India To Provide Rural Farms Internet Access To Increase Revenues

India will set up a chain of computer kiosks across its rural heartland with the aim of enabling farmers to sell their produce to the best-paying customers, officials said July 11.

Nearly 25,000 villages will be connected to the network in the first phase of the program but this will be stepped up to around 100,000 to complete a national rollout by 2007, Indian President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam told a meeting in New Delhi. "Today, our problem is not shortage of money, people or people who have knowledge, but how to integrate all of them," he said. "You have to use technology and knowledge to add value to our natural resources."

India's farm sector employs nearly 70% of its workforce, with agriculture contributing almost a quarter of gross domestic product. Economists say boosting farm sector growth is vital to the country's ambition of maintaining 7-8% growth over the long-term, to join the league of developed nations. India's economic growth slowed to 6.9% in the financial year ended March 2005 from 8.5% the previous year mainly due to lower farm output

The project, called Mission 2007, is sponsored by 80 organizations including U.S.-based Microsoft and India's largest software services firm, Tata Consultancy Services. Ravi Venkatesan, chairman of U.S.-based Microsoft Corporation's Indian office, said that one of the biggest obstacles confronting Indian farmers was that they were losing nearly 25% of their incomes to middlemen. He added that the computer network would not only help the farmers bypass the middlemen, but also enable them to tap the best sources for buying seeds, fertilizers or get advice on farming from scientists.

Officials say the expanded network could also greatly improve the quality of rural life by providing a platform for a host of other services including long-distance education and healthcare.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2005

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