TELEcentre Review

>> Wednesday, October 21, 2009

N. S. Vasanthi
Professor and Head, Department of Biotechnology
Bannari Amman Institute of Technology, Tamil Nadu, India

Agri-telecentres integrate relatively isolated communities into national and international information networks, develop the rural and remote infrastructure, thereby improving local administration and foster socio-economic development.


Telecentres, also known as 'Multipurpose Community Centres', 'Community Technology Centres' or 'Technology Access Community Centres', are public locations offering a variety of communication accessories to the public for information dissemination. The concept, first initiated in Sweden around 1985, grew to more than 250 centres during the last 10 years in the Europe and other developed countries. Subsequently, telecentres have been successfully introduced and established in developing countries especially for the development of rural communities. Based on the location (developed/developing country; rural/urban area), these centres work as agents offering a wide range of facilities and services like providing technology, developing human capacity, encouraging socio-economic development etc. As community information centres, they supply access to databases, receiving and posting information to local people on matters concerning spread of diseases, weather, prices of farm products, educational opportunities etc. The practical, gainful and cost-effective services accessible to the rural society through these community centres have resulted in positive impact on the socio-economic development of the rural population.

Agri telecentres

Of the various sectors that are benefited by telecentres, agriculture development has been in focus for quality practice disbursement by aiding in a two-way communication between farmers of selected regions and networking for local problem solving and natural resources management. Though familiarity of conventional practices exists within farmers through media information, they require details on important matters such as, managing diseases and pests, prevailing market price of the crops and livestock management. The expertise and information available elsewhere rapidly disseminated to the local farming community through the centre, ensures timeliness of solution, and accurate details on the prices, arrivals and market trends for proper sale and trading of their produce, without the involvement of the middleman. Thus, integrating relatively isolated communities into the national and international information network develops rural and remote infrastructure. For the public, useful information on educational matters, occupation, land holdings by farmers, variety of crops cultivated, crop and livestock production, marketing constrains etc., are made accessible for improving local administration to generate employment and foster socio-economic development.

Telecentres are equipped with computers and Internet connectivity with the focal point to facilitate exchange of knowledge between farmers, community groups, research institutes and intermediary organisations online or through information stored in electronic form. Web-based tools and a range of other media are used to store information for the benefit of the stakeholders to communicate with each other. An expert committee of scientists, farmer experts and other agriculture extension workers contribute to the details needed by the farmers on various issues. Such electronic information is promoted through websites, database creation and discussion forum by the government (, non governmental organisations and income-alert private organisations. The website act as gateway to search the database and the discussion forum help farmers to ask questions to experts for their opinions. Documentation of the interaction in on-line databases allows technologies or methodologies to be continually updated by incorporating user feedback. The information is made available in local language as well as in English and in different forms like brochures, videos, extension leaflets and power point presentations for effective communication in places where Internet connectivity is weak. To the uneducated villagers, the required information can also be downloaded as audio files and played.


Telecentre offers economic facilities the rural population is looking for on a market for the procurement of subsidised agriculture seeds by directly interacting with companies. The service rids the high handedness of the middleman and offers affordable attractive price-performance ratio. The 'anytime-anywhere' advantage ensures marketing leads to the farming community by discovering efficient price for agricultural trading transactions. The information on grain price interests agricultural workers especially women who receive part of their wages in grain. Thus many rural developmental agencies are attracted to these centres to deploy appropriate websites for defining the market for agricultural produce.


Theoretically, agricultural telecentres and websites with precise, latest, relevant content should be universally successful. Critical user conditions arise due to particular demographic, geographic, cultural, social, psychological, economic and other factors. Extremely precise local needs and the great diversity in local conditions have been the major challenges facing the targets of the telecentres. These specifically include the low use of textual information due to poor literacy rate; dependence on middlemen due to remote locations; lack of sources of information due to diversity of regional languages and their dialect and the cost of technology. Initiatives to set up Internet kiosks in rural India were not successful because kiosk operators lacked a large revenue stream as many of them were set up only with eGovernance applications in mind. Bad traffic at the websites, when compared to the actual activity in the physical world has been another experience. Barriers to information actively imposed by the architects and website designers also affected information dissemination. In spite of a core value proposition and significant investment by the Indian government, many NGOs and other agencies in developing portals connected with agriculture have failed due to limited Internet interchange on these websites.

