Wired to the Future
computer network solves everyday problems for villagers
morning, Madurai, a fisherman, prays for his safety and a good catch.
These days the ritual stretches half an hour more. Before setting out
to sea, Madurai sits before a computer terminal gathering information
on the sea-like wave height, turbulence and fish density. So do hundreds
of other fishermen in Veerampattinam, a coastal village 15 km off Pondicherry
fish density to paddy-seed sale, information is just a click away
For the residents
of eight villages in and around Pondicherry-Villianur, Pillayarkuppam,
Kizhur, Embalam, Veerampattinam, Thirukanchipet, Pooranamkuppam and Kalitheerthalkuppam-information
technology is no longer a dream of the 21st century. The Information Village
Research Project (IVRP) has redefined their lives.
funded by the International Development Research Centre (Canada) and implemented
by the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) headquartered in Chennai,
has made many things easy. Lakshmi Venkatesan, 35, of Kizhur village,
for instance, has only to open html files for advice whenever she faces
problems in mushroom cultivation. This is possible because, according
to R. Rajasekhar Pandy, a social scientist at the MSSRF's project hub
in Villianur village, "all the villages have an information centre
connected to the Villianur centre while the hub is connected to the MSSRF
in Chennai through an intranet".
information centre (VIC) receives information by voice mail and dispenses
it through a public-address system. Through this farmers receive advice
on rotation of crops, fertilisers and pesticides. They no longer have
to travel up to 20 km away to know the market price of paddy.
Phones Don't Matter: Many villages have just one or two telephones
which are mostly defunct. "That doesn't matter," says Rajasekhar.
"We have wireless sets connecting the villages and erratic power
supply does not bother us as 60 per cent of the project work is fuelled
by solar power." Realising the potential of the project, Motorola
has donated two-way radio despatch equipment to connect the villages.
now depend on the VICs for sundry information like bus timings, list of
doctors and hospitals, government schemes and employment opportunities.
And perhaps for the first time in Veerampattinam, 20 educated youths have
applied for jobs in fire services and police. "There are so many
graduates," says Satish, who holds an MPhil degree in history, "and
so few are aware of the job opportunities. The project has opened up new
avenues for us."
more. The hub acts as a news bureau, complete with rural reporters. "A
report on the sale of paddy seeds at Embalam village can be useful to
a farmer requiring them at Pooranamkuppam village," says a volunteer.
The agreement between the MSSRF and the village heads envisages people's
participation. While the village committees provide volunteers and a place
for the VIC, the MSSRF equips it with experts and machines. The foundation
also trains volunteers to operate computers and dispense information.
on-demand training programme sponsored by the MSSRF, six women in Kizhur
village have started an agarbatti company called Nesam. "Now I can
comfortably meet the educational expenses of my three daughters,"
says Lakshmi, a Nesam member. In addition children of fishermen and farmers
are fast becoming computer-literate. A five-year-old boy from Kizhur spends
an hour after school catching up on Microsoft Word and Power Point programs.
The VICs also provide interactive CDs on science subjects for children,
with fishermen designing slides on Power Point.
M.S. Swaminathan, who was recently awarded the Indira Gandhi Prize for
Peace, Disarmament and Development: "The project has achieved three
things: women's self-esteem has risen, the quality of life has improved
and there is a heightened social cohesion among various communities."
The future looks better. The IVRP is an integral part of a bigger project-Biovillage-being
implemented by the mssrf to cover the seven lakh villages in India by
2010. Connectivity at its best.