LUCKNOW: For sugar cane farmers in Uttar Pradesh a novel e-governance project has come as a boon for dealing with delayed payments, under weighing of their produce, problems in selling cane and a host of other related issues.

In a state starved of any innovative governmental initiatives, the Sugar Information Service, started by the Uttar Pradesh government has earned accolades and is now the largest rural information technology platform in the country receiving 8 lakh hits for IVRS generated updates to farmers in the last 90 days and updating 2.5 crore webpages.

UP is the largest producer of cane in the country and the sugar industry is one of the mainstays of the state's economy. But cane farmers have always grappled with issues like-getting their cane fields surveyed, selling their produce to mills, correct and timely measurement of cane, prompt payment etc.

There was lack of transparency at each level and farmers at times illiterate were taken for a ride. Millers also suffered at times, as due to these hassles many farmers had started shunning cane cultivation or used to sell it to the local jaggery or 'khandsari' units leading to shortage of cane for mills.

"We figured that most farmers have a mobile phone or atleast have access to it with telecom services reaching remotest parts of the state. We thought of harnessing the mobile phone and for those who do not have a mobile or are illiterate and cannot read SMSes incorporated an Interactive Voice Response System (IVRS) feature" said Cane Commissioner Kamran Rizvi.

As part of the project a model website was developed and adopted by all 116 operational sugar mills in the state. A password protected webpage for each of the 30 lakh odd farmers was developed.

The website is supported by SMS and IVRS facility. Farmers can access all information regarding them through either visiting the website, SMS or making a call to the IVRS number.

The website is updated on time 24x7 and SMS sent out to individual farmers as soon as any transaction is done with them. All 7,000 cane purchase centres were equipped with Hand Held Computers to complete the system.

The system helps farmer gets instantaneous updates right from the start of the cane farming season till he receives payments for his produce. The SIS informs all farmers by sending individual SMS when the mills start operations in their area and begin buying cane.

Mills only buy cane in installments and according to the date allotted to an individual farmers, so that they do not have excess stock and a situation where cane is left drying in the open leading to low recovery of sugar.

Butearlier the information to a farmer to bring his cane on a specific date failed to reach him most of the time, leading to a situation where he used to wait for several days at the purchase centre to sell his produce.

"Now the farmer is informed through SMS or he can make a call to the IVRS and seek his details and the date of selling his produce. On the specific date cane is weighed and instantly an SMS is sent to both the farmer and mill management of the amount of cane bought and the total payment to be made to the farmer.

This helps the mills manage their crushing schedule better and also helps farmers to sell cane without waiting for days at the purchase centre. In quick succession the mills transfers the money due to the farmers in their individual bank accounts, which earlier used to get tied up in red tape and lead to delay of several weeks.

The farmer is then sent an SMS that the cane payment has been received in his account. This system has brought total transparency in purchase and payment of cane which has long been a problem for farmers in UP" said Kamran Rizvi.

President of Kisan Jagriti Manch and Lucknow University Professor, Sudhir Panwar said that the SIS has helped farmers and increased transparency in payments. He said that it has already proven its relevance to farmers who are now increasingly dependent on the system for selling cane and receiving payments.

SIS has also led to farmers who at times had to make more than two dozen visits to the mills to sell their cane managing to do so easily.

The SIS website is updated ontime 24x7 and farmers receive updates as soon as they have any interaction or transaction with mills. The website can also be used to by government officials to keep a track on mills making timely payments to farmers or not.

It has become the biggest rural IT platform in the country and is a sustainable project as it involves the betterment of both farmers and millers, said Rizvi.

According to cane department estimates SIS has led to increased supply of cane to mills and better recovery leading to an additional income of about Rs 700 crore annually. Farmers also end up earning an additional Rs 800 crore, as they have shunned selling to khandsari units who buy cane at low rates and more and under weighing has come down said Rizvi.

source: ET

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