Virtual door to good fortune

ITC’s new digital film celebrates 20 years of e-Choupal initiative and the smiles it has brought to millions of Indian farmers

Long before payments became digital, coaching classes went online and entertainment was on your fingertips, it was the business of agriculture that first leveraged the power of IT and internet in India. The year was 2000, and in the village of Misrod, in Madhya Pradesh, ITC set up the first computer kiosk under its e-Choupal initiative to empower farmers. From infrastructural inadequacies in power supply and telecom connectivity to imparting skills to first-time internet users in rural India, the challenges were many. But, ITC persevered.

Growing from strength to strength, today the initiative has completed 20 years, benefitting over four million farmers in over 31,000 villages through 6,100 kiosks across 10 states (Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu). “e-Choupal’s model has moved through different stages of development, right from reorganising agri supply chains, to a platform for reverse flow of goods and services, to the creation of a vibrant eco-system that benefits farmers and rural consumers in many ways,” says S Sivakumar, group head - agri and IT businesses, ITC. Understandably, the evolving model is a case study in Harvard Business School.

To celebrate this noble initiative that enmeshes social and business objectives, ITC released a video highlighting all its milestones and giving a glimpse into what’s in store for e-Choupal 4.0. For this, Kolkata-based agency Montage was entrusted with the work. “ITC’s team provided us with the script and pre-filmed shots. The brief was simple – the video had to be informative as well as eye-catching,” says writer-director Sourya Deb.

Selection of shots was a time-taking process, he says. While his team preferred shots that were aesthetically pleasing, ITC had to make sure that the shots portrayed the right information. “We really liked some clips of chilli fields and wanted to use them, but ITC’s team informed us that wheat farmers have benefitted immensely from e-Choupal, so we should use clips of wheat farms instead,” says Deb.

The video focuses on the various programmes executed under the initiative: ‘Choupal Saagars’ (integrated procurement centres and retail outlets), ‘Choupal Haats’ (village fairs), ‘Swasthya Choupal’ (to enhance maternal health and child care) and ‘Choupal Pradarshan Khet’ (to promote sustainable agricultural practices). To make such a text-heavy video captivating was the next challenge. Montage used uplifting music and inserted small graphics and clip-arts to ensure a different viewing experience. “We also decided to primarily use ITC logo’s blue and white colours along with a little bit of green, in order to stick to the earthy feel of the film,” adds Deb. The entire process — from raw unedited footage to the final two-minute film — took over 28 hours.

The film ends with a peek into e-Choupal 4.0. With a futuristic background as the template, the video stresses on the point that the latest version of the initiative, with the help of data analytics, will have more personalised services that can be accessed on-the-go. According to Sivakumar, e-Choupal 4.0 will focus on strengthening agricultural entrepreneurship and agri-tech start-ups. Primarily using mobile phones, the latest version of this initiative will help in attaining scale in terms of number of villages and farmers vis-a-vis addition in physical formats of e-Choupal kiosks.

As this revolutionary model is about to get more integrated, Indian farmers have something new to look forward to.