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Kisan call centres ring in hope for farmers

By Commodity Online
March 20, 2007 15:43 IST
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Got a problem with your Bt Cotton seeds? Dial 1551, and you will get the answer you need to tackle the situation.

Welcome to Department of Agriculture's Kisan Call Centre - a single-knowledge pool catering to Indian farmers across the country - where farmers receive solutions to all the issues they face right from sowing to harvesting.

Set up by the Department of Agriculture at a cost of Rs 100 crore (Rs 1 billion), Kisan call centres are proving to be a boon for the farming community.

Farmers can dial the toll-free telephone number - 1551 - to get specialists, positioned at 84 call centres across the country, to answer questions related to agriculture and allied fields.

According to officials at the KCC, these call centres provide level one support to farmers. When the agents are not able to handle the query, the calls are diverted to level two, comprising experts identified by the department.

All unanswered calls and recorded calls are sent to the respective directorates (level three support) for answering through the post. Call centre agents are usually agriculture graduates or people with an orientation in science, agriculture and dairy farming.

According to sources, the idea behind the project was to put in place a channel that could address issues raised by farmers in their local dialect. There are call centres for every state that handle traffic from all parts of the country.

Telecom consultants work closely with the Department of Agriculture to define key objectives and long-term strategic plans for continuous improvement. The department has to continuously evaluate, upgrade and implement new methodologies for the long-term success of the project.

Despite the initial euphoria, agriculture experts are sounding a note of caution. Their concern is largely about the KCCs' limited accessibility as, without a 24X7 environment, the project is short of realising its optimum potential.

The call centres function during the day when farmers are out in the fields and close shop at 6:30 pm, approximately when the farmers would be back from their fields and would have the time to call.

Further, KCC agents often fail to comprehend the queries. Farmers are mostly illiterate and unable to express themselves well. Also, language is a big divider as many farmers can speak only their areas' dialects. Thirdly, the call centre agents aren't specialists so they too take time to understand and diagnose the problem. Hence, the KCCs are now brainstorming and also planning to get in touch with local panchayats to address the issue.

Another issue hitting the efficacy of the KCC is telephone connectivity. With the toll-free number accessible only through BSNL phone lines, farmers subscribing to GSM and other basic service providers or using CDMA phones cannot avail of the facility.

This service becomes all the more critical in view of the fact that the challenges before Indian agriculture today are immense. And this sector needs to grow at a faster clip than in the past to allow for a higher per capita income and consumption.

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