Indian farmers face unique challenges, like fragmented farms, weak infrastructure, and especially the involvement of numerous intermediaries—middlemen who use unscientific means to judge the quality of the product and set prices. In the process, middlemen often make out with most of the farmers’ profit. Since price differences between good quality and inferior quality are small, there is little or no incentive for the farmers to invest in producing high-quality products. eChoupal, an initiative of ITC Limited (a large Indian multibusiness conglomerate), addresses this problem by linking rural farmers directly to opportunities to procure produce like soybeans, wheat, coffee, and prawns. Now, farmers are discovering the true market value of their agriculture and aquaculture.

ITC Limited has established over 10,000 eChoupal kiosks, each with a computer and Internet access, across several agricultural regions of the country, allowing farmers to negotiate the sale of their produce online. In the same transaction, eChoupal centers also allow farmers to access online mandi (government agricultural marketing centers) and ITC Limited prices, as well as information and recommendations on good farming practices. Farmers use the system when they need to place orders for agricultural inputs like seeds and fertilizers, helping them improve the quality of their produce and ultimately procure better prices.

Each ITC Limited kiosk is run by a sanchalak—a trained farmer whose Internet or VSAT connection serves an average of 600 medium- to large-scale farmers in the surrounding villages. The sanchalak bears some operating cost, but in return earns a service fee for each e-transaction done through his/her eChoupal. ITC plans to scale up to about 20,000 eChoupals, covering 100,000 villages in 15 states and servicing 15 million farmers.

Excerpted from Strengthening Agricultural Extension and Advisory Systems: Procedures for Assessing, Transforming, and Evaluating Extension Systems, edited by Burton E. Swanson and Riikka Rajalahti. Washington, D.C.: The World Bank, 2010.