Which rights predominate? Give the rationale underlying your answers to this question. The rights of poor farmers and their families are predominant in this case. In the past, the farmers were restricted to sell their products in the local mandi. The products supply chain channels were both corruption and opaque. They had to go through middlemen and prices were very low.
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Yet it is besieged by myriad challenges. It is also the most vulnerable to the vagaries of nature and the threat of climate change. Indeed, tens of millions of Indian farmers are suffering. In Narsingkheda village of Madhya Pradesh, however, a farmer has found an avenue to overcome these struggles.
Everything changed for Singh in when the diversified conglomerate ITC introduced an e-Choupal to his village. To the uninitiated, an ITC e-Choupal is an internet kiosk in the home of a fellow villager. An innovative model embedded with social goals, the ITC e-Choupal empowers farmers and hopes to trigger higher productivity and income through a host of services related to know-how, best practices, timely and relevant weather information, a transparent discovery of prices, access to quality agri-inputs at competitive prices and so on.
E-choupals are much more than internet kiosks. They are generally located within walking distance or a 5-km radius. Instead of travelling long distances to the nearest mandi, the farmer takes a sample of his produce to the e-Choupal. Here, the Sanchalak, using moisture metres and other techniques, measures the quality of his produce and issues a conditional quote. If he decides to sell to the ITC hub, the Sanchalak gives him a note which includes his name, village, particulars of the quality assessment, approximate quantity and conditional price.
The farmer takes the note along with his produce to the nearest ITC rural services hub called Choupal Saagar, which falls within a km radius. Here, further testing is conducted by trained technicians. This initiative has enabled farmers to make better choices and offered insights on better farm practices. Also, these farmers now have better access to other markets, besides the organized mandis mandated by governments, and quality inputs, resulting in higher yields.
For Kishore, the results are evident. The credit, according to Singh, goes to higher quality seeds, inputs and farming methods he has been able to adapt with access to timely information on weather conductions, prices across different local markets and services from the e-Choupal in his village. There is a strategic element to this initiative. By operating across the agri-value chain, ITC is able to source raw materials directly from farmers, thereby ensuring safe and quality food products for its FMCG consumers.
Yet the farmers are free to sell to anybody and are not tied down to ITC with any written contracts. Through e-Choupal, farmers do get necessary information about better farming practices and connections to markets for better prices, thus liberating farmers from exploitative middlemen. Singh, for example, prefers to sell his wares to the company at the Choupal Saagar, an ITC-supported hub that doubles up as a procurement and warehousing centre, besides a market for inputs like seeds and fertilizer.
Farmers are under no compulsion to sell to the company and can choose to sell their produce elsewhere. This system also gives the company traceability of its key agri-inputs for manufacturing its popular brand of consumer food products.
With a steady rise in income, Singh has bought his own tractor, a mechanised plough, seed drill and two threshing machines, one of which he leases. This diversification allows him to sell his crop at an opportune time, unlike earlier in the man dis, where he had no direct access to market information or alternative sources of income, and was thus unable to exploit price trends. Through its e-Choupal initiative, the firm also runs women empowerment programmes particularly focusing on Ultra Poor Women, which enables development of entrepreneurial skills, besides income generation.
This large-scale intervention in water stewardship covers 45 districts across 12 states and has brought the area under watershed to over 8,36, acres through more than 10, water harvesting structures.
Today, Singh attends sessions at the Choupal Pradarshan Khet, which offers further training on the latest farming techniques. So, though there are e-Choupals, the outreach has been expanding and now caters to over 40, villages empowering over four million farmers. The evolved model will cater to the new generation of agri- entrepreneurs and agrarian start-ups dealing with a wide array of services from hyper-local weather forecasts to support systems for precision agriculture; from sensors for smart irrigation to drones for crop-health monitoring; from image processing for disease recognition to predictive analytics for epidemic management; from next-gen farm management to online consumer outreach directly.
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