Digital Empowerment Foundation (DEF) is planning to launch two major initiatives in 2016.

The first initiative will enable farmers to directly link up with scientists by using digital tools available at Community Information Resource Centres (CIRCs) set up by DEF in remote rural areas.

In the second initiative, DEF will set up a for-profit social enterprise to enable people living in unserved and underserved areas get electricity at affordable rates by tapping solar energy.

DEF is now in discussions with Govind Ballabh Pant University of Agriculture and Technology (GBPUAT) at Pantnagar in Uttarakhand to launch a pilot project across 5 districts in the Garhwal Division and 1 district in the Kumaon Division of the state to directly link farmers to the University’s scientists and field extension staff through CIRCs set up by DEF in these 6 districts.

“The plan is to make the six CIRCs in the Garhwal and Kumaon regions work as hubs through which famers in the surrounding areas can directly talk to the University’s scientists using digital tools like Skype,” said Shahid Siddiqui, head of DEF’s Access & Infrastructure work area.

“The Krishi Vigyan Kendras (KVKs) run by the University will be used as resources. We will provide last mile delivery in remote rural areas to enable farmers to obtain information and technology inputs on seeds, package of practices for various crops, horticulture, animal husbandry, weather reports, pesticides, fertilizers, etc from the KVKs,” he said.

Farmers will get the information free of cost as the University is unlikely to charge any fees for providing the information. Since the CIRCs already have the digital infrastructure for providing broadband Internet connectivity, there will be no other costs, he said.

These six CIRCs are also Soochna Seva Kendras that empower people to learn about and avail all kinds of central and state government schemes, file RTIs, know about their rights and entitlements.

If the pilot project succeeds, DEF plans to further scale-up the project on a pan India basis leveraging its more than 118 CIRCs (more are being set up even as we write) in 19 states of India covering 54 districts.

“The second initiative is all about promoting climate and economic sustainability by harnessing a renewable natural resource such as solar energy, providing power in remote rural areas at affordable rates and also promote skilling and livelihoods,” said DEF deputy director Syed Kazi.

The idea is to promote a for-profit social enterprise that will sell equipment for harnessing solar energy for providing electrical power for both domestic and commercial uses,” said Siddiqui. A hub will be set up in each of the five zones: North, South, East West and the North East. The North zone hub will come up in Muzaffarpur in Bihar, the South zone hub will be established in Coorg, Karnataka, the East zone hub will be in Murshidabad, West Bengal, the West zone hub will be in Aurangabad, Maharashtra. These will be the main assembly units.

There will also be service centres at the village level through village level entrepreneurs who will do the actual selling of the equipment in rural areas. “This way we will be skilling local people in rural areas as well as provide them with livelihoods,” Siddiqui said.

Initially, DEF will leverage its rural presence all over India through its CIRCs, dCIRCs and Soochna Seva Kendras to start village level operations in the five zones. It will expand operations in concentric circles using its various rural digital information centres as rural hubs.

“Both the initiatives are aimed at taking CIRCs, dCIRCs, Soochna Seva Kendras and all other rural digital information centres set up by DEF to the next level,” Siddiqui said.

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