In the early 1990’s the software Guru Ed Yourdon (www.yourdon.com) visited India and wrote an article on his return to USA. Those days India was still struggling to make a name in software business. “India is like a long snake”, he wrote, “while the head is moving into the twenty first century, the tail is still in the sixteenth; and, there are people all over its body”. For me, this was the most comprehensive statement of the information-status of Indian society.
The story is similar in all developing countries, the difference being the length of this snake and the number of people on its head and the tail. Next few years, I kept on thinking: Can we push the people on the tail towards the head?
Like India, all the developing countries are beset with problems of unemployed youth, lack of infrastructure and resources. Some are as follows:
- A large population of trained, educated youth, who need to be deployed/employed but the governments are unable to do so.
- This large pool of youth doesn’t have resources to set up even a tiny enterprise to employ themselves.
- There is a large gap between the lifestyles of rural and urban areas.
There is also an accelerating gap due to limited access to ICTs between various strata of people, the so-called digital ‘have/ have-nots’. This phenomenon is being popularly addressed as ‘Digital Divide’.
An ideal solution to these problems is to develop a self-supporting model that touches lives of people in most spheres of life and apart from causing the improvement in their lifestyles and livelihoods, address the issues of universality of access and creating employment in the society.
The Jagriti model
Jagriti e-Sewa (www.jagriti.com) is a social enterprise that has pioneered the concept of development of ‘Rural Models of IT’. The salient features of Jagriti include:
Low cost IT solutions
The whole project has been developed around Linux, the open source operating system that has gained a lot of ground against proprietary systems such as Windows. This has helped in a saving of about Rs 22,000 per kiosk, being the license fee for proprietary software. The use of Linux has saved about Rs 2 crore on the software license fee only. Linux being less demanding on resources, some outdated and old computers can also be deployed in the project.
The technologies as ‘available today’ (e.g. dial-up) are used to render services, rather than the ones, which would have caused waiting or efforts elsewhere. Considering that the American model of e-Commerce (read Credit Card Commerce) wasn’t feasible in rural India for quite some time to come, a hybrid model (physical + electronic) called ‘d-commerce’ (desi-Commerce) was used and it was an alternative model of delivery mechanism.
The lifestyles in rural areas are quite complex. Declining agricultural incomes, migration to cities and the spread of information/ TV has brought about a spurt in demands in the rural areas of modern gadgets like mobile phones that reflect a complex blend of urban and rural. Jagriti recognised this, conducted market studies and included a blend of services that have rural and urban flavours to it.
Stress on agriculture
Most of the canvas of rural lifestyle is filled with the colors of agriculture. Jagriti was born just when the concept of the ‘Second Green Revolution'(SGR) was taking shape. By this time it had become adequately clear that IT and BT (Bio-Technology) would be pivots of SGR. Hence Jagriti decided to take active part in SGR, using IT as vehicle for development.
Jagriti has been focusing on the local youth and the ex-servicemen for franchising out the kiosks. The location of this kiosk is chosen such that there is a significant flow of people in that area. Bus stops, villages with banks etc have been found to be viable locations.
Jagriti e-Sewa Kendras are envisioned as centers of knowledge for that area. The Kendra is equipped with some reading space with reading material, especially that relating to agriculture and rural development. Jagriti kendras keep themselves on the forefront of development activities by organising farmer’s training programmes and other social activities (e.g. Pulse Polio Camps etc.).
Presently Jagriti e-Sewa Kendras are operational in five districts of Punjab. All districts of Punjab will have Jagriti Kendras by the end of year 2004. The spread of Jagriti got a shot in the arm with the initiation of a REDP (Rural Entrepreneurship Development Programme) funded by National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) in December 2003. Educated rural youth have been trained in running rural e-Services and are being helped for availing loans under Prime Minister’s Employment Scheme (PMRY) to establish their own Jagriti e-Sewa Kendras.
Giving new paradigms of life
Jagriti has been operational since March 2003. While it is too early to claim large impacts, the Jagriti teams, assisted by the franchisees in their respective areas, have been instrumental in bringing about a perceptible change in the thinking process of local population:
- People now look at IT devices as the vehicles to improve their lot, rather than awesome white elephants.
- People wish to plan their travel by talking to Jagriti e-Sewa franchisees, and book their railway tickets, rather than travel unplanned and in discomfort.
- Large attendance at Jagriti’s training camps on Medicinal Plants, Organic Farming and Contract Farming and their keenness to get out of current crop rotation has made a small initiative like Jagriti the most popular converging point for these issues. Jagriti receives numerous calls daily, requesting more details on this livelihood option.
