With annual revenues of $7bn and 29,000 employees, ITC is one of India's leading private companies. It is active in fast moving consumer goods, hotels, paper and packaging, agribusiness, and information technology.
ITC's e-Choupal program – run by ITC's Agri Business division – has set up Internet access kiosks in rural India to enable farmers to retrieve marketing and agricultural information. This in turn helps them make more informed decisions and potentially increase their income by better aligning farm output to market demands.
The program builds on three elements: an Internet-enabled computer located at a "focal point farmer," an Internet connection via phone lines or a very-small aperture terminal (VSAT), and dedicated services through the echoupal.com portal. Each Internet connection serves 10 villages, reaching 600 farmers on average.
The portal provides farmers with information on farming best practices, market prices, weather forecasts, news and a Q&A section which enables interaction with ITC's agricultural experts.
In addition, the portal helps them to better manage risks such as soil contamination or salinity, through access to technical information. Finally, it provides the link to integrated rural service centers serving 40 e-Choupals each, where farmers can sell their produce and buy seeds, fertilizer, supplies and consumer goods.
Each e-Choupal requires between USD 3,000 and 6,000 to be set up and approximately USD 100 per year to be maintained. The system is free for farmers to use but the "focal point farmer" incurs operating costs and has an obligation to serve the entire community. In turn, the host farmer receives a commission for each transaction.
Over the last 12 years, ITC has set up about 6,500 access points, benefitting 4 million Indian farmers. The e-Choupal program is currently exploring how to integrate mobile phones to offer farmers more personalised services, potentially reaching out to more than 10 million farmers.
ITC is also partnering with banks to offer farmers access to credit, insurance and other services.
The ITC case study is part of a forthcoming issue brief by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD). The report, Information and Communication Technology – An enabler for inclusive business solutions, looks at the opportunities for ICT to facilitate and scale the private sector's contribution to development.