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Internet, bullock carts mix in Indian sugar cane region

Connectivity is changing a centuries-old way of life for villagers in western India  

Farmers sold on benefits of connectivity

WARNA, India (CNN) -- Traffic moves at its own leisurely pace in the western Indian region of Warna.

For centuries farmers here have cultivated sugar cane, and the cane fields dominate the countryside, feeding the sweet tooth of one billion Indians. Farmers pride themselves on producing more sugar per acre than anywhere else in India.

Though little appears to have changed over the centuries -- bullock carts are still the preferred method of transporting cane to market, for example -- technology and computers are helping sweeten the farm profits.

By participating in a government project to plug 70 into the Internet, Warna's sugar cane farmers are among the first in the country to embrace the high-tech wave.

Virtual Villages: India

"We cannot do anything without computers. We need computers," said Govind Jhadav, a 78-year-old farmer who has worked the cane fields since 1964.

"The world is moving forward. If there will be no electricity, there will be darkness. The same will be the case without computers," he said.

Farmers in western India pride themselves in producing more sugar per acre than anywhere else in the country  

Before the advent of the Warna Wired Village Project, Jhadav had to travel several hours to the cane crushing factory. Once there he would wait for hours as his crop was weighed and crushed, along with hundreds of tons of produce from other farmers.

Only after this process was completed did farmers find out how much money their harvest had earned. In fact, all details about the sugar industry were available only at the factory.

But now the farmers -- who all belong to a co-operative that buys their sugar cane and then gives them an equal profit share -- can get their information at a computer kiosk in his village.

'Computers are not just decorative items'

With computers in all the villages, the farmers are linked to a central network. Suddenly, connectivity is changing a centuries-old way of life.

"Computers are not just decorative items. They are useful for the farmer," he said. "We check ... details, sitting in the village. Earlier we used to go to the factory to check for the bill."

The $600,000 network was funded by the central government, and provides 70 villages with computers.

Computers provide farmers with useful information about fertilizers and crop diseases  

Through the network, farmers get a daily weather report, learn what fertilizer to use, and access the sale price of several other crops, which helps them decide what to plant next.

Soon, they will be able to use the network to diagnose crop diseases.

"Earlier, the farmer had to go to a scientist or a laboratory to get his sugar cane tested for disease," says Patil. "Now we are introducing a system where the details of all the sugar cane diseases will be entered to the computer," which will be accessible to the farmer.

Jhadav's only lament is that he's perhaps too old to learn how to use computers. But he hopes his four grandsons will have the wisdom to get wired. Fast.

Warna's farmers relish their role as high-tech pioneers. In Jhadav's village alone, 450 farmers are accessing computers, using them to save time, avoid mistakes, boost productivity.

And they have no desire to keep the advancements secret; they want the 700 million Indians who live in the countryside to also have access to computers, believing it will help raise living standards across India as others discover the economic benefits of high-speed information.


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