The services available at Jagriti e-Sewa
Modernisation of agriculture
Punjab in India, the birth-state of Jagriti, has been at the forefront of the First Green Revolution and has led the country in adapting to the new techniques of agriculture. This kept the hunger away from the most of India. Probably it was the need of that hour. Slowly the negative aspects of the technologies used in First Green Revolution came to light. Over the last many years the grain output has been static, the soil health has declined and the land responds sluggishly to the inputs. Water table, mostly within 20 metres till about ten years ago, has been falling at an alarming rate of about 70 cm per year. Most of the farmers are stuck in the traditional wheat-paddy rotation due to undeveloped marketing infrastructure for other crops. All these, combined with rising literacy and consumption (and aspirations), has led to a score of social maladies which ranged from debt-suicides by the farmers to a scramble to go abroad.
With this background, Jagriti has undertaken a multi-pronged programme to bring about changes in Punjab. These include:
Promotion of medicinal plants
For the first phase, seven Medicinal and Aromatic Plants (MAPs) have been identified. Based on the studies with the farmers, the programme includes extension services, training and guidance, provision of quality planting material and providing market links for the growers. The Jagriti e-Sewa Kendras act as contact centers for the local population for enquiry, training and knowledge exchange. The kiosk franchisee is normally a quick learner and is backed up with adequate knowledge with offline presentations. All such enquiries, offer of land for cultivation of MAPs, and soil test results are fed into the kiosk computer and ultimately reach the Jagriti server. A trial area of 45 acres, spread in 1-2 acre size farms, has been brought under MAPs by Jagriti during the current season. This is targeted to increase to about 500 acres by July 2004.
Precision and sustainable agriculture
It is a known fact that post-WTO, agriculture in all developing countries will have to become more competitive. Jagriti has undertaken initiatives to guide the farmers on controlling the investment on inputs and maximixe the productivity. The soil samples are tested in-house at Jagriti or at other labs and the farmers are guided into judicious control of inputs. The farmers are also advised on proper timing of agricultural operations, especially those related to insecticide application and the quality issues.
All the advise/recommendations are based on the recommendations made by leading institutions such as Punjab Agricultural University, Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) or other such institutes of repute.
To ensure long-term sustainability and food security, efforts are also being made to enable full support on development of ‘Jagriti Organic Farms’. Jagriti has been in dialogue with the research, finance and other development agencies to support these farms. These farms will be given close guidance by Jagriti and other supporting agencies. Market links have already been established wherein the buyers have agreed to support this initiative by buying the produce of these farms.
Another facet of post-WTO situation in agriculture will also revolve around international acceptance of produce. EC has already become the single largest group of countries adopting a common set of policies, and not to forget that they have among the most comprehensive (read stringent) laws relating to import of food.
Indian food products will have to ensure and prove its quality standard. This is easier said than done, for, the food production, agronomic practices, storage, process cycle is very long and complex. Jagriti has in-house know-how of such benchmarking and has initiated the process of acquiring the capability of Quality Benchmarking of agricultural produce at the farmer’s premises through Jagriti e-Sewa Kendras.
Role of ICT in agriculture initiatives of Jagriti
- Reduction in the cost of communication and improvement of the response time to the queries.
- Creation and fast replication of training material for the farmers.
- Efficient management of inputs, stocks and the produce.
- Maintenance of the master database of the producers, agro- climatic data and farm data.
- Market demand/prices data.
The current applications in use
Training material about the MAPs selected for Punjab has been prepared and provided on the Jagriti kiosk network. The material is menu driven, in local language and takes extensive support of pictorial presentation. Each crop also has a FAQ section that is a repository of farmer’s questions and expert’s answers.
Booking of land committed for MAPs
The kiosk software provides for filling up of an online form in case a farmer intends to adopt cultivation of MAPs.
Soil/water test reports
The kiosks can collect and forward the samples of soil and water to the head office. The reports of these samples and the expert’s advice are transmitted to the kiosk in electronic manner.
Crop inspection reports
The kiosk software includes provision for data entry of Crop Inspection Reports based on the inspections carried out by the kiosk franchisee. All events (irrigation, rain, storm) and inputs (interculture, fertilisation etc) are recorded in this section.
Jagriti e-Sewa has tried to create a very comprehensive model of IT-enabled rural services. This model is different from other models in the way that it touches the rural life in most comprehensive manner that includes activities from agriculture, financial, travel, e-Governance to communication services. While the starting was slow and difficult, now many development and government agencies have shown interest in the work done by Jagriti. It has adopted a financially self-sustaining model. This has helped Jagriti to prove that there is an increasing opportunity in making a development model out of marriage of ICTs with rural development.
- Jagriti is working towards the increase of ‘depth’ of operations by adding more rural-centric services for sustainable development of rural life. These include adding the distribution of rural commodities and services.
- Increase the ‘width’ of operations by moving into other states of India and other developing countries. Many associate organisations, educational institutions and individuals are working towards identification of local needs to make Jagriti more relevant in new areas.
- Identification of opportunities associating with like-minded developing agencies to enable the filling of ‘knowledge gaps’, which needs investment.