country along with other market data, they can determine when to plant, when to harvest or keep produce in the fields, how long they should store produce and which markets they should access.”

“The markets once were where farmers were exploited,” Dr. Paroda continued. “The more knowledge they have, the more they control how they sell their produce. They can also better access services from government agencies and the private sector that benefit smallholders and help them sell their goods.”

Paroda noted that in Thailand and Taiwan, even China, the governments established dedicated television channels to broadcast market services.  The key to success in his eye was maintaining a dedicated approach with a reliable and constant flow of information. “Farmers are always looking to make more money,” he pointed out, “and they are always looking for more data.”

The market data, coupled with the weather forecasts, has helped boost Indian agriculture to record levels of wheat and rice production, and the country now ranks second worldwide in farm output.  Agriculture employs about 50 percent of the Indian workforce, and these information programs have an impact that stretches past the economics, and boost India’s standing in the world.

The Agromet Advisory Service’s data delivery, for example, has been lauded by many, even by US President Barack Obama when he visited India in 2010. And the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) is working with Dr. Attri’s agency to set up an office in Nairobi that can assist African countries in adopting this technology, as African farmers coping with climate change also have great need for weather and market data.

“There are some storms that farmers cannot prepare for no matter how much advance warning they receive,” said Dr. Attri, referencing the infamous Mumbai storm in 2005 that dumped 100 centimeters of rainfall on the city in one day.  “But for the majority of storms and weather events, this advance notice helps farmers reduce their losses and distress, increasing their production and income.”

India’s innovative program is one of many successful examples of a climate information system that could potentially be tested and scaled up in other countries, including those in sub-Saharan Africa. “We need the upcoming climate negotiations and the subsequent global climate agreement to include some provisions for boosting research and investment for information systems that can help decision makers plan for the near and distant future in order to reduce climate vulnerability and risk,” said Campbell.

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About CCAFS:

The CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) is a strategic partnership of the CGIAR and the Earth System Science Partnership (ESSP). CCAFS brings together the world’s best researchers in agricultural science, development research, climate science and Earth System science, to identify and address the most important interactions, synergies and tradeoffs between climate change, agriculture and food security. For more information, visit www.ccafs.cgiar.org.