Reuters Ploughs into Indian Farming

Friday, April 4, 2008

PUNE, India, is one of the world’s most techie cities. Wireless internet pumps out across the city, students from its top-ranked universities jam the streets on motorbikes and on graduation vie for jobs at many of the West’s biggest high-tech companies.

The city is a model of the tech-led renaissance of the subconti-nent’s economy – and is also, as chance would have it, home to Tata Motors, the new owner of Jaguar and Land Rover, two of Britain’s most famous car companies.

An hour’s drive away, past encampments of grinding poverty and urban sprawl is a very different world but one that may just be starting to see the benefits of what the government has dubbed “India Shining”.

Standing in an onion field in a village outside Pune, Chandra Kant can check weather reports, get crop spraying information and find out how much onions are fetching at the local market, all on his mobile phone, for 175 rupees (?2.19) a quarter. The service is being offered by Reuters, better known for offering news and financial information to City workers for whom ?2 would not cover a run to Starbucks.

Kant is not yet sure about the service, Reuters Market Light, and wants to wait to see how it performs against the local newspapers and television station but Reuters is hoping that, if it can convince enough of India’s 250m farm workers to sign up, all those rupees could add up to a big business.

So far the company has about 250,000 customers in Maharashtra, India’s third-largest state, for its service that provides weather reports over a 50-mile radius and crop prices within a five-hour journey.

The service is part of a trend that has turned the mobile phone into the hottest development tool for the world’s poor.

To date most telecoms providers have concentrated on reaching the affluent in developing nations with products they offer their wealthy western counterparts. CK Prahalad, in his influen-tial book Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid, says that the poor in developing markets offer a huge opportunity for companies willing to target them for their mutual benefit.

One early example of the power of technology to reach those customers came from the Norwegian telecoms business Telenor, which joined forces with Grameen, a Bangladeshi organisation that helps the poor with a programme of low-cost and small loans.

They formed a joint venture to offer mobile services aimed at the rural poor and by 2006 Grameenphone had more than 6m subscribers and held a 60% market share in Bangladesh. It is now among Bangladesh’s largest private taxpayers and has created more than 250,000 jobs.

Reuters is not alone in targeting India’s farmers. Tata Consul-tancy, a sister company to Tata Motors, has also begun piloting a mobile phone-based crop-advi-sory service.

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Source: Times Online (link opens in a new window)