Academic journal article Journal of Development Communication

Optimising Communication Channels for Inclusive Rural Development in India

Academic journal article Journal of Development Communication

Optimising Communication Channels for Inclusive Rural Development in India

Article excerpt

The size, distances, poverty, illiteracy, linguistic variety and a host of barriers have prevented India's rural population, largely farmers and local craftsmen, from full inclusion in the mainstream of national growth. This is ironic given that agriculture accounts for around 20 percent of the GDP (Government of India, online). Whether it is beneficial scientific information for crop production, or marketing of agricultural produce and artisan products at the best prices, access to health services and information, or access to financial services, the Indian rural areas have been excluded from the rosy story of growth and development triggered by liberalisation and technological advances. Although the advances in information technology and growth of communications networks have brought immense benefits to Indian society and economy, the rural people have generally been left out. Speaking at a workshop on "Scaling up ICT for Poverty Alleviation in India", at IIM Ahmedabad, Kiran Karnik, noted "the significant contribution made by the IT industry to India's economic growth". However, he pointed that, there is a dark side to this economic development, as the IT expertise has not been exploited up to the potential in the rural areas where it can make a huge difference" (Rathore, 2004). The rural areas suffer from many inequalities: infrastructure in terms of power, education, health services, transport, irrigation, access to banking facilities including credit, and information needs in terms of timely supply of expert advice especially in the context of weather conditions, newly emerging cash- or export-oriented crops, seed selection, use of fertilizers and pesticides, and market prices of produce. Also, in the context of the trend of contract farming, access to future price indexes becomes crucial in taking informed decisions.

Although scientific advances may have solutions for many of the problems faced by farmers, there is a great distance between research labs and the villages in terms of taking scientific know-how to farmers. Communicating practically applicable knowledge with the shortest time lag between innovation and extension to the end-user is a real challenge. Opening sufficient number of information- or help-centres to cover the vast rural area seems quite unrealistic. Then there is the formidable challenge of dealing with many languages and their dialects across the length and breadth of the country. The scientific material is largely in dense, technical, jargon-ridden English, virtually inaccessible to the farmers. Farmers usually rely on oral communication with other farmers, extension workers and Krishi Vikas Kendras (Agricultural Development Centres), radio, newspapers, agricultural input dealers or on second-hand information from other sources. Such information is often of limited use, relevance, and currency. These channels are also slow and their reach is limited due to physical barriers such as distance and location of centres/ experts, linguistic and literacy barriers, and psychological barriers in the form of ignorance of alternatives, inertia, resistance to "bookish" knowledge seen as irrelevant to ground realities, and the like. The small size and intensive nature of Indian landholdings mean that the farmer is overburdened with work and does not have time to actively seek information. Due to lack of education and awareness of diverse kinds of problems, they may also be not competent in recognising a problem or knowing the kind of information that would help in solving it or even where to go for help. Low literacy levels and language also become barriers in accessing information available in written form or in languages other than the vernacular of the place.

Through the use of ICT, low-cost access to expert information infrastructure can be provided to overcome these barriers to some extent, and to bring the benefit of scientific advances in farming techniques and crop productivity to the end-users. …

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