Few success stories from south India

  • M.S.Swaminathan Research Foundation, Chennai, Tamil Nadu: is a research-oriented non-profit organisation. In collaboration with the International Development Research Centre, it is backing Internet, voice, and database access to rural villagers in Pondicherry ( The MSSRF telecentres give daily news, employment news, meteorological report, vegetable prices at farmer's market, acquisition price of paddy varieties, purchase price of crop varieties, fertiliser and pesticide stock and details of transport and seed at godowns. Since Tamil is the main language of rural people, the personal computers in each village information centre have software with Tamil fonts.
  • Samaikya Agritech P. Ltd: a company in Andhra Pradesh was incepted in 1999 and put into action in June 2000. Its head office in Hyderabad has 18 net connected 'Agritech Centres' supervised by qualified agricultural graduates, in five districts of Andhra Pradesh. The centres provide technical assistance, inputs (seeds, fertilisers and pesticides), machinery hire, tools and spares for sale, analyses of water and soil, weather monitoring, field mapping etc in addition to field examination to farmers on commercial basis. Farmers register with centres and obtain technical information in support of their farming activities.
  • Rural Agency for Social and technological Advancement (RASTA), Kerala: the agency is working in Wayanad district of Kerala from 1987. Apart from tackling general problems of rural community, it focuses on sustainable agriculture promotion activities. The Village knowledge centre, established in 2004 through community based organisations owned by the women groups and farmers, facilitates interaction at group level for the farmers to share. In 2006, the centre upgraded as a Telecentre by ECCP programme of EU, serves as an e-Argi learning centre. The website in Malayalam, the local language, provides good practices along with details of specific crops cultivated in the area.
  • Kisaan-kerala Karshaka Information Systems Services and Networking: established in 2004, is a project of the Department of Agriculture, Government of Kerala and run by the IIITM-K and Kerala Agricultural University. It uses Information Technologies to establish a farmer centered integrated distributed information system to collect, share and disperse relevant and significant information to farming community to improve agriculture growth and farmers' well being in Kerala. It supports an interactive regional agricultural portal (, runs a weekly Malayalam TV serial 'KISSAN Krishideepam' and an agriculture call centre to answer farmers' inquiry over phone.
Future Prospects
Successful telecentres have maintained an efficient team of specialists to clarify doubts, suggest solution, interact and give confidence to farmers. Its sustainability is essential to bridge the knowledge management gap in agriculture.
The rural community has the aptitude to absorb new technologies if they are important to them. Intel has introduced a new Personal Computer that can run on alternate power sources such as car battery with, special technology to endure adverse weather conditions including heat, dust and humidity. Microsoft has plans for 50,000 telecentres with very small aperture terminal Internet (VSAT) connectivity to rural India where telephone connectivity is not available, in the next three years through bank financing. Availability of these facilities should guarantee information flow through telecentres to villages and the community should be encouraged to pay for the services they are benefited. This will ensure innovation and responsiveness with stability and public participation for increasing the number of people, who are otherwise excluded, into the information network. This will strengthen and sustain telecentres making them user-friendly and customised to specific user groups of different geographical areas. Thus, solutions to local language and dialect issues can be found overcoming the present obstacles of failure of governmental websites

Renowned agriculture scientist and the father of the Green Revolution in India,M S Swaminathan has been for years working for digital inclusion, to help enhance income and environment in rural India. His research organisation, M S Swaminathan Research Foundation, has been implementing Village Knowledge Centre and Village Resource Centre programme. Under the Grameen Gyan Abhiya (Rural Knowledge Network) movement and in partnership with the organisation is engaged in facilitating national and regional events related to ICT-enabled rural development activities and technological empowerment. In his interview with telecentre magazine, Dr Swaminathan advocated for infusion of ICT for rural development, gender empowerment, skill enhancement and so on. He believes that telecentres would unlock countless opportunities and new life trajectories in rural India.

