A rural Indian farmer at an E-Choupal

An rural Indian farmer at an E-Choupal

The agriculture industry is imperative in India. The country ranks second worldwide in its farming output, agriculture allotted 16.6% of the country’s GDP in 2007 and employed 52% of the total workforce. Yet most Indian farmers remained impoverished. The origins of this problem stem from the archaic government regulation called the Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) Act. Created in the 1960s, the APMC Act founded that agri-companies, like ITC, could only buy agricultural produce through designated markets called mandis where they would have to buy from registered commission agents. Once the crop was harvested, farmers would take their produce to the mandis where their produce would be auctioned by commissioned agents. Since the agent was the only channel between the farmer and the processor, agents would typically auction off multiple lots before taking it to the processor. Thereby ensuring no price or quality transparency in this farm-to-factory cycle. Since the mandis were a formidable distance from the fields, farmers would have to accept the price offered them at auctions on the day that they bring their harvest to the mandi. As a result, traders are well positioned to exploit both farmers and buyers through practices that maintain system-wide inefficiencies and pocket additional differences in price.

Incorporated in 1910, ITC is one of India’s leading private sector companies with a market capitalization of nearly US$18 billion, an annual turnover of US$4.75 billion. Rated one of the “World’s Best Big Companies” and “World’s most reputable companies” by Forbes magazine, ITC has business interests in tobacco, hotels, agri-business, retail, information technology, and others. The company founded its first E-Choupal site in June 2000, where they created Internet kiosks in rural farming villages to create an “improved supply chain”, directly connecting themselves and the farmers. The e-Choupals serve as both a social gathering place, choupal means gathering place in Hindi, to exchange information and an e-commerce hub. What began as an effort to re-engineer the system of processing and acquiring soybean meal, rice food grains, wheat, lentils, and coffee in rural India also created a highly profitable distribution and product design channel for the company. An e-commerce platform that is also a low-cost, mutually beneficial system focused on the needs of rural India.

In addition to the farmers only using the e-Choupal there is also a host farmer, called a sanchalak, who acquires some operating costs and is obligated to serve the entire community; the sanchalak benefits from increased esteem in the community and a commission paid him for all e-Choupal transactions. The farmers can use the Internet kiosks for daily access to closing prices on local mandis, as well as to track global price trends or find information about the weather and new farming techniques.

The rural farmers can also use the e-Choupal to order seed, fertilizer, and other farming products such as consumer goods from ITC or its partners, at prices lower than those available from village traders. When it is time to harvest the crops, ITC offers to buy the crop directly from any farmer at the previous day’s closing price and then the farmer transports his crop to an ITC processing center known as Choupal Saagars. Choupal Saagars are alternatives to the traditional mandis, catering to about 40 e-Choupals and are all within tractor driving distances. The crop is then weighed electronically and assessed for quality, and the farmer is paid for the crop along with a transport fee. Through this new process, farmers benefit from a more accurate weighing, quicker processing, and immediate payment. Further, the access to a wide range of information, including precise market price knowledge and market trends, assists them in deciding when, where, and at what price to sell.

Though the e-Choupal system serves as a catalyst for rural transformation, alleviating rural seclusion, cultivating transparency for farmers, and enhancing their productivity and incomes, there were still some core problems like education, health care, and insurances, which still eluded the farmer. Governmental system inefficiencies have long kept farmers in an economic hiatus, and companies in the agrarian society struggled to find a balance between their social and shareholder obligations. However, with the e-Choupal system, ITC had a model that created a unification of their seemingly oppositional needs.

The e-Choupal program converged with ITC’s corporate social responsibility initiative to act upon objectives to help the community they were working in. Through their e-Choupals, ITC created Supplementary Learning Centers to help with rural India’s primary education, empowered women to become part of the global marketplace, and developed a three-tier Choupal Health Care model to cultivate the installation and delivery of both preventative and curative healthcare services. In addition, they also generated a full scale retail marketplace in the Choupal Saagars to the rural population and created financial product marketing for the farmers and their families where ITC offers to sell credit through their network. The Kisan Credit Card, third party loans, and channel credit allowed farmers to establish a better established infrastructure which drove down certain aspects of cost and improved the quality of their crops.  Weather insurance, life insurance, along with pension and disability incomes were also established for farmers to have for themselves and their families just in case disaster struck.

One of the retail Choupal Saagars

One of the retail Choupal Saagars

The e-Choupal system lets farmers be more lenient with their choices, gives them a higher profit margin on their crops, and access to information that improves their productivity. By providing a more transparent process and empowering local people as key nodes in the system, ITC heightens trust and fairness. Critical factors in the success of the venture are ITC’s extensive knowledge of agriculture, the effort ITC has made to retain many original aspects of the existing production system, including maintaining relationships with local partners, ITC’s continued commitment to transparency, and the treating the farmers and local partners with respect and equality.

