By: Kaunain Sheriff M
Six months ago, 34-year-old Gouri Shankar, a US-based techie, decided to return to his village. And he didn’t come empty-handed. After spending eight years abroad, he launched a company to introduce India’s first specially programmed tablet for farmers to give them access to technology.
On Tuesday, Shankar launched the tablet with the e-kisaan software in Karnataka’s Bagalkot district, where he had studied in a government college in Timmapur village. “The idea is to democratise information,” Shankar said, distributing the tablet for free among 250 farmers from Bagalkot and Bijapur districts. Feedback from the pilot drive, he said, will help improve the tablet and expand the reach of the project.
The idea germinated in Boston about six months ago. Shankar collaborated with two of his friends — Sreekanth Bhaskar and Pramit Makody — and set up a company, Virtuex IT Solutions. “The team engaged with people at Harvard to develop the architecture for the project. Later we spent a lot of time with the farming community and experts in India to give it its final shape,” he said.
In order to make the software user-friendly, the team constantly engaged with agriculture universities in Dharwad and Raichur. It also collaborated with Bangalore-based technology firm Tribyte.
“We have integrated features based on the needs of farmers,” Shankar said. The e-kisaan tablet will provide information on fertilisers, pesticides, seeds, crop combinations and other farming parameters, besides providing real-time weather data and enabling access to e-governance platforms. Various e-governance schemes come integrated into the software. For instance, Sakala – the right to delivery – can be directly accessed through the software.
For Internet connectivity, the company has collaborated with Airtel 3G services, which will provide data for free for the first six months to the tune of 5 MB per day per table. When offline, the tablet can be used to access information from the village panchayat office to which it is connected.
The team has also established a call centre to resolve problems. “After initial feedback from farmers through the call centre and also from our partners, we will roll out the second phase of the project,” Shankar said, adding the software will soon be made available on Android.