For the readers of the Telecentre magazine, could you share with us your vision for the telecentre movement?

The telecentre movement is the pathway to bridging not only the digital divide but also the economic, gender and social divides which are at the moment creating a multipolar world. As a single instrument for the knowledge and skill empowerment of the socially and economically underprivileged sections of the society, the telecentre is the most effective one.

Telecentres can become important vehicles for social mobilisation and social action in the areas of health, agriculture, environment protection, climate risk management, etc.

How far do you think we have reached and how must communities prepare themselves to cope with rapid changes in technologies?

During the last seven years after the National Alliance for the Mission for establishing a Knowledge Centre in every Block and Panchayat was formed, we have seen rapid progress in achieving a digital revolution in rural India. The strategy of the Alliance for covering the entire country under the Grameen Gyan Abhiyan (GGA) is the following:

  • Establish a Village Resource Centre (VRC) in every Block with the help of the Indian Space Research Organisation. Such VRCs will have teleconferencing facilities and will promote e-Health, e-Literacy, e-Agriculture, etc.
  • Establish a Village Knowledge Centre (VKC) in every Panchayat with Internet connectivity and linkages with cable TV, FM radio and mobile phones
  • Promote the last mile and last person connectivity through synergy between Internet and a cell phone or Internet and FM radio. Beside, a Rural Innovation Fund is also being established in collaboration with and Microsoft to provide fellowship to entrepreneurial telecentre practitioners.

How do we ensure that the principles of Social Inclusion are built-in while planning digital access programmes?

As a result of the work of the National Alliance for a Village Knowledge Revolution, the following programmes have been launched:

  • Department of Information Technology of the Government of India has launched 100000 Community Service Centres in rural India
  • ITC Ltd has planned for covering 50000 villages under their e-Chaupal programme
  • The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is planning to cover all the Blocks of the country with VRCs
  • The Bharat Nirman programme of the Government of India has provided for Knowledge Connectivity.

Thus the seeds of a Village Knowledge Revolution have been sown. Social inclusion will come about by making equity in access to knowledge and skills through VKCs and VRCs, the bottom line of the planning process

How can we bridge the digital and knowledge divide at a scale and pace that brings substantive difference to the rural communities?

All communities want change for the better in their lives and livelihoods. What is important is the provision of demand driven and dynamic information at the right time and place. The technology should make a difference in the lives of the poor in a measurable manner.

How can the lessons from India be emulated in other developing countries?

The work done in India is replicable since it is based on the principles of affordability, replicability and community management. The community will always pay for those facilities which really respond to their felt needs. This is true in all countries and hence the Indian example has a wide extrapolation domain.

ICT for Development will remain sustainable if the technology is found useful by local communities and helps to unite rather than divide the rich and the poor. How will sustainability be attained for the telecentre movement, if the donor interests in the domain of ICT for Development begin to wane, keeping in line with other global priority themes like Climate Change?

ICT for Development will remain sustainable if the technology is found useful by local communities and helps to unite rather than divide the rich and the poor. Donors will be well advised to give high priority to ICT4D because of its multiple downstream benefits.

As a scientist, how can we prove that information and communication technologies (ICTs) are making a difference, and to what extent? How do we measure the success/challenges?

We can measure success or failure by the response of rural women, men and children. They are the ultimate judges of the value of the technology. Our experience so far has been very encouraging. As pointed out by our former President Dr A P J Abdul Kalam, the Fellows of the Jamsetji Tata National Virtual Academy represent the celebration of India's Rural Core Competence. We should promote the spread of such technologies on the basis of the principle of partnership and not patronage.

What is the genesis of the Village Knowledge Centre concept mooted by the MS Swaminthan Research Foundation?

