June 3, 2010
School of Engineering, Amritapuri
“There is more to society and life than the bright lights of big cities,” stated Amma in her recent seminal address, at the award ceremony organized to confer the honorary doctorate upon her. “Unfortunately, we are forgetting this. There are rural villages and agricultural communities. It is the people who live there that produce the fruit, vegetables and grain that feed the entire world.”
“Without them, how can we continue to exist?” she asked the gathering.
“Amma’s humble suggestion is that, as part of our university curricula, students should spend time in such communities,” Amma stated. “We should provide them with the opportunity to observe the lives of the people who live there – their struggles and hardships. Students should interact with them and listen to their problems. This will provide them with an insight into aspects of life that otherwise would remain concealed to them.”
“In turn, when our students attain the success and positions of power they seek, the experiences they gained in these agricultural communities will remain with them and inform the decisions and policies they put into action.”
Karshik 2.0, a new web application built by Amrita students underlines the truth in these words of Chancellor Amma. Third-year students of Computer Science, Arjun Vasudevan, Asha S Benny, Niranjan S Nair and Shabana K M were motivated to take up the project, when their guide, Br. Anand Shenoy shared with them the travails of agriculture in Kerala.
How does Karshik work?
“A user selects their location from a map where he or she plans to start farming,” the students explained. “The application suggests crops that can be grown in the area considering the nature of the soil and climatic conditions. Also information is provided about the nearest center from where seeds can be obtained.”
“In addition, scientific methods of crop-cultivation and sustainable farming techniques are explained through short video presentations in the local language. Our application provides information about cultivating the right crop in the right way at the right place and at the right time.”
Why the unusual name?
“Karshik is a Sanskrit word meaning agricultural land. Even though India today grows sufficient food, 25% to 35% of our population faces hunger. Food produced elsewhere and then transported to the place of consumption consumes a lot of energy and creates many environmental hazards. All this underlines the need to grow food locally.”
“Our Chancellor Amma has also repeatedly stated that we should all grow our own fruits and vegetables. Our application can be used by practically anyone including farmers, government and non-governmental agencies and unemployed youth. It is economically viable. Our aim is to promote locally grown food in Kerala.”
Working with data supplied by the Kerala State Department of Agriculture, the student team built an extensive knowledge database using Microsoft SQL Server. The UI was created primarily using ASP.NET 3.5. A map embedded into the UI helps users select their location easily. Programming was primarily done using Microsoft XML Services.
The students’ project has already attracted the attention of many. It was profiled in several leading newspapers including The Hindu Business Line, Economic Times and Malayalam Manorama. At Imagine Cup 2010, a nation-wide contest conducted in Bangalore, among projects submitted by 12000 + students, it placed among the top five.
“We are now modifying the application so that its services can be accessed through mobile phones also,” the students enthusiastically concluded. “Through SMS, a large number of people staying in rural areas, who do not have access to computers and the Internet, would be able to make use of the services provided by Karshik.”