Wired to Prosperity: ICT Crucial to Rural Development
INTEL DEVELOPER FORUM, Beijing, April 8, 2009 – Information and communications technology (ICT) is a powerful productivity tool for farmers, and the government, technology industry and society should work together to deploy ICT to accelerate economic and social development in rural areas. This was the consensus reached at the 2009 Industry Forum on Rural ICT Development, which was part of the 2009 Intel Developer Forum held today in Beijing.
With the theme "Wired to Prosperity," this high-profile forum on ICT's role in China's rural development was led by Intel Corporation Chairman Craig Barrett. The panel's guests were distinguished representatives from academia and the ICT industry. These included Xu Xianglin, a professor from the China Communist Party Central School; Li Zhengmao, vice president of China Mobile; Wang Zhuzhu, deputy director of the National Center for Educational Technology; Gao Yicheng, president of Haier Computer; Liu Ning, president of Shanghai Kingstar Winning Software; and Ian Yang, president of Intel China.
"Increasing access to technology can be a critical driver of economic growth in rural China, but it will require government and industry leaders to work together to make it happen," said Barrett during the forum's closing remarks.
Barrett also is chairman of the United Nation's Global Alliance for ICT and Development (UN GAID) and brought a global perspective to the discussion. He travels to more than 30 countries a year to advance programs to narrow the digital divide and create social and economic opportunities in developing regions. This trip marked Barrett's 15th visit to China.
During the forum Barrett described how technology can be a tool to change people's lives and create opportunities. He said there are four ingredients to boost the rural development with technology: providing access to Internet-connected technology; increasing access to broadband connectivity; developing useful Internet content and software solutions for farmers; and providing training so farmers can learn how to use computers.
Xu Xianglin, professor from the China Communist Party Central School, spoke highly of the government's "San-nong" policies (agriculture, villages and farmers) and efforts that will make sure farmers benefit from China's economic growth.
"With the fast increase of income, many rural families can afford a PC now," said professor Xu. "However, the ‘digital gap' still exists. There is a huge gap in the ability to get information between urban and rural residents. The ‘PC Going to Villages' campaign is a great opportunity to narrow the gap."
"PC Going to Villages" is a national campaign in which the government is providing a 13 percent subsidy so more farmers can afford to buy computers. Haier is one of the top PC manufacturers in China and has 15 PC models available through the "PC Going to Villages" program.
"Haier has established a rural sales and service network, with more than 10,000 sales outlets and 5,000 service shops," said Gao Yicheng, president of Haier Computer. "Fast-to-start and easy-to-use, our products are designed to meet farmers' specific needs. We are committed to providing farmers with the best products and services, just like in big cities."
China has 800 million people living in the countryside and the need for rural ICT development is urgent. With low population density in remote areas, mobile communications is expected to play a key role. China Mobile has extended the information highway to rural areas with its "Connecting Every Village" project.
"Cooperating with governments at all levels, China Mobile has launched information services nationwide for farmers, including distribution of agriculture-related information, tailor-designed rural information terminals, and rural information service outlets," said Li Zhengmao, vice president of China Mobile. "We even launched a specialized service to help farmers find jobs. We would like to work together with Intel, PC manufacturers, software vendors and content providers. With support of the government, China Mobile will use its nationwide platform to drive rural ICT development with the participation of all parties."
Ian Yang said he recently visited some rural villages in Shaanxi, Shandong, Hunan and Fujian provinces to better understand the rural market and farmers' specific needs.
"Unlike other consumer electronic products, the PC should be a productivity tool to support the rural development," Yang said. "The government subsidy will make PCs more affordable to farmers, but this is not enough. It's even more important to train farmers how to use PCs to find information that helps them improve their crop yields and incomes. We should have a long-term strategy to develop a comprehensive rural information platform and an ecosystem to provide integrated and localized contents and solutions to farmers."
Forum participants concurred that health care is one area in which farmers can drastically benefit from better access to technology.
"Health care can be a breakthrough application for ICT in rural areas," said Liu Ning, president of Shanghai Kingstar Winning Software. "Medical services lag far behind in rural areas. ICT is the best way to narrow the gap. For example, we can develop applications that standardize medical treatment to help medical staff in rural areas."
The forum's speakers unanimously agreed that education is essential. Farmers must learn how to use computers to benefit from and enjoy the access to computers, the broadband connectivity and localized contents and solutions.
"We've got a saying at Intel that ‘PCs aren't magic, teachers are,'" said Barrett.
More than 1.3 million teachers and over 100 million students in China have benefited from Intel's technology-related education programs, including Intel® Teach, Intel® Learn, Intel® ISEF and university programs.
"From 2003 to 2007, China has established a modern remote education network, covering more than 100 million primary and secondary students in over 360,000 schools in central and western China," said Wang Zhuzhu, deputy director of National Center for Educational Technology. "Our next step is to upgrade the system and we will use advanced theory and technology to train teachers and improve the education quality."
The forum's participants also agreed that the rural market will be the engine for China's future growth and ICT will play a key role in economic development in rural areas.
"The ‘PC Going to Villages' program is only the beginning and the first step," said Yang. "We need a system – with collaboration between government, industry and society. With the support of government at all levels, the industry -- including PC manufacturers, telecom carriers, software vendors and Internet content providers -- and social organizations can work together to build comprehensive information platforms for farmers. This could provide business, medical, technology and education information to help farmers improve their lives. "
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