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Regina

3 Nov

Send A Cow farmer Regina

Regina’s interesting mobile phone project is simple. She lives in a remote community outside Busia in west Kenya, and is a one of Send A Cow’s peer farmers (which means that due to her success with organic farming, she now trains other farmers in agricultural techniques.) As more and more of her neighbours begin to buy and use mobile phones, she saw a business opportunity.

At her house, Regina has electricity, but she is in a minority. Most of her neighbours have to travel a long way to reach charging stations. They’re not uncommon in the region, but it usually means a trip to the nearest town or village which can take a whole day there and back.

For these small scale farmers, time is precious. They don’t want to waste it. Unfortunately, one of the burdens of owning a mobile phone is it’s battery life, and to keep it topped up, trips to the town and to electricty are essential.

Enter Regina…

This is Regina’s charging station. By investing in a variety of charging adapters, a broad enough selection to fit the most popular mobile handsets, she offers mobile phone charging on her neighbours doorsteps at 10 Kenyan shillings (just less than 6 and a half pence) a go.

Regina’s charging station is an example of how mobile phones are seeping into the everyday consciousness of people in rural Kenya. Knowing that many of the farmers I interviewed didn’t have electricity in their homes, I often asked them whether this was a problem for them, but they rarely told me that it was. Either they get used to charging when they’re in town. Or they look for other solutions, like Regina, like this or even like this! 

As entrepreneurs go, you have to hand it to Regina who saw an opportunity, and used it to her economic advantage, alongside the money she earns from her farm.

And it’s not her only side-project. She also dabbles in incubation…

Sneak peak: Meet Florence

12 Aug

Meet Florence.

Florence lives near Busia in west Kenya. She is the Vice Secretary of Upendo III, a group of women farmers who have been working together since 1989.

I asked Florence how having a moible phone had affected her day to day life as a farmer.

You can hear her response here:

NB. A ‘boda’ or ‘boda boda’ is a bicycle or motorbike taxi. Interesting fact: The name orignates from Florence’s home town of Busia which lies on the border between Uganda and Kenya. Bikes would transport local people from Kenya to Uganda. ‘Border border’ became ‘boda boda’ and the name is now used in many other African countries.

Getting to the point

6 Jul

In three days I will be on a plane bound for Nairobi so it’s about time I get to the nitty gritty of my project. I’m going to use the next few days to think about the main questions that I hope my documentary will go some way to finding answers for. Beyond that, my blog will become a bit of a progress diary, a travel log. So check back to see how I’m getting on.

Mobile technologies are changing lives, especially in the developing world. Since beginning my project, many people I have quizzed have emphasised that technologies must not simply be seen as a tool for administering aid. I hope that this argument will raise it’s head during my documentary. But my focus will be to ask…

How are mobile technologies affecting the relationship between NGOs and farmers? 

In a way, the argument which says that mobile technologies should be used for change outside of the confines of the aid industry goes some way to answering this question. Are people so empowered by the technologies that they are using that they don’t need the support we’ve come to see as ‘conventional’ from Non-governmental organisations.

On Monday, Oxfam launched it’s largest ever emergency appeal in Africa. We are, they say, amid the worst food crisis in the 21st century, as the Horn of Africa suffers from widespread drought. The Guardian have produced another great interactive map which shows some if the facts and figures. (I will stop banging on bout their maps I promise) Notice it states that 10 million are in need of ‘humanitarian assistance’.

So what does humanitarian assistance mean in an age when the internet and mobile phones make it increasingly easy to start up businesses? Have we moved into an age where aid has altered from being about Geldof and his gigs? Or are these ten million people still needing instantaneous solutions?

The reality is that I won’t be visiting the people who are really desperately in need of food aid. But I do hope to talk to farmers about how they see development projects that they are part of, and how technology is making them think differently. I’ll also be talking to people who have seen NGOs and the work that they do evolve as attitudes, politics and technologies have all had their part to play in changing international aid and development.

If the Horn of Africa really is amid a food crisis, I’m hoping that my documentary might shed some light on the future.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poverty Matters

4 May

The Guardian’s Poverty Matters Blog is worth a look if you haven’t come across it already. Today, especially so. Read Mohamed Béavogui’s post for the 4th May 2011 here. 

I don’t think that Mr Béavogui’s argument is a new one. It’s certainly one I’ve come across before and really without it, I wouldn’t have a documentary in the pipeline. He says that African farmers have the potential to solve the ‘food crisis’ that we could face in the future. Further than this, that they hold the key to the further development of the continent, and that we must see them as entrepreneurs, as business men and women.

But, he adds, to ensure success, they need support and investment by their governments in things like access to technology, access by roads. Improved electricity and reliable water resources are vital too. Keep an eye on goings on at the World Economic Forum on Africa in Cape Town this week.

