Informations should not just be for the geographically, financially otherwise fortunate — for it is the unfortunate who need it most.

October 23, 2016

Varunamitra, farmers’ all-weather friend

BENGALURU: At the Varunamitra helpline centre in Yelahanka, Bengaluru, telephone lines are constantly buzzing. Customer representatives, and on some days scientific officers, attend to the calls of farmers from across the state with the latest weather updates.
Varunamitra helpline was set up in 2011 to provide weather alerts to farmers. From receiving just one call every hour, the centre has come a long way. It now receives thousands of calls every day.
The helpline operates 24X7 round the year and provides weather-related information such as forecast for up to two days, rainfall pattern, relative humidity, etc. Twenty-six employees work three shifts to answer the calls.

With the help of an elaborate network of weather monitoring stations of Karnataka State Natural Disaster Monitoring Cell (KSNDMC), farmers can access data on a hobli level.
This has turned out to be beneficial for farmers and has created a platform for them to assess various parameters and plan their sowing or harvesting accordingly.
Number of calls rising

Looking at the number of calls received by the centre over the years, the popularity of the helpline is apparent. In 2011, the centre received just 6,565 calls. Fifteen years on, the number has steadily increased, touching lakhs now.
Till the end of September this year, Varunamitra had received 7.08 lakh calls. Officials expect the helpline to receive a million calls by the end of this year.
Speaking to Express, C N Prabhu, scientific officer at KSNDMC, acknowledged the steady increase in the number of enquiries received each year. He said farmers were usually informed about the helpline at the hobli level at the local Farm Resource Centres.
“Response from farmers has been very encouraging. If the customer representatives are unable to attend to a call, then the call is transferred to scientific officers like me, who give detailed information to the farmers,” he said.

On the accuracy of forecasts, he said that the agency ensured 80% accuracy. “We face challenges in predicting rainfall sometimes,” he said. KSNDMC has more than 6,000 telemetric rain gauges across the state.

Indian Society of Earthquake Technology which had conducted a recent survey on the increase in calls by farmers discovered that every farmer who got to know about the helpline passed on the information to 10 other farmers in his neighbourhood. “Also the general visit of farmers to local Farming Resource Centres has helped in getting acquainted with the helpline,” he said.
Working in shifts
At the centre, 26 employees work in three shifts. Like Dhanalakshmi, a customer representative. “We maintain records of each farmer who has called us with a grievance and help them sort it out within three days. Using in-house applications, we are able to assist farmers from any part of the state,” she said.
Another executive at the helpline, Premalatha, said they help farmers with any weather-related query. Information regarding probability of rainfall for up to three days is sent through text message to farmers who have registered their name and number with the helpline.