Chase for India's rural rupee inspires tech innovations

India's hunger for new technology is as sharp in its countless small villages as in its shiny office towers or shopping malls - and businesses are waking up to an area of massive potential growth.

Specific designs being aimed at Indian villagers include a mobile phone cash-transfer system, robust low-energy refrigerators and a clever twist on the humble kitchen stove.

Household cook Shivnath Yadav, 35, told AFP that he regularly sends funds via his mobile phone to his mother in the tiny village of Gajolpaharpur in Bihar, one of the country's poorest states.

"It's so easy to do this, and knowing that it will reach my mother soon relieves me of any tension," he said at the Jai Janta convenience store in south Delhi where he completes the transaction.

Two brothers, Abhishek and Abhinav Sinha, used a World Bank grant in 2009 to set up Eko Financial Services, which provides mobile banking services by using such small shops as de facto banking outlets.

When a customer wants to send funds to a relative, they deposit cash with a shopkeeper who dials a code to get the transaction cleared by Eko. Eko then alerts the bank to transfer the money to a shop in the relative's village, where he or she can pick up the cash.

Store owner Jitender Kumar, 33, said he dealt with more than 100 cash-transfer customers a day who send money to villages scattered across east India.

Business has been encouraging enough to lead him to shut down his phone repair business and focus attention entirely on mobile banking.

"We wanted to make the service really simple, as easy as putting money under your mattress but much more secure," said Anupam Varghese, vice president of research and development at Eko.

At present Eko has 800 outlets in three states, but Varghese said the company plans to expand to cover all of India - a country where more than 70 percent of its 1.18 billion people live in villages, according to census data.

Also heralding a technological revolution in rural communities is an ATM that uses batteries and solar power to overcome frequent power shortages.

Many banks have been reluctant to extend their ATM networks into villages, fearing that the profit margins would be too low and the security risks too high.

But engineer L. Kannan recently unveiled the first fully-functioning "Gramateller" ATM after several years in development.

"Villagers are not affluent but they do have money. What they don't have is a way to save money since setting up branches or traditional ATMs in villages is not profitable for banks," he told AFP.

"My machine functions on 100 watts of power - 10 percent of a conventional machine's consumption - and has back-up batteries and solar panels."

The Gramateller is also able to issue used notes rather than only freshly-printed ones, making it easier for banks to re-supply.

Kannan signed a contract this year with India's largest bank, the State Bank of India (SBI), to supply it with 600 machines and about 300 of them are already up and running around the country.

The rush to meet rural demand for new technology is not limited to the financial sector or small start-ups, with giants like the Tata Group also entering the fray.

Already famous for producing the world's cheapest car, the Nano, last year Tata released a water purifier which requires neither electricity nor running water to operate.

Priced at 999 rupees (22 dollars), the Swach purifier uses rice husk ash impregnated with nano-silver particles to filter water and is designed to last a family of five for 200 days.

Looking to tap into another lucrative young market, fellow conglomerate the Godrej Group is now working on a refrigerator aimed at the vast majority of Indians who don't own one.

"We saw that the penetration of refrigerators in India is only 18 per cent and we wondered, don't the rest of them need one?" G. Sunderraman, vice president of corporate development at Godrej, told AFP.

Sunderraman consulted with villagers during extensive field research and came up with the "Chotukool" (Small Cooler) - a bright red cube with top-quality insulation that can run on electricity or on a battery.

It uses thermoelectric cooling instead of a compressor to withstand the physical pressures of a rural environment, and will be on sale within months.

At 3,750 rupees, it is still expensive in a country where hundreds of millions of people live on less than two dollars a day.

But entrepreneur Mahesh Yagnaraman, CEO of First Energy, cautions against the idea that cheap products are always a better bet in the chase for the rural rupee.

"The product needs to be aspirational. People want a product that compares well to those sold in cities," said Yagnaraman, who markets the Oorja smokeless stove to village women.

The stove uses biomass pellets instead of wood or gas to cut down on indoor smoke pollution and - equally importantly - on the huge amount of time spent sourcing firewood.

All the business people who spoke to AFP admitted that they were yet to turn a profit, but it has not dampened their optimism.

"It is challenging to reach out to villages, but as an Indian company we have to target this market, if we don't, who will?" said Sunderraman.

"In the long run, there will be growth."

Life and Style
Customers can get their caffeine fix on the move
food + drink
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Voices
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
Flat out: Michael Flatley will return to the stage in his show Lord Of The Dance
Michael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
i100
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T plays live in 2007 before going on hiatus from 2010
arts + entsSinger-songwriter will perform on the Festival Republic Stage
Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
News
Jermain Defoe got loads of custard
i100
News
peoplePamela Anderson rejects ice bucket challenge because of ALS experiments on animals
Arts and Entertainment
tvExecutive says content is not 'without any purpose'
News
A cleaner prepares the red carpet for the opening night during the 59th International Cannes Film Festival May 17, 2006 in Cannes, France.
newsPowerful vacuum cleaners to be banned under EU regulations
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Data Insight Manager - Marketing

    £32000 - £35000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based o...

    Data Insight Manager

    £40000 - £43000 Per Annum plus company bonus: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

    Trainee Recruitment Consultant - IT

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: Computer Futures has been est...

    C# Software Engineer (ASP.NET, C#, CSS, Java Script, JQuery)

    £40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits, Training & Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# S...

    Day In a Page

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

    The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
    Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

    Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

    A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
    Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

    Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

    Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
    Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

    Nick Clegg the movie

    Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
    Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

    Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

    Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

    Waxing lyrical

    Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
    Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

    Revealed (to the minute)

    The precise time when impressionism was born
    From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

    Make the most of British tomatoes

    The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
    10 best men's skincare products

    Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

    Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
    Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

    Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

    The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
    La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

    Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

    Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
    Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
    Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

    Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

    Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
    Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
    Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

    Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

    Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape