November 25 2009: Third day, beginning of the field visit. As always, heavy day ! we left Kampala at 7:30am en route to Bushenyi, to meet with Eric Cantor, and visit Grameen Foundation AppLab . Normal driving time is 5 hours… with car failure, water leaks… more than 7 hours! Fortunately, Uganda is a beautiful country, and we enjoyed the scenery, the villages and so on. We finally met Eric around and started our field visit around 3:00pm.
Without a doubt, this was for me one of the highlights of the whole trip. Grameen Foundation developed a set of applications on mobile to provide farmers with health and agriculture information, the ability to buy and sell commodities and produce, general Q&A service and weather forecasts. Some of these applications are SMS based, some are java-based.
As many rural farmers are not literate, and do not own a phone, they also developed a concept called Community Knowledge Workers (CKW) which serves as intermediaries between farmers and the service. CKW serve also as a relay to send feedback to Grameen Foundation and local authorities. They are filling surveys from time to time to give information on the community, or if a particular plant disease is affecting the region.
CKW are usually a kind of champions within the community. They generally are better educated, and speak English. During the afternoon we visited a place where CKWs were following a training session on the new set of applications just released. Then we visited a community and interacted with farmers directly to get their opinion about CKW and the services provided. Some interesting facts:
- Few farmers have a phone (around 15-20% of the community), and this is due to the cost
- Almost no farmer has ever heard about the Internet or the Web
- Lots of people in the community have asked help from the CKW particularly to fight plant disease
- People are eager to get more services/information (like e.g. child nutrition information specifically requested)
- People would be interested to have access to the information themselves directly on their own phones (for those who have phones)
It is important to note that most of the farmers are illiterate (we were told that in Uganda only 30-40% of people are literate), and most do not speak English (numerous different languages exist).
I believe that this concept of CKW is very powerful as a bridge between ICT services and people who are unable to access them today. Hopefully, in few years, when more people have a phone, when content is available in their own languages, and when they have some way to get information even if they are illiterate, CKW could become redundant.
The last part of the day was dedicated to interacting with users of Grameen Foundation’s services. Some of the services mentioned above, more specifically the SMS-based ones, are also available directly to people. The targeted end-users here are urban or semi-urban English-speaking people. We discussed with 4 of them. Their feedback was globally positive. Usually they were using one particular service (but not the same), and were not aware of the others. Their major concern were about languages, and their difficulties some time to use English.
All in one, this was a very interesting day, the first time in our trip where we had a chance to get feedback and opinions from end-users.