Business Today

Technology for the masses: A revolution gathers pace

Print Edition: Jan 6, 2013

Mahubar Rehman, resident of Dinhata, a small village near Cooch Behar in West Bengal, has a banana plantation with 300 trees. Some time back he found the fruit it was yielding was smaller than usual, and was also not ripening the way it should. He called IFFCO Kisan Sanchar Ltd (IKSL), an agricultural support service run by IFFCO, India's largest fertiliser company. The advice IFFCO gave him worked for him - his next yield sold for Rs 10,000 more than usual.

"We are not focused on farmers benefiting in terms of lakhs of rupees," says S. Srinivasan, CEO of IKSL. "If a small-time farmer gets a benefit of even Rs 5,000, we are happy."

IKSL's phone service helps farmers keep up with technology. IKSL sends five one-minute voice updates daily to farmers who sign up for it. The service, offered in the local language in 15 states, covers topics related to agriculture, animal husbandry, horticulture, government schemes and the weather. It is provided free; farmers pay only for the phone call if they choose to go beyond the updates and talk to a consultant. The service has 2.6 million subscribers. Its gets more than 400,000 calls a month.

Iffco's service helps farmers stay up-to-date. It has 2.6 mn subscribers and gets 400,000 calls a month.

Technology is becoming an enabler for rural folk. It is not only helping marginal farmers increase revenues, but also revolutionising education, health care and financial inclusion. Aakash Educational Services Ltd (AESL), for example, one of the country's biggest tutorial institutes, hit upon the idea of 'tablet teaching'. AESL has over 60,000 students preparing for engineering and medical exams.

For years, Director Aakash Chaudhry had been trying out online and satellite teaching technologies to provide standardised lessons to all, but nothing worked satisfactorily. In 2012, he imported Chinese tablets, loaded courses on them and distributed them under the Aakash iTutor programme. After the course ends, students get to keep the tablets. For AESL, this is cheaper than classroom teaching, and students, who increasingly take tests online, like the medium.

"Thirty per cent of our students opt for online tests , and the numbers are doubling, trebling each year," says Chaudhry. Many of his students are in small towns, and tablets enable them to hear lectures of teachers in other cities. Another example of how technology is changing Indians' lives is in navigation. With road signages not always available, the traditional method of getting to any unknown destination was to ask passers-by for directions.

Navigation devices not only help drivers reach where they want to, but also provide information about the location of hospitals, ATMs and the like. Mobile phones can be integrated with them, making driving safer as drivers are not distracted by phone calls. "Lots of new things spring up in a city, such as a mall or a hospital," says Sanu Vasudevan, India sales head for TomTom, an Amsterdam-based navigation device maker.

With more and more services now available on virtual platforms, far greater efficiency is likely to follow.

Sunny Sen

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