Grameen Intel sows seeds for tech-savvy farming: interview of Kazi I Huque at the independent
Grameen Intel sows seeds for tech-savvy farming
When Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus and the then Intel chairman, Craig Barrett, created Grameen Intel Social Business Ltd (GISB) in 2007, their chief goal was to solve social problems with the help of information technology at “affordable prices”.
Eight years down the line, GISB has created 10 software’s and each of them has walked the talk by providing tech solutions to address social problems, the Oregon-based CEO of the organisation, Kazi I Huque, said. The Independent had caught up with Huque, who is also a finance director of the world-renowned Intel Corporation, during his recent visit to Bangladesh. He said large tech organisations like Intel are producing products that can be used by a “privileged” 20% of the population. “On the other hand, GISB wanted to address the rest of the 80% and create products that could be used by them,” he added.
Bangladesh is an agrarian country and a farmer in the countryside might have little or no use for products (software) like Microsoft Word, he said. “But if we can develop something that might aid him to use fertilizers in a better way, then that could be useful for him,” he added. The GISB CEO said half of their software products are aimed at providing software solutions for the agricultural sector in Bangladesh. “Our other software are related to healthcare and education services. Those are still in the research phase. But we have already developed a business model for our agricultural software,” he said.
The software called “krishē” is concerned with fertiliser-related information. It uses a combination of telecommunication platforms and software technology to advice farmers on the right kind of fertiliser. Another product “mrittikā” is a soil nutrient analysis and recommendation software. Rural entrepreneurs offer soil testing services to the farmers and use “mrittikā” to analyse the results to recommend fertilisers to the farmers for achieving cost-effective and optimum productivity.
“ankur” is a seed selection and recommendation application. Rural entrepreneurs use this application to help farmers with better selection of seeds. “ankur” analyses the season and a farmer’s land condition to prescribe the best seed. “protikār” is a software for tackling plant diseases, weeds and pests that damage agricultural crops. It provides recommendations for crop protection against harmful insects and diseases as well as curative measures to prevent crop losses from herbicides, insecticides and fungicides.
“vistār” is a software application that helps farmers to get direct access to market or buyer information so that they can sell their crops at an optimum price. This application provides considerable business opportunity due to its enormous potential to connect buyers and sellers.
Huque said all these software are aiding farmers to have better agricultural yield. The agricultural sector in Western countries like the US has developed tremendously. Farmers there have successfully incorporated and integrated technology in the agricultural sector. “However, the problem in Bangladesh is to train farmers or train the right personnel to aid farmers in adopting technology in the agricultural sector,” he added.
He said education on how to use technology is the key in addressing social problems. “I believe in leading with education; technology is just an enabler. We have the information and technology. The missing link is education and identifying the local people on the ground to use the technology,” he added.
Huque said Intel Corporation is financing GISB and it will continue to do so in the future. “Initially, Grameen Trust also financed the organisation. We are always using the network and outreach of Grameen Trust in rural areas. But in the long run, our business model is to become self-sustainable through our own products,” he added.
He said GISB wanted to provide individual company or organisational licenses to use their software as well as hardware. The company will set up offices in rural areas and provide software solutions to farmers at “affordable fees”, he added. Huque said that GISB has already sold six licenses to Gana Unnayan Kendra (GUK), a community-led development organisation. Of them, five are for mrittikā and one for shumtā which provides healthcare services to women.
The NGO has also purchased five soil testing kits. The development organisation will identify the suitable locations and select the potential entrepreneurs and information personnel for providing the services to farmers and pregnant women. GUK will also ensure that devices such as computers, laptops, tablets, or smartphones are available for the entrepreneurs and info ladies.
The CEO of GISB said that they have also developed a model village at Borogachha in Nilphamari district’s Domar upazila, and a number of farmers are using ICT tools for agriculture. “GISB is planning to develop more model villages in other districts in Bangladesh,” he added.