Technology to eliminate poverty

Could Chandra Babu Naidu have used technology to prevent the suicides in Andhra Pradesh?

Technology can unlock the potential of poor farmers by making agricultural production more efficient. The World Resources Institute’s (WRI) Digital Dividends Project Clearinghouse includes several hundred examples of successful ICT-enabled development projects. One example currently attracting international attention is ITC, an Indian agricultural processor. ITC has initiated the e-Choupal (“choupal” means “gathering place” in Hindi) effort that places computers with Internet access in rural farming villages, creating an e-commerce hub that enables farmers to receive a fair price for their produce.

In Uganda and Kenya, farmers use short message system (SMS) technology to receive updates on commodity prices, which allows them to negotiate fair prices for their produce with traders and middlemen who have exploited them for generations. Bangladesh’s Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha, a non-profit organization, uses boats that are outfitted with computers, printers, and an Internet connection to deliver agricultural education modules to isolated farmers that are unreachable by roads.

Perhaps Andhra Pradesh’s new government could take a page from the book of its neighboring state, Maharashtra. There, the government-funded Kisaan Call Center fields inquiries from rural farmers, who get advice from operators speaking their own language and whose directive is to treat every farmer as a customer, emphasizing respect.

In all of these cases, information technology is driving innovative solutions to the problems of poor farmers. “More Internet” is not what plagues these farmers; in fact, Internet technology is helping them climb out of poverty by connecting them with information, educational opportunities, and financial resources. “Connectivity for the sake of connectivity accomplishes very little,” says Jonathan Lash, WRI president. “Connectivity that links marginalized citizens with needed services, however, can play a major role in economic development.”[In the Aftermath of “India Shining”]