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How India’s rural communities can benefit from technology

For over a decade, India’s economy has been growing by an average of more than 7 per cent each year.

Some of this growth stems from the success of modern industries and services which have so far been concentrated in the cities. However, with over two-thirds of India’s 1.2 billion people living in villages and employed in traditional sectors such as agriculture, modern technology and services are increasingly seen as having an important part to play in the lives of India’s rural population.

AlertNet this week reports on a college in the northwest state of Rajasthan which teaches rural women to become solar engineers. The Barefoot College runs a 6-month training course which shows women how to utilise renewable power in their villages. Many of the female students trained by the college are illiterate or semi-illiterate, yet they are successfully taught how to wire and connect solar panels and batteries to light up rural homesteads. The women, chosen by their villages, are also given the necessary skills to repair and maintain solar lighting units. Since the course was launched in 2005, the college has trained 15,000 solar engineers. These women have gone back and provided electricity to over 600 villages, some in other developing countries. This has saved an estimated 1.5 million litres of kerosene and provided renewable power which allows those in rural communities to earn a better living.

With around 300 clear days of sunshine each year, India plans to install 20 million solar lights and 20 million square metres of solar panels by 2022. This programme is expected to save around 1 billion litres of kerosene each year and was described by India’s Prime Minister as the country’s “next scientific and industrial frontier”. The Indian government is also looking at developing communications. In an interview with the BBC, India’s minister of state for communications and information technology spoke of connecting 160 million people to broadband internet by 2014.

In a showcase for the benefits of connectivity, an optical fibre link was brought to Kanpura, a village in rural Rajasthan. Local farmers can now visit a computer terminal at the council office and check agricultural data and market prices on the internet. The use of the terminal is free and allows the community to find the best prices for its produce. With India’s urban centres already well-covered by telecommunications, the government is hoping that its rural citizens will see the potential of the internet and create a demand for services. Already, private companies are building wireless networks and it is hoped new links to rural communities will in the future provide vital services such as video telephony, which could potentially give rural dwellers access to medical or education experts at the touch of a button.

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