It’s a winter morning and Charana Sasmal gets ready to visit his friend, philosopher and guide, Prashantha, at the eAgro hub not far from his village, Dihagaon, in a remote part of Orissa. Prashantha helped Sasmal escape a downward spiral of debt by equipping him with information on what fertilizer to use on his three-acre field and on prices of farm tools and machinery.

Sasmal has come a long way from the dismal days of seeking funds from money lenders for his next crop and losing money to middlemen while selling his produce. Today, Sasmal funds his own crops, has increased production by 15% and has more than doubled sales. Prashantha is also a happy man, having gained stature in the community while being approached by several organizations to serve as an information and service delivery source to local farmers through his eAgro hub.

This is not a fairy tale. It’s a true story based on hard facts collected from the eAgro initiative of eKutir and Intel-Grameen social business technology project in rural Orissa. eKutir Rural Management Services Pvt. Ltd is a social enterprise creating globally scalable and sustainable social businesses and targeting socioeconomic transformations through effective use of information and communications technologies. Increasingly, companies are turning to microfinance for profitable, scalable and sustainable businesses that cater to underserved markets. What has enabled this revolution? Technology.

Using a basic and rugged technology that consists of an Intel-based netbook equipped with a digital camera; a fixed-line broadband connection where available or a dial-up broadband connection via data cards; and an application that collects and analyses customer data, Prashantha was able to help Sasmal make effective use of his land and resources.

Technology has helped overcome some of the obstacles to delivering financial services to rural consumers.

The biggest advantage of technology is its ability to reduce operational costs by eliminating the need for a large network of branches and by reducing the amount of paperwork required in the day-to-day running of their businesses.

While projects like eAgro are seeing early successes, are these enough? Have we built the critical mass needed for technology to become a routine feature of rural life and make financial services more accessible? Not yet.

Having said that, I envision a day in the not-too-distant future where Prashantha will expand his business into smaller villages by installing an intelligent machine that can recognize people, collect and process their data, and give them the information they need by talking to them. Until that day comes, I hope technology service providers continue to innovate and help the millions of Sasmals across India.

Sandeep Aurora is director of marketing, Intel South Asia.

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