October 1, 2007 / 2:36 PM / 12 years ago

Reuters launches SMS crop service for Indian farmers

PUNE, India, Oct 1 (Reuters) - News and information company Reuters Group Plc RTR.LRTRSY.O rolled out a service on Monday to bring commodity prices, crop and weather data to Indian farmers via mobile phone.

Indian mobile providers have been signing up users at more than 8 million a month and total wireless users number more than 200 million. Mobile penetration is highest in cities, but growth is now coming from small towns and rural areas.

India also has some of the cheapest call rates in the world, with costs as low as 1 U.S. cent a minute.

Reuters Market Light, a short messaging service costing 60 rupees ($1.50) a month, is currently available in the western state of Maharastra and has been on trial since April this year.

So far over 7,500 farmers have signed up for the information services in either English or Marathi, the local language, Reuters said in a statement.

Reuters Market Light Managing Director, Amit Mehra, said the company aimed to turn the service into a sustainable business in a tight timeframe and planned to expand beyond Maharashtra.

“It is driven by the need for information in the farming community and the rapid rise of mobile penetration in India which is accessible and affordable to the farming community,” he said

Nearly two-thirds of India’s billion-plus population depend on agriculture for a living, and with only 40 percent of its farmland irrigated and markets often distant, farmers are vulnerable to shifts in prices or weather conditions.

“The real question for farmers is how to market their produce, and such services will surely help them in taking appropriate decisions,” Farm Minister Sharad Pawar said at the service launch in Pune, Maharashtra.

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