ICT applications for socio-economic development of farmers

Notes from C-DAC ICT for socio-economic development conference held in Bangalore. Rural kiosk was the topic of discussion in the conference

Nandini and I attended the C-DAC ICT for Socio-Economic Development conference on 11th,12th and 13th of this month in Bangalore. Primarily we were interested in spreading awareness about the Portal among the attendees. Following are some notes from there: Overall I thought the conference was very good. There was a lot of energy and interest and several good initiatives, and many of the speakers came across as smart and committed.

There was a decent amount of interest in Arghyam and the Water Portal (details below), though in general water issues did not get a lot of focus. There was more on agriculture and education. A lot of the energy in ICT for development is going into rural kiosk kind of models. Some of the applications discussed: telemedicine, help with government schemes, farmer call centers, video email. I think we at the Water Portal should understand the kiosk idea better and develop some content or applications for Water that are appropriate for kiosks. According to a Planning Commission advisor who was there, the Govt. of India is planning to set up a lakh of such rural kiosks. There was also a lot of interest in developing these applications in free open source software. There were two or three groups from C-DAC that are doing good work.

One group based in Bangalore has piloted software for kiosks at Dhan foundation and a few other places and are looking to expand their reach. They have just signed an agreement with BIRD-K for 35 kiosks in Tumkur district, this would be a good deployment for IWP to get involved in. Another CDAC group based in Hyderabad has been developing a development portal. It can be seen as a sort of Water Portal kind of initiative but with a broader canvas (the website: www.indg.in) . They were very keen on collaboration. They invited us to a workshop that they are having for the agriculture section of their portal. One of the things they have been spending a lot of resources on is translation and now they have a 'translation consortium' to enable them to do large scale translation of content into different local languages. There is a group from IIT Mumbai that has been doing a bunch of different things. One is a website called www.aaqua.org (stands for Almost All Questions Answered, not to do with water), that is a question-answer site for farmers. The answers come from a KVK in Maharashtra, they try to keep up a response time of max. 48 hours and they support Hindi and Marathi.

Farmers are expected to use kiosks and cybercafes. They have got a lot of response (3000 registered users in 12 states) and it seems quite successful. Another effort of theirs directly relevant to water is in the development of an instrument to check water quality. This uses something called polysensors and measures currently (ph, Chloride, Nitrate, EC,Salinity, TDS). They expect to price it around 5000/- when they commercialise it (which will be soon). A similar effort to aaqua.org in AP, anchored by IIIT-Hyderabad is called eSagu (www.esagu.in) and also seems to be very successful. Both these efforts were supported by Media Lab Asia, (www.medialabasia.org) a govt. company set up for ICT efforts in development. Dhan foundation made several presentations on their work with ICT, they seem to have tried a lot in this area. One of the more offbeat efforts was in using daily NRSA data from the NRSA website to identify the location of fish shoals and then renting GPS boxes to fishermen to zero in on these shoals. They have also started community radio. There was discussion around the power, connectivity and cost hurdles to reaching ICT to remote areas. We interacted with several of the people there including some working quite closely with water. There was a water engineer from Dharwar who wrote software for use by water user groups and was keen on us putting it on the portal. Overall: a good conference, but a little disappointing in that we didn't see that much interest in the IWP. --Vijay

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