Prishtina, Kosovo.- Before she got connected to the Internet, Fitore Përçuku, a Kosovan farmer, would lose a lot of time and money visiting every supermarket in her region to exhibit the vegetables she wanted to sell. Now, she uses her smart phone to send photos of her tomatoes, peppers, and gherkins to those supermarkets and gets a fast response saving time and money for fuel or transport.
“Internet is very good. We don’t need to send our vegetables to the managers of a dozen of grocery stores and supermarkets we work with, and they don’t have to come to us to see our products. We send them photos of our products directly from our greenhouse, using Viber, WhatsApp, or Facebook,” says Përçuku who runs the small Andi BioFrut family business, which includes two greenhouses situated close to her home.
She uses Internet on her smart phone because in her village Stanovc, near the town of Vushtrri, only some 30 kilometers north of Kosovo’s capital Prishtina, there is no broadband connection, yet. The only other option available to her is to connect via a long-range antenna to a Wi-Fi point in another village. But that connection, she says, is highly unreliable, especially in poor weather.
“It would be great if we could have cable internet at our home. We would make and see the bank payments online. We would pay our taxes to the Tax Administration online,” says Përçuku explaining how a reliable and inexpensive broadband Internet connection at her home could help.
“We would also install Internet-connected cameras in our greenhouses to monitor them. We need to travel to the town to deliver vegetables to the supermarkets and we would like to make sure that our employees are working when we are not present and also to be aware of any theft or damage to the property,” she explains.
Such improvements in productivity and connectivity to markets would help other businesses in rural areas to grow and create jobs. Përçuku’s family was able to develop their agriculture business thanks to government subsidies. However, despite a recent growth of agriculture, many people in rural areas, and particularly women, are jobless and live in poverty. Two-thirds of all the poor and extremely poor people in Kosovo live in rural areas, and live on less than €1.72 or €1.20, respectively, per day.
The Government is keen to expand the reach of broadband Internet services in rural areas to bridge the rural-urban development gap and spur economic growth. The Internet can connect more people to economic and social opportunities. Public support is needed to connect those people who are most at risk of falling behind in the digital economy: the poor, women, and rural inhabitants.
“Broadband infrastructure will allow rural areas to develop and to be more integrated into our country,” says Kosovo’s Minister of Economic Development, Blerand Stavileci. “It will also pave the way for improved skills, forincreased export of services in the Information and Communications Technology sector and for more digitalized business,” he explains.
Kosovo’s efforts to improve its existing rural broadband Internet coverage are being assisted by the World Bank. The World Bank is working with the Government to design a national broadband program that will address the infrastructure gaps between urban and rural areas. Support includes the organization of effective infrastructure sharing across the telecommunications and energy sectors, potentially getting faster broadband access to rural areas at a lower cost.
The World Bank also supports the Government of Kosovo’s initiatives to increase the use of the Internet and promote a competitive and green economy. At present, support includes a pilot to connect more women to the digital economy through a “green jobs” pilot project. This will equip 100 unemployed women in rural areas with technical and soft skills to connect them to global online work opportunities. This will help to combat what is one of the highest unemployment rates in Europe, currently at 35.3 percent, and especially high among women.
“The Internet is a door opener to information, to jobs, to increased access to public services of all kinds,” says World Bank’s Country Manager in Kosovo Jan-Peter Olters. “Implementing broadband investments in rural areas, which are particularly hard-hit when it comes to unemployment and economic inactivity, should help to improve the productivity of existing activities in, for instance, agriculture and allow residents, especially women, to develop new economic opportunities,” he adds.
These opportunities from the digital economy will benefit others like Përçuku. Their businesses—currently restricted to local markets—would expand and reach across Kosovo and beyond. Ultimately, the hope is that the advantages enabled by broadband Internet in rural areas will benefit the entire country.