Mud Huts to Mobile Tech

The number of mobile users in Africa is now over 300 million, equivalent to the entire population of the US. The cost of a basic mobile phone plus sim card can be as low as Ksh 1500 or $20. As I realized from staying with a family in Ganze town, Kilifi district, most families own a cell phone, a wildly improbable thing if you consider that they grind their own flour using hand-held stone mills, cook their food over an open fire and live in mud-and-makuti (grass thatch) homes.

A cell phone in the hands of a rural Kenyan farmer is a lot more powerful than the computers NASA used to go to the moon in the sixties. Betty, one of KOMAZA’s farmers, answers a call between planting seedlings. Mobile technology presents a unique opportunity for Africa. We’re talking home-grown solutions that encourage innovation and entrepreneurship. In the near future, KOMAZA hopes to create new opportunities using mobile technology. Our Field Extension Network model – which uses a system of field staff to connect farmers with the KOMAZA office – is especially suited for a mobile-distributed information gathering system. We face several unique challenges: we are in a rural part of Kenya with patchy cell service; the literacy level of our farmers is very low; and our farmers are the poorest of the poor, so we are constrained to very basic phone models. In spite of these difficulties, we are excited to produce appropriate technology applications that improve KOMAZA’s service delivery. Some other organizations doing cool things with mobile technology in Africa: txteagle: A crowdsourcing idea. Allows anyone with a mobile phone to complete tasks for pay, e.g. translation of phrases into local languages. questionbox: People in India and Uganda use a public station to call an answer service for free. The person who answers searches the internet for agricultural info on the caller’s behalf. Frontline SMS: A communication solution for our farmers; we’re investigating its potential as a mapping tool as well. Ushahidi: An innovative platform that was used to map crisis zones during Kenya’s 2008 election violence; it’s now being used in many other applications. M-Pesa: A mobile money transfer service by Kenya’s largest cell phone carrier Safaricom. In its third year of implementation, M-Pesa has 7 million subscribers.

Cross posted at: http://komaza.org/blog/?p=93

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