Whilst trawling the internet for some fairly dull research, I came across Reuters Market Light (RML), a blinding piece of innovation. Even their motto is ‘to enable, to empower, to enlighten’ – so, what is it?

Since October 2007, RML has been serving the Indian farming community by delivering personalized information via the mobile phone. Over the years this multi-award winning business has enjoyed unprecedented success and has positively impacted hundreds of thousands of farmers. It is estimated that the RML service has been used by over a million farmers, through sharing, with several hundred thousand using a paid service.

The key to their success? The mobile phone has become the primary (or only) communication mode for many farmers.

A report published by India’s Agricultural Research Economics Review on the role of mobile phone technology in improving small farm productivity, apart from being a fascinating read, leads me to think – why are we, in the West, not making more use of the mobile phone as either a campaigning tool or an information provider?

For a small farmer-based economy like India, access to information can enable better outcomes and productivity to the farmers. Although mobile phones can act as a catalyst in improving farm productivity and rural incomes, the quality of information, timeliness of information and trustworthiness of information are three important aspects that have to be delivered to the farmers to meet their needs and expectations.

RML allows farmers to choose two crops and customizes information for each farmer, it supplies weather information at a local level and delivers information via text message at preset times during the day, enabling more convenient access for the farmer at a time of his choice. Compared to other similar services, RML was reported to deliver better-tailored information to the subscribers as well as greater ease of access.

The study indicated that mobile phones have started having an impact on agricultural productivity but there is still a long way to go.

Sufficient potential exists for a much deeper rural productivity impact in future but this depends on reducing other constrains which limit farmer’s use of information through mobile phones. I.e. more public and private sector investment.

Almost all the farmers interviewed were using their mobile phones for at least some agricultural activity, with some respondents citing significant productivity gains.

Pramod Ramesh Dendave, an RML Subscriber from Maharashtra says: “due to the RML service I earned a profit of more than Rs. 70,000/- within 2 years. I developed the capacity of taking decisions like a businessman without going anywhere all thanks to RML. I am informed of not only district but also state level rates of grains by RML. RML has brought a revolution in the life of farmers.”

A wise friend recently said to me ‘keep it simple – local solutions for local problems.’ I am increasingly buying-in to that philosophy.