The Village Knowledge Centre concept was developed at an inter-disciplinary dialogue organised in January 1992 by MSSRF on the theme "Reaching the Unreached: Role of Information Technology". At this dialogue, the concept of establishing VKCs for the purpose of bridging the urban-rural digital and knowledge divide was developed; since then this programme has become a mass movement.

Since1997, MSSRF has been implementing the Village Knowledge Centre (VKC) and Village Resource Centre (VRC) programme. How can we scale up these?

The unique can become universal only if the programme is rooted in the principles of social and gender equity, economic viability and public utility. MSSRF has always based its rural programmes on the twin principles of Antyodaya (i.e. attention to the most deprived person) and Sarvodaya (i.e. a win-win situation for all resulting in high social synergy and high social capital).

Since 2003, Jamsetji Tata National Virtual Academy for Rural Prosperity (NVA) has built a new thinking, celebrating the rural leaders of digital economy. This has been done through collaboration with several international and national partners like (including content and capacity building). Could you please elaborate a bit more on this?

The Jamsetji Tata National Virtual Academy for Rural Prosperity (NVA) was established in 2003 for the purpose of giving social prestige and recognition to rural women and men who have mastered modern digital technology and are willing to help others in the village in training and in managing VKCs and VRCs. This Academy is the Indian chapter of the global Academy. There are now over 1000 grassroot academicians in NVA. has been helpful in identifying fellows from neighbouring countries and thereby adding an international wing to the Academy. The election of grassroot workers as Academicians of this prestigious Academy has helped to raise their self-esteem and pride. The fellows are looked upon with respect and admiration by the village community.

What were the challenges faced by the Mission 2007 in its first phase of operations, and in pursuit of its objectives? What lessons can other countries draw from a thought leader like you of the Mission 2007?

The challenges faced initially related to getting the local community involved in the setting up and management of the centre. From the beginning, the approach was one of partnership and not patronage. We wanted local women and men to really desire to have a knowledge centre in their village and use it in a manner that is socially and economically meaningful. There were problems like stable supply of electricity and proper working of the telephone. We adopted the principle that for every problem there is also a solution. Thus we got solar power and the regular supply connected so that solar power can come to the rescue when the regular power supply fails. Similarly we started using wireless technology to overcome the difficulties in getting proper telephone connection. Thus we did not allow problems to overwhelm us.

The Fifth Annual Conference of Grameen Gyan Abhiyan (GGA) held recently in Delhi emphasised the need for integrating the telecentre movement in India with other national flagship programmes like National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, National Rural Health Mission, etc. Could you elaborate on this conceptually?

The aim of integrating important National Missions like Bharat Nirman, Rastriya Krishi Vikas Yojana, National Horticulture Mission, National Food Security Mission, National Health Mission, etc. with the telecentre movement was to ensure the effective access of these programmes to rural women and men based on the principle of social inclusion in access to technology. Every village family was given an Entitlements Passbook containing information on all the government schemes available to the family. The information was disaggregated according to class, caste, gender, age, etc. For example, this kind of integrated information is proving to be a great blessing to the women and men affected by the agrarian crisis in Vidarbha and other parts of the country. Such information empowerment is particularly of great value to the widows of farmers who have committed suicide, since it provides them with a ray of hope concerning the different kinds of support systems available to them.

What are the key issues (acting as roadblocks) facing the telecentre movement in India?

The key issues facing the telecentre movement are content creation and capacity building. Connectivity can be solved particularly after the emergence of the mobile phone technology. However it is content that will determine the interests of rural and tribal families in the VKCs and VRCs. This is why we had advocated the setting up of a content consortium at the Block level. Capacity building is another very important requirement for sustainability, since the ideal situation will be VKCs managed by local women and men. Here again, and Microsoft have been extremely helpful.

What is your opinion on the recent talks of mobile phones potentially addressing the issue of first file/last mile challenge and thereby reducing the utility of telecentre? What might be the utility of the telecentres fifty years from now?

Advances in technology are taking place at a phenomenal pace. It will be difficult to predict what can happen after fifty years from now. However in the immediate future, the most effective method of knowledge empowerment will be a combination of the Internet, FM radio and the cell phone. It is likely that the mobile phone can perform all these tasks in an integrated manner. However, telecentres can become important vehicles for social mobilisation and social action in the areas of health, agriculture, environment protection, climate risk management, etc.

