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WSIS Stocktaking: Case Study
Bangladesh innovates in e-agriculture
 

Farming is hard, and farmers’ livelihoods are at stake if their crops fail. In Bangladesh, the challenge is to reach farmers with information and advice that could help them improve their livehoods and income. Since October 2008, an e-agriculture initiative known as “e-Krishok” has been using information and communication technologies (ICT) to deliver information and advisory services to farmers in rural and remote locations at a cost they can afford.

The idea behind e-Krishok is to enable farmers with any problems or questions concerning agriculture to get help from their local information centre. For example, if a farmer is having problems with crops (for instance, a pest attack) then that farmer can go to the local telecentre where e-Krishok is available and get information on how to deal with the problem. This information is delivered within 24 hours. Perhaps a farmer might want to know how to grow a particular crop. Information and advice on general agricultural matters are also available through e-Krishok.

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Rokea Khatun owns two dairy cows

Empowering farmers through access to information and communication technologies

Rokea Khatun lives with her family of five in the village of Fulbaria in the district of Kushtia, where they own nearly an acre of agricultural land. She is 45 years old, and has been farming for 30 years. On their land, the family farms rice, bottle gourds, string beans and tobacco. Rokea also owns two dairy cows. As she says, “life as a farmer is difficult and there are many problems, but it is very gratifying to see the fruits of one’s labour and to be able to live off the land”.

Rokea heard about e-Krishok at a courtyard meeting organized by the brand promoter. She was excited to learn that, through e-Krishok, she would quickly be able to get information and advice that she needed about agriculture and livestock-rearing. Previously, Rokea had to go through a lot of hassle whenever she needed any information or advice. Rokea felt that e-Krishok could save her a lot of time and effort. She soon got an opportunity to see whether e-Krishok would measure up to its promise.

Rokea’s two Jersey cows became ill, and she was afraid that they would die. This would mean a loss of Taka 70 000 (USD 1000) — a lot of money for her family. She decided to visit a nearby telecentre that provides solutions through e-Krishok. At the centre, Rokea described the symptoms of the disease that were afflicting her cows. The operator noted down the details, and asked Rokea to return the following day for an answer. The next day, medicine was prescribed for her cows, which she was able to find at a local kiosk. After using the medicine for three days, Rokea saw that her cows were free of the disease. She was very happy.

Rokea feels that e-Krishok is the perfect service for farmers like her. She can get all the information and advice that she needs in a very short period of time, without any trouble. As Rokea says, “now that e-Krishok is available nearby, there is no need to go anywhere else”.

Rokea feels that e-Krishok is the perfect service for farmers like her. She can get all the information and advice that she needs in a very short period of time, without any trouble. As Rokea says, “now that e-Krishok is available nearby, there is no need to go anywhere else”.

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Haider Ali owns about nine acres of land

Haider Ali lives in a little village in the Sharsha Union in the district of Jessore. He owns about nine acres of land, and he uses six acres for farming rice and the remaining three acres for vegetables.

This year, he planted bitter gourds on his land. Things were going well until one day he noticed that something was wrong. A disease had struck his bitter gourd crop, causing the leaves to turn red and fall off, and the plant to die. His crop was failing before his eyes, and there was nothing that he could do about it.

He then remembered that, at a courtyard meeting about two weeks previously, he had heard about an agricultural service called e-Krishok that farmers could access at the local telecentre. Using this e-Krishok service, farmers could get advice within 24 hours to solve their farming problems. Because he was desperate, he rushed to the centre. At the centre, he described his problem and was told to return the next day.

When he returned the next day, he was informed about a product to use on his bitter gourds to cure the disease. After using the product for a few days, he noticed that the disease had disappeared. He estimates that he was able to save about 85 per cent of his bitter gourd crop and that, from an investment of Taka 10 000 (USD 140) he will earn around Taka 35 000 to 40 000 (USD 500 to 600) for the crop.

He is very happy with the solution that he received through e-Krishok, and was pleased to get such a quick response. In Haider Ali’s own words: “It feels very good to know that all my problems are taken care of in one place. It saves me a lot of time.”

Making lives easier

The Bangladesh Institute of ICT in Development is working with the Grameen Phone Community Information Center project to benefit farmers by motivating them to use information and advisory services available through telecentres. At the heart of the service is an agricultural information repository (www.ruralinfobd.com), complemented by direct consultation with an agriculturist via e-mail. Farmers are encouraged to come to a telecentre whenever they have a specific problem, but they do not need to interact with the technical interface. The operator (entrepreneur) of the telecentre browses through the web portal to find a solution to the farmer’s problem. If no solution is available on the website, a query is forwarded to an agriculturist, who replies to these queries on a daily basis.

Moving forward

The first step in a project like e-Krishok is to win the trust of the targeted beneficiaries. Without trust, farmers will not use the service. Trust can be earned by demonstrating the benefits of the service. Clearly, information and advice must also be relevant and up to date, and must be provided in a timely manner.

The Bangladesh Institute of ICT in Development has plans to expand e-Krishok to over 500 locations across the country at sub-district level by the end of 2011. By the end of 2013, e-Krishok will be available throughout Bangladesh. In the longer term, the service could be expanded to include all income-generating activities in rural areas, to provide information and advice on fisheries, livestock, cottage industries, arts and crafts, as well as agriculture.

 

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