Twenty-eight years ago, we had the first telephone line installed at our home in the city of Rawalpindi. I was 14 years old and so excited that I would dial my father’s number at work every other day—even if that meant being scolded for making needless calls.
But when we visited our relatives in a small village in Punjab, Pakistan, we had no telephone line. My grandfather’s persistent requests to the government were unheard.
Sadly, not much has changed since then. In 2018, fiber reached my city, enabling my kids to go online while I work from home. But in my family’s village, people were still deprived of a decent Internet connection. My relatives asked me to install a community network, like the one I helped set up in Chak-5 Faiz village, but there was no backhaul option available in the region for tens of kilometers. The rural-urban digital divide remains stark in Pakistan, and we still have a long way to go in connecting everyone.
Last year, during a trip to Lahore, I met Fouad Bajwa, an old friend who shares a common interest in developing communities through technology. While we had no intention of discussing work, we couldn’t resist talking about connectivity in Pakistan. In a matter of 30 minutes, we came up with the idea to deploy a community network for farmers, allowing them to take advantage of the Internet to improve their livelihood.
We mobilized a community in Chak 26-SP, a small village near Pakpattan district in Punjab. Despite the difficult times during the pandemic, this vibrant community, led by young boys, built Pakistan’s first Digital Agriculture Community Network—Digital Dera.
Digital Dera is a center where farmers can access free information and guidance from agricultural experts at any time, on a wide range of issues that are relevant to them, and in the local language. Through Digital Dera, farmers will be empowered with information about the latest research in the agricultural sector, from crop improvement techniques to practices for adapting to climate change.
There will be local volunteers (we call them Community Network Champions) to not only provide relevant information, but also train farmers on increasing farm productivity with the latest technology and skills, including precision agriculture, smart farming innovations, and e-commerce.
Digital Dera will provide services to more than 2,000 farmers in villages around the area. It is a collaboration between the Internet Society and the Agriculture Republic. It is backed by Hayat Farms Pakpattan, Accountability Lab, and the Pakistan Telecommunication Co. Ltd.
The people in my family’s village still don’t have regular Internet connectivity. But Digital Dera gives me hope that one day everyone will be able to fully benefit from the Internet. Perhaps soon another teenage boy will use the Internet to find his father at work—excited about the possibility of connection.
Watch our Digital Dera launch video below.