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E choupal(abstract)

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  • 1. E-CHOUPAL: ITC’S RURAL NETWORKING PROJECT<br />*<br />I. Abstract <br />In Hindi (an Indian language spoken in most parts of Northern and Central India), a <br />choupal is a village gathering place. The e-choupal initiative—whereby a choupal is <br />equipped with a computer and Internet connectivity—is the brainchild of a large <br />agricultural processing company in India, the Indian Tobacco Company (ITC). The <br />initiative was conceived to tackle the challenges posed by certain features of Indian <br />agriculture, such as fragmented farms, a weak infrastructure, and the involvement of <br />numerous intermediaries. Although the primary objective of the project was to bring <br />efficiency to ITC’s procurement process, an important byproduct is the increased <br />empowerment of rural farmers where e-choupals have been established. <br />The e-choupal initiative directly links the rural farmers with the company for the <br />procurement of agriculture and aquaculture products, such as soybeans, coffee, and <br />prawns. Traditionally, these commodities were procured by such companies as ITC from <br />mandis (major agricultural marketing centers in rural areas of India), and a long chain of <br />intermediaries was involved in buying the produce from farmers and moving it to the <br />mandis. Through e-choupals, these farmers can directly negotiate the sale of their <br />produce with ITC. The PCs and Internet access at these centers enable the farmers to <br />obtain information on mandi prices and good farming practices, and to place orders for <br />agricultural inputs, such as seeds and fertilizers. This access to information helps farmers <br />in improving the quality of produce and obtaining better prices. Elected from the village <br />itself, a literate farmer acts as the interface between the illiterate farmers and the <br />computer. <br />The e-choupal model has been effective in the short term. However, because of multiple <br />variables that affect productivity, a long-term assessment of the system’s productivity and <br />efficiency levels needs to be undertaken. <br />e-Choupal was initially set up by the Indian Tobacco Company (ITC) in 2000, providing farmers with information about latest market prices of crops, a provision to sell crops directly to buyers and up-todate information on weather and farming practices through its Internet networks. This article analyzes the role of opinion leadership in farmers’ communication networks of farmers in Madhya Pradesh, India, and its strategic use to diffuse a source of innovative-framing information source, e-Choupal. The specific purposes of this study are to identify opinion leaders by using social network analysis and to analyze the attributes of the opinion leaders in the diffusion of e-Choupal in Indian villages.<br />Our research site was the State of Madhya Pradesh in India where e-Choupal centres were first set up. Our data was collected in 14 villages covered by three e-Choupal centers. Using a sociometric method of social network analysis, 225 Indian farmers’ communication networks were analyzed. As a result, we revealed four network groups and identified opinion leaders in the groups.<br />The identified opinion leaders were Sanchalaks, who were selected and trained by ITC, and who lived in and owned the house where the e-Choupal system was installed. In terms of diffusion, the Sanchalaks were both, that is, information sources about e-Choupal and key influentials on farmers’ decisions to adopt the innovation. This study also discusses some important social network attributes among Indian farmers, grounded in the diffusion of innovation theory.<br />