I was struck by the attention drawn to national supply chains and the changing demands emerging from African centres, instead of demand from foreign importers. Last week I read an interesting article courtesy of the African Research Institute. Written by a Kenyan smallholder, it detailed how he manages his farm and how he produces vegetables, largely soya beans for export rather than for local sale. With Europe putting pressure on consumers to buy local and avoid ‘food miles’, will smallholders start looking for business that little bit closer to home?

Then again, we’re talking big business. World food prices are at a record high, and strong horticultural exporters are reaping the benefits. Is it really realistic for producers to ignore the temptuous international marketplace?

Anyway, The Guardian Poverty Matters blog. Take a look.

Applab connecting Uganda

20 Apr

Original video: Applab, Grameen Foundation

Grameen Foundation work with communities in the developing world, increasing access to technology and micro-finance initiatives, aiming to help people make their way out of poverty.

Like Question Box , when it comes to connecting people, Applab‘s philosophy is a simple one. Community knowledge workers work with farmers, bridging the gaps that can’t yet be connected by the internet. Farmer’s questions get answers. Knowledge is shared.

Their flickr page and blog are also worth a look.

Connecting Ethiopia

17 Apr

http://www.ethiotube.net/nvlab/player/player.swf?config=http://www.ethiotube.net/nvlab/econfig.php?key=745740d4e8c771e011e1

Ethiotube: Linking Ethiopian farming communities to export markets

Connections are being made between producers in Africa and the international market all over the continent. So it’s probably not suprising that things are moving fast in Ethiopia too, like the video shows. Forging these connections is important when 85% of Ethiopians rely on small scale, ‘back yard’ style agriculture for their income.

It’s especially significant considering the other side of agriculture in the country. Something that that Guardian article you can read by clicking on the link above talks about. Agriculture is also big business in Ethiopia. The government have sold huge swathes of land to national and foreign investors looking to grow food cheaply. Berhanu Kebede (Ethiopia’s ambassador to the UK) writes…

“The key is to achieve balance. Commercial farms tend to become hubs that link smallholders to value chains and help spread knowledge and best practice to other farms. So the debate is not about big versus small. We will continue to support commercially viable small farms, which offer increased food supplies, jobs and incomes in both the farm and non-farm economy. This will help Ethiopia achieve wider economic development and prosperity.”

In Ethiopia, mobile technology and agirculture have yet to collide in a big way. I hope to keep looking at the reasons behind this. But you can certainly see from the video that there’s great potential for their use in developing agriculture in the country.

Which leads me to me and an update on my research. I’m currently eagerly searching for ICT4D projects in Ethiopia, and also concentrating on discerning what exactly the situation is there now in regards to NGOs administering support. Still coming across fascinating projects every day via Twitter and a host of new followee’s. Just a shame they’re not in Ethiopia!

Apologies for the video being a little bit melodramatic. Nice to see some shots of Addis Ababa though..which actually, while I’m at it, is not an ancient city like the video sort-of suggests. Addis Ababa is little over one hundred years old. The name itself means ‘New Flower’ in Amharic

…Not that I wish to be pedantic!

Farming in Africa: 4 Sources

17 Apr

Four sites for more videos on farming in Africa.

(In no particular order…)

1. Send A Cow on Vimeo My tip (tap) Take a look at ‘How to make a Tip-tap ‘

2. FARM-Africa’s Youtube channel Chick, chick, chick, chick, chicken!

3. Heifer International on Vimeo Basket making in Senegal, making it look easy.

4. Gates Foundation: Videos  A lovely video on Maria’s sweet potatos in Tanzania

Why agriculture?

17 Apr

linkTV: Meeting Food Needs – Solutions from Africa

70% of the population of Sub-Sahran Africa are employed in agriculture. 80% of Uganda’s population of 31 million are involved in agriculture and as you can see from this list, agriculture in Ethiopia provides a whole host of valuable exports. The Gates Foundation has lots of similar facts and figures, all of which emphasise how important agirculture is to the economies of many developing countries, in particular African countries.

In accordance with an African Union programme, many African governments are investing more money into strengthening agriculture. But there is still work to be done.

There’s the problem of waste shown in linkTV’s video above. There’s also the plight of the ‘Middleman’ who take a share of the money that would otherwise go to the food producers. There are cultural aspects too. In Ethiopia I saw farmers driving huge herds of skinny cows along the road. I was told that these farmers see the size of their herd as more valuable than the productivity of the individual cow. Even though a smaller herd of better nourished, productive cows would really be far more cost efficient.

These are some of the reasons why agriculture is being targeted by the mobile market. As Danielle Nierenberg says huge numbers of farmers have access to mobile phones. If information can be distributed via them and farmers can connect to each other using them it could have global implications.

MobileActive.org: Mobile phones in rural development and agriculture