This blog intends to throw light on the concerns and the challenges faced by the ICT manufacturers or service providers as well as the ICT users.
Technology, along with an appropriate business model, plays a vital role in empowering the rural population. Especially in case of ICTs for the rural sector, there are frequent new arrivals, trends, innovations and products but many of them lack the last mile execution-operation-maintenance model. The rate of innovative ICT evolution is too high as compared to the rate of field adoption due to so many imposed challenges.
Challenges for the ICT manufacturers or service providers
They face difficulties in accessing the rural population for marketing, promotion, demonstration, installation and post-sales support. They struggle a lot for building the trust about their technology consuming heavy expenses and precious time in the advocacy and promotion. This overall process is set such that the buying inertia of a customer is very high taking more time to convert into revenue. By the time a customer is ready to buy a technology after a pilot project, there is something new extra featured product or trend arrived in the market and hence impacting the business building. Due to many such reasons (not listed here), many ICT projects can not scale-up successfully beyond the pilot project level.
Of course, there are few successful global stories in rural ICT domain who have mitigated these challenges by adopting hybrid value chain based business models along with use of ICTs for educating the farmers.
Challenges for the ICT beneficiary (rural customer)
In rural area, no customer buys the new product immediately till the trust is built. But, an encouraging fact is that there are few progressive drivers in the villages who dare to adopt new technologies at their own risk and expenses. They take initiative, visit the urban based ICT companies, dealers and try to understand the benefits of the technology. They start using it and then villagers follow them after few months. The mindset of the rural customer turns slowly towards adoption, provided their key concerns are addressed by the ICT providers. They expect the product or services to have a reasonable cost and to be available locally with assured performance for at least three to five years. Once initiated, they should trained and in any case should not feel like cheated and fooled. So, advocacy programs arranged by the ICT manufacturers in partnerships with NGOs or government organizations help a lot in trust building process to save the time of adoption.
Optimistic scenario for ICTs in general in Indian rural sector
By understanding the strategic importance of use of ICTs, every country should be optimistic in empowering the rural and agriculture sector with the possible tools. E.g. in India, Goa State has provided 50% subsidy for buying agro smart tools, the Karnataka State has started m-governance program, Smart Control panels (ICT based) and pumps are going to be distributed free of cost to 150K farmers in Andhra Pradesh by The Indian Government. Many NGOs and CSR projects are supporting ICT promotion in different states. Local manufacturers and service providers in ICT technologies are taking genuine interest in the rural business with innovative models.
The above points of discussions are outcome of 25 years of dedicated work in E- Irrigation by a couple from India, Mr. Santosh & Mrs. Rajashree Ostwal. They innovattively used mobile phone in 2004 as a low cost wireless module near the distantly located water pump for remote control and monitoring of irrigation activities. Later in 2011, a mobile phone was replaced by a GSM module. Their brand, Nano Ganesh and their entrepreneurial story (Ossian Agro Automation Pvt.Ltd.) has been a subject of discussions in many forums and conferences across the globe with different awards.There are few inspiring videos on Nano Ganesh which will be a real evidence of sustainable success of ICT in rural sector.