EASY FARMING SOLUTION : Software now goes global

TDS story

Bangladesh’s top newspaper The Daily Star covered a comprehensive story on the activities of Grameen Intel at its front page on May 29 2015. Please find the report bellow:

EASY FARMING SOLUTION

Software now goes global

A home-grown software solution to agro-input management has gone global.

Developed by a social business venture in Bangladesh, mrittikā — software for soil nutrient analysis — is now being made popular among farmers in Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Cambodia and Macedonia.

Dhaka-based Grameen Intel Social Business Ltd (GISB) under its e-Agro solution package had developed mrittikā.

Soil tests on land, the crop a farmer plans to grow, irrigation cycles, the nature of the land, and other parameters are analysed by mrittikā to tell the farmer on the blends of fertilisers to be used.

Often farmers are deprived of potential yields and have to remain happy with mediocre harvest, only because of their lack of access to adequate information regarding the use of basic inputs in farming.

“But if one provides soil test results along with other inputs [crop type, acreage etc], mrittikā will generate data on soil nutrient analysis and give fertiliser recommendations,” Grameen Intel Chief Operating Officer (COO) Sajedul Pavel Hoq told The Daily Star.

This eventually cuts cost by preventing farmers from overusing chemical fertilisers and helps them use balanced fertiliser in proper quantity, he explained.

Till date, mrittikā service has reached to 7,500 farmers in India, 1,000 in Cambodia, 600 in Nepal, 300 in Bangladesh and 60 in Macedonia.

Even though Grameen Intel started experimenting with mrittikā through its “Project Harvest” back in 2011, it has never been easy for the company to reach farmers. Firstly, farmers were not willing to accept a machine telling them what fertiliser to use and how much, and secondly, development of the business model took a long time.

Sajedul Pavel Hoq recalled how the first farmer they approached in 2012 reacted.

Md Alam, a 45-year-old wheat farmer of Kushtia, grew wheat on a small piece of land every year. Like many of the farmers in Bangladesh, Alam was unaccustomed to scientific methods or measures when it came to seeding, planting, controlling pests or applying fertilisers.

“So in 2012 when we visited his village and requested him to volunteer in a programme that would assist him to apply those same fertilisers but using scientific measures, he was hesitant at first but then finally agreed to join as we assured him of compensation in case of crop failure.”

Alam then received guidance through mrittikā, and that same year, he saw his harvest increase by 47 percent, recollected the Grameen Intel COO.

Reached over the phone by The Daily Star, Md Alam acknowledged the benefits he reaped using the mrittikā service. “It’s not proper to use fertiliser willy-nilly. It’s all about what the crop needs, what the soil needs and in what proportion, and in what dosage,” said Alam, now a prudent farmer.

When asked why the reach is so insignificant as only 300 farmers in Bangladesh have received it, Sajedul said, “We’re a social business information technology company. We create software applications that address specific social problems such as low agriculture output or lack of pre-natal care. We provide IT solutions for rural entrepreneurs who provide a service using computing technology in their local communities.”

Rural entrepreneurs have now come forward to increase mrittikā’s service users.

Rural Reconstruction Fundation (RRF), a Jessore-based national development organisation, signed a memorandum of understanding with Grameen Intel recently for taking mrittikā service to farmers’ doorsteps, said RRF Executive Director Philip Biswas.

“We’ve sourced some soil testing kits and mrittikā software from Grameen Intel and started piloting in areas under five of our branches, each covering three to four unions,” said RRF Director Pankaj Kumar Sarkar.

Sarkar said they have over 100 branches and all of them have computers with farmers’ databases. He hoped that RRF would be able to reach up to 40,000 farmers once they moved out of pilot stage, scheduled to end by June.

The software costs $10 and one can take readings as many times as one wants by running it in a computer, laptop, or mobile phones. To receive this service, individual farmer might have to spend up to Tk 180 (soil tests included).

Apart from mrittikā, Grameen Intel has also developed a few other e-Agro solutions; ankur (for seed selection recommendations), protikār (for pesticide application recommendations and vistār (harvest management tool).

Cambodian and Nepalese governments took licenses from Grameen Intel’s agro solutions while Macedonia has just started piloting and ekutir, a development organisation in India, is taking mrittikā service to farmers there.

Grameen Intel was founded as a follow-up action to then Intel chairman Craig Barrett meeting Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus during the former’s visit to Bangladesh in 2007.

Grameen with the semiconductor giant decided on creating Grameen Intel as a social business whose sole focus is using technology in creative ways to help the world’s impoverished population find an avenue to a better life and livelihood.

See also: http://www.thedailystar.net/frontpage/software-now-goes-global-89071