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Friday, October 14, 2016

A new experiment for India’s humble postman: delivering custom-made weather reports to farmers

India’s postmen may soon double-up as weathermen.

India Meteorological Department (IMD), the country’s public weather forecaster, is piloting a scheme to take advantage of India Post’s massive network to collect and deliver information on weather to farmers.

“The postman will be given a template form when he goes to a village. It will have basic questions, like cropping pattern of the village, land usage, etc. He has to fill the form and get phone numbers of some farmers,” Nabansu Chattopadhyay, deputy director general at AgriMet, IMD’s agriculture division, told the Indian Express newspaper.

The objective is simple: The postal department has over 1,54,800 post offices across India and almost 90% of them are in rural areas. The weather department wants to use these to reach the hinterlands and collect information that’ll help IMD provide custom-made weather and crop advisories to farmers.

AgriMet will soon run the pilot programme in five villages across Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, and Andhra Pradesh. The cost of the project is still being worked out.
Millions of farmers in Asia’s third-largest economy rely on rains, especially the annual monsoon, to take a call on sowing and harvesting. Less than half of the country’s total farmland is irrigated. So, an inaccurate weather forecast can disturb the entire cropping cycle, often resulting in huge losses and low income for farmers, and, in turn, affecting the entire country’s economic cycle. Already, two consecutive drought years have taken a massive toll on farmers and the agriculture sector.

AgriMet also plans to install screens at village post offices, displaying information on weather and crops.

Precise forecasting

IMD hasn’t had a particularly stellar record in predicting the monsoon, which accounts for 70% of the annual precipitation the subcontinent receives. For instance, it missed predicting the 2009 drought, the worst in four decades. Also, its forecasts often diverge from those of India’s biggest private forecaster, Skymet.

To do away with uncertainty and discrepancies, IMD is ramping up its technology. The government is investing some $60 million on a supercomputer that will increase the precision in forecasting.

Meanwhile, India Post’s extensive network has been useful to other industries, too. It has received a payments bank licence from the Reserve Bank of India owing to its deep reach into the country’s rural areas. The department has also partnered with leading online sellers such as Amazon, Flipkart, and Snapdeal for deliveries.

But with postmen set to provide weather news, ensuring timely deliveries is now more critical than ever.

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