July 21, 2011
Android Phones Help Poor Farmers in Uganda
Mobile-phone companies and aid agencies have talked for years about deploying feature phones, coupled with basic text information services about the weather and crop pricing, to empower poor people in undeveloped parts of the world. Now, the Grameen Foundation is taking that idea to the opposite, high-tech extreme. PC World reports.
About 400 so-called "community knowledge workers" in Uganda are using Android phones loaded with an open-source data-collection application that feeds data into Salesforce. The phones are powered by batteries that can be recharged in a variety of ways, including solar and bicycle.
Developed by the Seattle-based Grameen Foundation Technology Center, the project offers select farmers loans to buy an Android phone loaded with information about when and how to plant crops, care for farm animals and find markets for products.
Those farmers, whom Grameen calls community knowledge workers, then serve as experts in their villages. Other people turn to them with questions about crops or farm animals, and the knowledge workers find answers in information loaded on the phones. The knowledge workers also gather information about the farmers they talk to.
People have questioned why Grameen is using smartphones rather than low-cost feature phones, but Android phones had a number of benefits, said Heather Thorne, director of ICT innovation at the Grameen Foundation Technology Center. Android is open source, so Grameen could hire its own developers to customize the phones for improved use of power and to make applications usable when the phones aren't connected to the network. Plus, because Android is growing so quickly, she figured that phone prices would drop.
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