Yogesh Shrestha has been a farmer all his life, and for the past 15 years, he has been doing vegetable farming in Jhapa. When 46-year-old Shrestha was stuck at home in Kathmandu, another initiative was working in favour of the farmers in rural areas of Nepal, in particular those living in the Terai (the southern plains).
The initiative is Super Krishak which started during the peak of the Covid lockdown. The team behind the initiative took the opportunity for networking with farmers. So, the team put up a survey on Facebook to know about the farmers’ plight and how to ease them. And, soon after, they started their mobile app, encouraging local farmers to benefit from the little effort.
Super Krishak was one of those digital platforms where people got active during the lockdown. Hardik Sapkota, an agriculture researcher in the team, says, “At the peak of the lockdown, we started with a Facebook group, where we connected with the farmers through Google Forms, SMS and phone calls. After that, we conducted training every fortnight (second Wednesday) starting with farming techniques to grow rayo saag [mustard green].”
However, they felt that reaching more farmers was getting more difficult now through Facebook with its changing algorithm. So, they developed their platform to connect to the farmers and launched their android app in January 2022.
This began the rigorous app development phase with several brainstorming sessions. Considering the trend of the farmers and their behaviours, the Super Krishak team got a fair idea of what to work on and how to include them in the app.
In these last eight months, the team already has achieved 3,000+ downloads and 2,600+ profiles including those of the farmers and aspiring agro/forestry students. According to Sapkota, so far, they have conducted over 13 digital training events with over 200 participants.
With more farmers and students getting involved in the network, they now have 50 to 60 repeating users.
Behind the idea
Super Krishak is an initiative of Gham Power, a company working in solar energy. “The company had already established itself in the field starting from the time when electricity power cut was at its peak. But, when the electricity power cut was not a problem, we wanted to venture out. So, when we researched what we can do more, we found that the farmers in the Terai were having big challenges in irrigation,” shares Sapkota.
The Gham Power team then started integrating their expertise to promote solar water pumping technology. But, since the technology was more expensive for farmers, they also started focusing on different forms of subsistence farming so that the farmers can get a better return on their investment.
“Now with our help, the farmers are commercialising agriculture. We focus on farming cash crops and food crops as well as horticulture. Apart from that, we are also focusing on fishery and beekeeping for farmers in our network,” says Sapkota.
According to Shrestha, after taking the training some six months ago, he started experimenting with tomato grafting on his farm. The new technique proved to be very effective as he could grow tomatoes, shift the plants and even pick the tomatoes as they ripened.
He adds, “They give out the information primarily on the Super Krishak mobile app and through SMS and calls as well as counselling sessions for the farmers, increasing our output. The tomato grafting has now enabled me to grow tomatoes in off-seasons too. They also last longer. When you sell off-seasons, you earn more.”
Super Krishak’s team of seven people does extensive research to gather information, to arrange and compile them. Since the farmers are from Terai mainly, the team has also developed the app in the Nepali language.
The Super Krishak app has also developed a chatbot that has been incorporated with Facebook Messenger, making it easier and more accessible for farmers to share their queries and get the answers.
The app has three main features. One is training, which is completely free and focuses on the topics that the farmers are interested in. The second is the agriculture quiz, which includes multiple choice questions, and true-false questions. The quizzes are posted on the app daily at 8:30 in the morning. Users can also participate and track their positions on the leaderboard.
“The third and most important is giving out information, for which we prepare the collected information in the form of snippets that the farmers can read and understand easily as well as get a real-time rate of fresh fruits and vegetables as in Kalimati vegetable market. All the information is collected in collaboration with the Kalimati Bazaar,” says Sapkota.
“The whole team does its research and sometimes it does get hectic, whether it is to prepare for the training or gather and arrange the information. We usually refer to research articles and academic papers. But, they are shallow in numbers and not updated timely,” says Sapkota and shares that the vast gap in updated information has been a constant challenge for Super Krishak.
But, the team’s hard work has been showing good results as the farmers are able to get solutions at least to remove the pests and diseases that are common in tomatoes. Then, they can also upload photos and videos through the app and get feedback.
On the sidelines, the Super Krishak team is also focusing more on gamification and increasing engagement so that the farmers can benefit more. “So far, the farmers get coins and badges after finishing quizzes and games. But, we are soon setting up a system in which they can use or redeem them. We are also expanding Kishan Pathshala and developing Kishan Chautari, a platform where they can engage with their fellow farmers more interactively.”
“With the use of GIS, we are also soon looking forward to integrating the location tracking feature so that the team can give farmers more concrete information about weather and their crop cycles based on the satellite imageries,” says Sapkota.
Getting all the information from satellites might be difficult for the Super Krishak team, which is why it is in talks about setting up sensors and collaborating with the Meteorological Forecasting Division for more accurate info.
Yogesh Shrestha, the farmer in Jhapa, says his production this year got affected by excessive rainfall, stating prior information can in fact help him. “If we get at least two days of weather information, we can prepare better and save our harvest from being spoiled. It will consequently increase production and minimise input while increasing economic benefits too.
But, the team’s challenges still majorly include the difficulty in reaching out to more farmers, who are physically and digitally distant. But, the Super Krishak app still lacks certification that can give its courses more value and get more engagement. When it happens, Sapkota says, users can get their respective certificates upon completion after answering a few questions.
Nevertheless, the team is combating their challenge regarding how to integrate more farmers into the initiative. “We are also discussing collaboration with local microfinance companies to reach out to the farmers to get them into their network and also benefit other farmers with different schemes.”
Last but not the least, the Super Krishak team is also thinking of packaging its courses that can be capitalised on and also be used as educational programmes for those farmers who are on the other side of the digital divide as well as physically located in poorly accessible places.