Sources: CIA World Factbook- India

Inveneo CIO Mark Summer tunes the wireless network at the Nethope and Inveneo headquarters in Port-au-Prince Haiti.

Photo credit: Inveneo

Through an innovative partnership with the Clinton/Bush Haiti Fund, GBI is partnering with Inveneo and NetHope to connect all of Haiti. The grant supports the deployment of a nation-wide network so that before the end of 2011, connecting in Jacmel or Cap Haiten or Leogane will be an integral part Haiti’s reconstruction and development. GBI will also support monitoring and evaluation of the project’s point to point wireless model, to catalyze its deployment worldwide.

INTEGRA Managing Associate Eric White yesterday gave a presentation to a gathering of USAID infrastructure specialists from missions around the world about the importance of investing in ICT infrastructure. He specifically highlighted the importance of wireless voice and broadband connectivity in meeting the US Government’s goals under the new “Feed the Future” program.

Food Security, Mr. White explained, can come either through improving domestic agricultural output and distribution or through improved cross-border trade facilitation.  He highlighted ways that ICT infrastructure improves both.  After pointing out that agricultural development is the flip side of rural economic growth Mr. White explained how numerous studies, at both the macro and micro level, have found a 10-1 relationship between expanding ICT coverage and GDP growth.  A 10% increase in ICT penetration is generally associated with a 1% increase in GDP growth rates.

Mr. White then explained how it is possible to work with private sector firms to expand ICT access to rural people in developing countries.  He pointed out the remarkable willingness-to-pay of even the very poor when it comes to communication.  Even people living on only a few dollars a day are willing to pay up to 10% of their income for access to communication.  Given that relatively large willingness-to-pay and a relatively low cost of capital it is in fact possible to reach every developing country resident with wireless technology through the smart use of targeted subsidies and investment in emerging low-cost technologies.

View more presentations from IntegraLLC.

Two men with laptop, having a conversation outdoors with Kenyan scenery behind them.The Intel Corporationsponsored a two-day workshop in Nairobi, Kenya aimed at facilitating dialogue among managers of African Universal Service Funds (USFs).  Representatives from 10 African countries were present, as well as leaders of the Funds in Malaysia and India.

The workshop was very interactive.  It consisted of a series of panel discussions facilitated by Mr. David Townsend, a world expert in Universal Service, where managers of more advanced funds could discuss how they had tackled various issues in the past.  The discussion was lively and broad, and afterwards all participants acknowledged the usefulness of the exercise.

Mr. Baskir Kamara, of the Sierra Leone Universal Access Development Fund, said  “I now have more confidence to implement an effective USF.”

Eric White of INTEGRA made a presentation about GBI and its mandate of providing technical assistance to USFs.  Afterwards he was approached by a number of country representatives inquiring about how to establish USAID assistance programs.

Group photo of participants in the Intel conference

The workshop was the first in a series that Intel and USAID will hold over the next year.

Integra is pleased to announce that Eric White has joined the firm as Managing Associate. Eric brings more than five years of experience in project management and international development consulting. He has served as Consultant for multilateral development organizations and various African governments, worked as a social entrepreneur in the ICT sector, and taught economics at Harvard University. He has led research teams whose work has been incorporated into national development policy, co-authored a forthcoming World Bank book on agricultural development and structural transformation, and managed a start-up mobile-based social enterprise in Mexico.

Integra is pleased to announce that USAID has awarded Integra the contract to implement the new Global Broadband and Innovations Program for USAID.

The purpose of the contract is to raise awareness withing USAID of the potential impact of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) solutions, to provide missions with technical assistance on implementing these ICT solutions, and to increase innovation of new ICT solutions for development. Please visit our Current Activities page for more information.

Integra is please to announce that Laurie Moy has joined the firm as the Communications Director. Laurie brings over 15 years of experience in international development and communications. She has served as the Executive Director of Pearls of Africa, a nonprofit organization serving children with disabilities and their families in Uganda, since 2001. She has also worked closely with a variety of civil society organizations around the world, helping them use media and communications to reach their project goals. She has worked closely with United Nations Volunteers and NetAid and is also regarded as an expert in online volunteering, network engagement, and development communications.

We are seeking creative, web-savvy and highly motivated individuals to work as paid interns on a small team implementing USAID’s program on broadband connectivity, mobile for development (m4d) and ICT innovation. Internships are available during the academic year and can be begin as soon as possible. For more information, visit our employment page.


The US Agency for International Development has notified INTEGRA and CARANA Corporation that they have been approved for a Mentor-Protégé relationship. The agreement, effective August 10, 2010, runs for 3 years and is designed to provide training and technical assistance for new employees of INTEGRA to accelerate its capacity to grow and prosper.

The agreement provides supporting services for INTEGRA’s administrative, operations, business development, and case management capabilities. For the initial period of the agreement, INTEGRA will be co-located with CARANA at 4350 North Fairfax Drive in Arlington Virginia.

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