Yogesh Shrestha has been a farmer all his life and has been growing vegetables in Jhapa for 15 years. When 46-year-old Shrestha was stuck at home in Kathmandu, another initiative reached out to farmers in rural Nepal, particularly those in the Terai (southern plains).
The initiative is Super Krishak which was launched during the height of the Covid lockdown. The team behind the initiative took the opportunity to network with farmers. So the team launched a poll on Facebook to learn more about the farmers’ plight and how to alleviate it. And soon after, they launched their mobile app, encouraging local farmers to take advantage of the small effort.
Super Krishak was one of those digital platforms that people took action on during lockdown. Hardik Sapkota, an agricultural researcher on the team, says: “At the height of the lockdown, we started a Facebook group where we connected with farmers via Google Forms, SMS and phone calls. After that, we conducted training every two weeks (second Wednesday), starting with agricultural techniques to grow Rayo Saag [mustard green].”
However, they felt that now Facebook, with its changing algorithm, is making it harder to reach more farmers. So they developed their platform to connect with farmers and launched their Android app in January 2022.
This started the rigorous app development phase with several brainstorming sessions. Considering the trend of farmers and their behavior, the Super Krishak team got a good idea of what to work on and how to include it in the app.
In the last eight months, the team has already achieved more than 3,000 downloads and more than 2,600 profiles, including those of farmers and agro/forestry students. According to Sapkota, they have conducted over 13 digital training events with over 200 participants so far.
As more and more farmers and students join the network, they now have 50 to 60 returning users.
behind the idea
Super Krishak is an initiative of Gham Power, a solar energy company. “The company was already established in the industry by the time the blackout was at its peak. But when the power outage wasn’t a problem, we wanted out. So when we researched what else we could do, we realized that farmers in the Terai were facing major irrigation challenges,” shares Sapkota.
The Gham Power team then began to integrate their expertise to advance solar water pump technology. However, since the technology was more expensive for farmers, they also turned their attention to various forms of subsistence farming so that farmers could get a better return on their investment.
“Now, with our help, farmers are commercializing agriculture. We focus on growing cash crops and food crops as well as horticulture. Apart from that, we also focus on fisheries and beekeeping for farmers in our network,” says Sapkota.
According to Shrestha, after taking the training about six months ago, he began experimenting with tomato grafting on his farm. The new technique proved very effective as he was able to grow tomatoes, move the plants around and even pick the tomatoes as they ripened.
He adds: “They mainly share the information through Super Krishak’s mobile app and through SMS and calls and advisory sessions for farmers, which increases our production. Tomato grafting has now enabled me to grow tomatoes even in the off-season. They also last longer. If you sell off-season, you earn more.”
Super Krishak’s team of seven conducts extensive research to collect, organize and collate information. Since the farmers are mainly from Terai, the team also developed the app in Nepali.
The Super Krishak app has also developed a chatbot that has been integrated with Facebook Messenger, making it easier and more accessible for farmers to share their questions and get answers.
The app has three main functions. One is the training, which is completely free and focuses on the issues farmers are interested in. The second is the farming quiz which contains multiple choice and true/false questions. The quizzes are published in the app every day at 8:30 am. Users can also participate and track their positions on the leaderboard.
“The third and most important is information sharing, for which we prepare the collected information in the form of snippets that farmers can easily read and understand, as well as get a real-time price for fresh fruits and vegetables like in the Kalimati Vegetable Market. All information is collected in cooperation with Kalimati Bazaar,” says Sapkota.
“The whole team does research and sometimes it gets hectic, whether it’s preparing for training or gathering and organizing the information. We usually refer to research articles and academic papers. But they are small in number and not updated in a timely manner,” says Sapkota, sharing that the large gap in updated information has been a constant challenge for Super Krishak.
But the team’s hard work has shown good results as farmers are able to find solutions to at least eliminate the pests and diseases common to tomatoes. Then they can also upload photos and videos through the app and get feedback.
Alongside this, the Super Krishak team is also focusing more on gamification and increased engagement so that farmers can benefit more. “Previously, farmers get coins and badges after they finish quizzes and games. But we will soon set up a system where they can use or redeem them. We are also expanding Kishan Pathshala and developing Kishan Chautari, a platform where they can interact more interactively with their fellow builders.”
“With the use of GIS, we also look forward to integrating location tracking functionality soon so the team can use the satellite imagery to give farmers more specific information about the weather and their crop cycles,” says Sapkota.
It could be difficult for Super Krishak’s team to get all the information from satellites, so they are in talks about setting up sensors and working with the Meteorological Forecasting Division to get more accurate information.
Yogesh Shrestha, the farmer in Jhapa, says his production has been affected by excessive rainfall this year and that prior information can actually help him. “If we get weather information for at least two days, we can prepare better and save our crops from spoiling. It will consequently increase production and minimize input while also increasing economic benefits.
Chief among the team’s challenges, however, is still the difficulty of reaching more farmers who are physically and digitally distant. However, the Super Krishak app still lacks the certification that can add more value and engagement to their courses. When it happens, Sapkota says users can get their respective certificates upon completion after answering a few questions.
Nevertheless, the team is taking on the challenge of getting more farmers involved in the initiative. “We are also discussing working with local microfinance companies to reach out to farmers, include them in their network and also help other farmers with various programs.”
Last but not least, the Super Krishak team is also considering packaging their courses in a way that can be capitalized and also used as educational programs for those farmers who are on the other side of the digital divide and physically in hard-to-reach areas are sets.