Why are Meghalaya’s farmers dialling a toll-free number?
By Tora Agarwala
Since December 2017, approximately 15,000 farmers in Meghalaya have been busy thumbing in four digits into their mobile phones: 1 9 1 7. The toll-free number connects them to a call centre based in Shillong’s Laitumkhrah area, manned by 20 operators. The operators, who are “agriculture specialists”, are available on call from 10 am to 5 pm, Mondays through Saturdays, to answer “any and every query” a farmer (or a buyer, for that matter) might have. Ri Bhoi district’s Ninestar Shadap, a ginger and paddy farmer who lives in Palwi village, has been using the helpline since March. “For the first time in my life, I am directly speaking to customers outside of my little village,” he says.
Shadap is one of the 15,064 farmers who are registered under the Meghalaya government’s 1917 iTeams (Integrated Technology Enabled Agriculture Management System), which was launched in December 2017 to primarily “connect farmers to markets”. But according to Sampath Kumar, the brain behind the initiative, the 1917 service has many ramifications beyond, and can potentially be a game-changer in Meghalaya’s agriculture economy. Kumar, who is an official in the state’s Agriculture department, compares the functioning of the 1917 model to that of popular e-commerce platforms. “This is like EBay or Amazon for farmers,” he says. The service, however, works more like an emergency helpline. “Like the UP100 (for state-wide safety in Uttar Pradesh) or 108 (for medical emergencies). Farmers, often located in the remote areas, require similar kind of assistance.”