Mobile data collection – can it work in Tamil Nadu, India?

Plant doctor using tablet
Credit: Holly Wright © CABI

Over the past year, the Plantwise Knowledge Bank team has been conducting an e-plant clinic pilot in Kenya. Following the success of this pilot, we are now seeing if we can apply the lessons learnt in Kenya to other Plantwise countries. In December, we travelled to Thanjavur city, in the state of Tamil Nadu, India, to work with our in-country partners, the MS Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF), on a mobile scoping workshop to better understand the requirements of such a pilot in India.

For a summary of our e-plant clinic scoping mission, see the picture story below. Click here to jump down the page.

We wanted to find out if the Android tablets could be used by the plant doctors in Tamil. We also weren’t sure if the farmers’ basic mobile phones supported the display of SMS messages in the Tamil script. It was important to make sure that the data collection and SMS recommendations could work in Tamil as this is the language of the plant doctors and farmers. It was also vital that the introduction of tablets didn’t disrupt the currently functioning data flow from plant clinic to database.

Screenshots of the mobile data collection form

The current plant health system in India has data being collected by plant doctors on paper forms. Data from the forms are manually entered into a spreadsheet before being collated, harmonised, and finally available for analysis. The use of a data collection app means that the data collection and entry happens at the same time, and the data require significantly less harmonisation as many of the fields have dropdown menus.

During the scoping workshop, we found out things that we hadn’t anticipated, such as the Tamil script not having characters for certain syllables within chemical names so these characters have to be written in Sanskrit instead. Despite some of the tablet interface showing in English, after some practice the plant doctors were able to navigate within and between apps. They also were able to use the on-screen keyboard to type Tamil characters.

At the start of the scoping workshop, some of the plant doctors said they hadn’t known what a tablet computer was and had had to ask their children. The trial e-plant clinic was a success, with the plant doctors each submitting several forms. Out of 30 farmers attended to, 26 of these received their SMS recommendation in Tamil, two were unable to view Tamil on their phones but were happy to receive the SMS in English, and two were unable to view Tamil so received a paper recommendation.

This year, we aim to work with MSSRF to plan an e-plant clinic pilot in Tamil Nadu, which will allow us to further investigate the use of mobile in Plantwise plant clinics in India.

Our e-plant clinic scoping mission in pictures:

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