Considering the ongoing economic downturn being experienced worldwide, what role do you think telecentre could play in mitigating the effects of the same?

Telecentres can explain the causes of the economic downturn in the world and empower local communities to manage their consequences. For example, loss of jobs is one important impact of the global economic crisis. Here there are opportunities in villages to take to market driven enterprises through Self Help Groups and other forms of community organisation. They can also be enabled to increase further the productivity and profitability of small holdings. Diversification of land use with emphasis on high value and low water requiring crops could be promoted. The telecentre could help the labour working under the NREGP to develop the watershed scientifically and undertake water harvesting and conservation. Thus the telecentre could help labour to become defenders of India's ecological security.


Postal Address of Officer Incharge of Village Resource Centers

Noolpuzha Grama Panchayat,Wayanad.
Shri.Joseph Peter Patroz ,U.D.Clerk ;
04936 - 270635 ; 9349876885

2.Sulthan Bathery
Sulthan Bathery Block Panchayat, S.B.Post,Wayanad-673593.
Shri.K.S.Shaji,U.D.Clerk ;
04936 - 220202/221377 ; 9447326917

PWD Building,North Wayanad-673122.
Vasu.P ,Assistant Engineer ;
04936 - 202640 ;9448083078

Mananthavady Block panchayat,
Wayanad District-670645.
Shri.Gopalakrishnan ,Overseer ;
04936 - 240298/242622 ;9447317565

Meppady Grama Panchayat,
Wayanad District-673577.
Shri.Ashraf ,Secretary ;04936 - 282422

Supporting Countries


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Call us in the TOLL FREE Number:
1800 4252 888
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Postal Address of Officer Incharge of Village Resource Expert Centers

1.Kerala State Planning Board (KSPB)
Opposite Kendriya Vidyalaya, Pattom,
Trivandrum-695004. Shri.Dr.P.Rajasekharan,
(Agricultural Division)
0471 - 2540609/2453554 ;9895009402; Fax:0471 - 2531395
Shri.N.Sundaresan, Joint Director ;
Shri.P.Pramod,Officer in Charge-VRC;
Mob - 9446705151

2.Kerala Agricultural University (KAU)
Agricultural Technology Information Centre, Mannuthy,Thrissur-680651.
Dr.Sreevalsan,Asst.Professor ;
0487 - 2371340/2307711
Dr.Sheela(DE) ;0487 - 2370086/2337785;
Fax :0487 - 2370150

3.Krishi Vigyan Kendra (KVK)
Krishi Vigyan kendra,Ambalavayal.P.O-673593,Wayanad.
Dr.A.Radhamma Pillai,Associate Prof: & Head ;04936 - 260411/260432;
Fax: 04936 - 260411

4.District Hospital,Mananthavady (DHM)
Govt.District Hospital, Mananthavady.P.O-670645,Wayanad.
Dr.T.P.Suresh Kumar, Ortho ;
04935 - 246776 ;9447275220

5.Regional Coffee Research Station (RCRS)
Regional Coffee Research Station,Coffee Board,Chundale.P.O-673123,Wayanad;
Dr.M.Selvakumar,Deputy Director ;
04936 - 202256 ;Fax: 04936 - 202256

6.Indian Institute of Spices Research(IISR)
Indian Institute of Spices Research,Marikkunnu.P.O-673012,Calicut.
Dr.P.Rajeev,Senior Scientist ;0495 - 273294/2373162;Fax: 0495 - 2731187

7.Medical College,Calicut (MCC)
Govt. Medical College Hospital,
Dr.Varghese Thomas,Nodal Officer ;
0495 - 2351152;Fax: 0495 - 2355331

8.Sree Chitra Thirunal Institute for Medical Sciences and Technology (SCTIMST),
Dr.Jawahar ,Administrative Medical Officer;
0471 - 2524640 ,2440790

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