Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Using cell phone technology to advance agricultural interests in Africa

The headline in today's New York Times Science section is "In Rural Africa, a Fertile Market for Mobile Phones." In it, Sarah Arnquist reports how this technology is being used to facilitate communication between farmers on the one hand, and the clearinghouses for agricultural information, which are often in urban locales, on the other. Here's an excerpt:

In an area where electricity is scarce and Internet connections virtually nonexistent, the mobile phone has revolutionized scientists’ ability to track this crop disease and communicate the latest scientific advances to remote farmers.

In particular, Grameen Foundation, an NGO that works "to reduce poverty through microfinancing and new technology," is running a pilot program in Uganda to track banana disease and educate farmers on how to mitigate it. By doing so, food security and agricultural livelihoods are enhanced. Grameen has worked with a Ugandan company to develop agricultural applications, which " seemed logical in a country that is predominately rural and reliant on small farms."

The story features Laban Rutagumirwa who has been trained by Grameen to survey and educate neighboring farmers. He "collects digital photos, establishes global positioning system coordinates and stores completed 50-question surveys from nearby farmers with sick plants. He sends this data, wirelessly and instantly, to scientists in the Ugandan capital, Kampala." Mr. Rutagumirwa comments,“We never had any idea about getting information with the phone. It was a mystery. Now our mind is wide open.”

Another village leader who has also been trained by Grameen similarly comments on how this technology has opened villagers up to the wider world: “The use of the mobile phone ... has empowered the community to know what they never knew and ask any question concerning their surroundings.”


Spec said...

My group for Intl Human Rights last semester looked into this very issue in post-conflict Darfur. Communications, besides roads, may be the single most important infrastructure for raising an area out of poverty. Traditional land lines are extremely expensive to create and maintain. We did research on an Indian company which was beta testing a cellular system specifically designed for use in rural climes, cheaper and easier to install and maintain. Technology, smaller and cheaper, may hold many of the keys to alleviating rural poverty.

My Organic Acres said...

Fascinating!!! great blog and great info