Summary: Train and coordinate local developers to create and maintain Web-based platforms to help local farmers and others in the agricultural ecosystem in the African Sahel to share local innovations for growing vegetation in very harsh environments.
Partners: Web Foundation, Vrije Universiteit (VU) in Amsterdam (VU W4RA page), Africa Regreening Initiative.
Status: Starting in 2010 (with Workshop on Mobile Web for Rural Development in Burkina Faso 3-4 February), and running through 2012.
Funding: VU has committed to fund 3 years of initial work in Burkina Faso to gather requirements and to develop early prototype implementation of several concepts. Additional funding is being sought to work at the farmer, community and agricultural extension agent levels, and to expand this work to other areas, even other continents.
Challenges & Opportunity
In the 1980s several periods of drought had severely deteriorated living conditions in many of the rural communities in West Africa. However, a number of innovative farmers in Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali, developed simple but effective techniques, and rehabilitated a large area of degraded land.
They did so both with and without external support.
Now, 25 years later, farmers in Niger have protected and managed on-farm trees and created cultivated parklands where few trees grew before. In Niger and Burkina Faso, about half a million hectares of barren and crusted land have been converted into fertile fields with crops and trees through the arduous work of a number of farmers. These trees and crops feed an additional 3 million people. In particular in regions with dense populations, the environmental decline has been reversed. This has also led to a reduction in rural poverty.
These results, based on a new agricultural grassroots techniques, are impressive. Yacouba Sawadogo is one farmer who has developed such techniques (see the video preview of a documentary that 1080 Films is completing on Yacouba, titled: The Man Who Stopped the Desert). The impact of techniques like those employed by Yacouba could be greatly magnified. Indeed these new techniques are not yet widespread among communities that are living in similar areas in Sahel, not to mention other countries with similar conditions. The problem is that communication up to now has been mainly by face-to-face exchanges, including busing of farmers to observe successful innovators. What if we could employ a “digital bus” to expand information sharing?
The Web-alliance for Regreening in Africa (W4RA) will use the Web to accelerate the ability to communicate local agricultural innovations, provide training to large number of farming communities, and enable better communication within the agricultural ecosystem. The project will exploit the current infrastructure consisting of Internet cafes in larger towns, mobile phones available to most families or communities, and radios that are an important way of providing information to people. We expect the following outcomes:
- Understanding in details the information needs, the local context (farmers’ requirements, infrastructure, languages…).
- Providing a Web-based platform for sharing information to be used by those with access to computers.
- Providing mobile-based access to information using mobile Web.
- Exploring the potential of voice as a first-class interface to the Web.
- Providing a radio program based on information available on the platform.
- Significant acceleration of the rate of information sharing and of agricultural success.
We are working with local domain experts and information technologists to:
- Define requirements of the end-users (including language needs and their integration on the platform).
- Define the requirements of the platform.
- Design the platform.
- Define the monitoring and assessment plan.
- Identify tools and software component needed in areas like mobile applications, Web and voice, and radio.
- Define software development plan.
- Define and implement training plan for software developers.
- Advise the develop efforts.
- Evaluate in-country infrastructure and ICT-readiness (data service, bandwidth, discussing with ISP and operators…).
Launched in 2010 (with the Workshop on Mobile Web for Rural Development in Burkina Faso 3-4 February), and running through 2012.