ITC’s Agri Business Division, one of India’s largest exporters of agricultural commodities, has conceived e-Choupal as a more efficient supply chain aimed at delivering value to its customers around the world on a sustainable basis.
The e-Choupal model has been specifically designed to tackle the challenges posed by the unique features of Indian agriculture, characterised by fragmented farms, weak infrastructure and the involvement of numerous intermediaries, among others.
‘e-Choupal’ also unshackles the potential of Indian farmer who has been trapped in a vicious cycle of low risk taking ability - low investment - low productivity - weak market orientation - low value addition - low margin - low risk taking ability. This made him and Indian agribusiness sector globally uncompetitive, despite rich & abundant natural resources.
Such a market-led business model can enhance the competitiveness of Indian agriculture and trigger a virtuous cycle of higher productivity, higher incomes, enlarged capacity for farmer risk management, larger investments and higher quality and productivity.
Further, a growth in rural incomes will also unleash the latent demand for industrial goods so necessary for the continued growth of the Indian economy. This will create another virtuous cycle propelling the economy into a higher growth trajectory.
The Model in Action:
Appreciating the imperative of intermediaries in the Indian context, ‘e-Choupal’ leverages Information Technology to virtually cluster all the value chain participants, delivering the same benefits as vertical integration does in mature agricultural economies like the USA.
‘e-Choupal’ makes use of the physical transmission capabilities of current intermediaries – aggregation, logistics, counter-party risk and bridge financing –while disintermediating them from the chain of information flow and market signals.
With a judicious blend of click & mortar capabilities, village internet kiosks managed by farmers – called sanchalaks – themselves, enable the agricultural community access ready information in their local language on the weather & market prices, disseminate knowledge on scientific farm practices & risk management, facilitate the sale of farm inputs (now with embedded knowledge) and purchase farm produce from the farmers’ doorsteps (decision making is now information-based).
Real-time information and customised knowledge provided by ‘e-Choupal’ enhance the ability of farmers to take decisions and align their farm output with market demand and secure quality & productivity. The aggregation of the demand for farm inputs from individual farmers gives them access to high quality inputs from established and reputed manufacturers at fair prices. As a direct marketing channel, virtually linked to the ‘mandi’ system for price discovery, ‘e-Choupal’ eliminates wasteful intermediation and multiple handling. Thereby it significantly reduces transaction costs.
‘e-Choupal’ ensures world-class quality in delivering all these goods & services through several product / service specific partnerships with the leaders in the respective fields, in addition to ITC’s own expertise.
While the farmers benefit through enhanced farm productivity and higher farm gate prices, ITC benefits from the lower net cost of procurement (despite offering better prices to the farmer) having eliminated costs in the supply chain that do not add value.
The Status of Execution:
Launched in June 2000, ‘e-Choupal’, has already become the largest initiative among all Internet-based interventions in rural India. ‘e-Choupal’ services today reach out to over 4 million farmers growing a range of crops - soyabean, coffee, wheat, rice, pulses, shrimp - in over 40,000 villages through 6500 kiosks across ten states (Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Uttarakhand, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Kerela and Tamil Nadu).
The problems encountered while setting up and managing these ‘e-Choupals’ are primarily of infrastructural inadequacies, including power supply, telecom connectivity and bandwidth, apart from the challenge of imparting skills to the first time internet users in remote and inaccessible areas of rural India.