Saturday, 4 April 2009

Can you save your harvest with a mobile phone?

Think back to your first mobile phone and how you used it. Now take a look at the handset you might have today and think about if you're using it to its full potential. I've only just scratched the surface of using my iPhone and am discovering new ways of using it in my work every day.

Listen!

We've come a long way and mobile phones are today even in developing countries within reach of many people. It's one of the most popular technologies ever invented. Today there are more than 4 billion subscriptions in the world.

The speed with which mobile phones have reached the poorest and even most remote parts of the world took many by surprise. In 1990, there were just over 14,000 mobile phone subscriptions in Africa. By 2000, there were 16 million, and today there are more than 280 million.

One of the topics we're working on for an international coproduction documentary in Uganda is ICT and rural development.

In 2003, the Grameen Foundation and the mobile network MTN Uganda established a joint venture company, to make mobile phones available to develop small businesses in rural Uganda.

The concept is simple. In remote rural villages where there is no means of communication, a village mobile phone can become a basic pay phone and small business opportunity that can benefit the whole community.

And it's not just about making telephone calls. The villagers can also receive information about education, health, agricultural development, market prices for their goods, micro credit loans - in fact anything that can be transmitted by SMS.



The initial goal to offer 5,000 village phones over five years was met within three years. It goes to show how popular mobile phones are and how quickly they can become an important part of our lives. Today the Village Phone initiative is growing at a rate of more than 150 businesses per month.

With financial support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation the organization now wants to strengthen the village phone operators and build a network of Community Knowledge Workers as “information hubs” for smallholder farmers in Uganda.

The Grameen Foundation is planning to recruit and train Village Phone Operators, agricultural extension agents, and other individuals living and working in rural communities to build the network. The Community Knowledge Workers will use mobile phones to disseminate critical agricultural information to farmers, link them to markets and other key resources and collect information about their community's needs.

Deutsche Welle is planning to send a correspondent to work with colleagues from the Ugandan broadcaster CBS to examine these ICT projects.

Just as an aside: as a radio journalist I'm curious to know if these mobile phones can in fact make a network of communities. I'd love to try to call some of these remote rural communities and hear what they have to say first hand. It is after all an interactive world.

2 comments:

Frits 7 April 2009 at 04:50  

Hi Barbara,
Frits from Cambodia here! I'm thrilled to find out you've spend some time in Uganda, one of my most beloved African countries. Makes me thinking back of the time I was there. Wondering whether Kampala is still that bustling, friendly, nice capital it was back then. Kampala, the green hills of the country, the lake, the..., wow, wish I was there!

Barbara 7 April 2009 at 09:24  

Frits,

So good to hear from you! Uganda was great, even though I only had a week there full of meetings and not enough time to explore.

But I really enjoyed Kampala - bustling, friendly and very green. A stark difference to many other African capitals. I'm going back mid June, this time for three weeks. So, hopefully I'll have much more to report about.

When were you there? And what were you doing in Uganda? Setting up a restaurant?

How is it going? I've send a few friends of mine to your cooking classes - everyone is time and again thrilled. And I can't wait to come back to Cambodia for a refresher course!!

Greetings from Europe.

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