Low-tech, low-cost solutions connecting India’s farmers

NAITALE, September 3, 2010 (AFP) – Sanjay Sathe stood by his vines in a sweeping agricultural belt outside the city of Nashik in western India and punched a number into his mobile phone. “Hello, it’s Sanjay Sathe,” the 36-year-old grape and tomato farmer announced in the local language, Marathi, as if talking to a friend. “Is it going to rain tomorrow?”

The voice at the other end of the line told him there would be 25 millimetres (one inch) of rain and temperatures would be a cool 24 degrees (75 Fahrenheit).

He was also told how best to treat a furry white substance he had noticed on some of his leaves.

Farmers like Sathe are increasingly being seen as key customers in India’s competitive mobile phone market, as the number of subscribers across the country grows at staggering rates.

Between 16 and 20 million new subscribers are signing up every month and in the last year alone, the number of mobile customers soared 49 percent to 617.5 million.

Some estimates suggest that India will have more than 1.1 billion phone subscriptions in the next two years — some people already have more than one — with about a quarter of them in rural areas as the decade draw