The ITC e-Choupal initiative represents a telling example of linking business purpose with a larger purpose societal purpose. Its aim is to leverage the power of Internet to empower humble farmer with a host of related services like best farming practices, accurate weather information and transparent discovery of prices. This customized knowledge has helped in increasing farm productivity and incomes by linking Indian farmers with domestic and international market in real time. The farmers are given the option of selling their produce at e-choupal, in cash and carry mode, to ITC at prevailing market rates. The produce sourced in such away is used by its packaged food business that comprises of brands like Aashirvaad, Sunfeast and Candyman.
This approach has induced competitiveness across the value chain and has created a much higher order of value for all stakeholders. For example e-Choupal acts as an alternative marketing channel and this has enhanced competition among buyers, forcing them to adopt fair business practices, much to the benefit of farmers.
The ITC e-Choupal serves as a delivery channel for a host of goods from companies like FMCG majors HLL and Godrej, electronic consumer durables like Voltas, Farm equipment suppliers and branded apparels. In select e-Choupals ITC has launched rural hyper marts, christened ‘Choupal Sagar’, which besides providing above mentioned goods specialise in making available consumption items relevant to rural markets like safety matches, iodised salt and agarbattis at very low margins.
Since e- Choupals have become the nodal information centers in many villages they are used to provide services like insurance, farm credit, livestock development, education, and health care for the rural economy in partnership with public and private organisations.
For example many NGOs have also started using e-Choupal networks to promote rural development schemes and increase awareness about important social issues like female education.
Recently ITC launched watershed development programme to promote water conservation and soil enrichment via wasteland management and water harvesting. It has used e-Choupal network to address issues of moisture stress and shortage of portable water in rural India. The success of the programme has buoyed it to launch a comprehensive natural resources management initiative in all e-Choupal locations.
In its five years, despite implementation challenges and initial resistance from locals, e-Choupal now comprises of 200 installations covering 31,000 villages, serving 3 million farmers. In next 10 ten years ITC intends to cover 100,000 villages or one –sixth of rural India at an investment of Rs.5000 crores.
To install a sense of pride and generate employment e-Choupals are run and maintained by local youth, trained by ITC. They earn commission on goods and services transacted on e-Choupals. Such is the popularity of this network that government administration extends cooperation in their smooth functioning.
This programme has contributed to betterment of rural India and has brought global recognition to ITC in form of laurels like World Business Award (2004) from UNO and Golden Peacock Global Award for Corporate Social Responsibility.
The writer is Chairman,ITC.