Approximately half of India’s citizens work as farmers, contributing nearly a fifth of the country’s gross domestic product, yet these men and women remain largely poor and uneducated.
Vijayaragavan Viswanathan, a scientist with the European Organization for Nuclear Research, resides in the Czech Republic, but he’s no stranger to his native land’s agrarian woes. Growing up in southern India, Viswanathan saw firsthand how limited access to education and basic crop information kept many farmers locked in a cycle of low productivity and poverty. To combat this situation—and capitalize on the fact that India, a nation with 1.2 billion citizens, now has almost a billion mobile subscribers—he developed SmartAgri, an app that communicates with underground sensors to deliver easy-to-understand data, such as soil moisture and mineral levels, to farmers’ mobile devices.
Although Viswanathan is still raising venture capital to roll out SmartAgri across India, his invention epitomizes an accelerating trend in that country, where techies are taking advantage of the high mobile penetration to help farmers improve their bottom lines. Jayalaxmi Agro Tech created an app to equip illiterate farmers with crop-specific information using audiovisual tools. Mandi Trades lists government crop price updates, important information for farmers in remote villages; RainbowAgri connects local buyers and sellers; and mPower Social offers simple veterinary advice for cattle owners.
“In India today, more people have access to mobiles than to running water,” says Viswanathan. “These new apps present an opportunity like no other to revolutionize life for farmers there.”