Mobile Phone Technology Uganda

posted on February 24, 2014 4:28pm

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MOBILE PHONE TECHNOLOGY COMBATS AGRICULTURAL CHALLENGES IN UGANDA

 Minimal access to extension agents, illiteracy, and lack of information on best practices are only a few of the challenges that face many rural farmers in Uganda.  Daniel Ninsiima, of Makerere University’s Agricultural Research Institute, is trying to address some of these problems through the creative use of mobile phone technology.   Since more than half of Uganda’s farmers have access to mobile phones, this technology can transcend traditional ways of reaching farmers.   As part of his work at Makerere, Daniel designed applications and content that would provide audio in different Ugandan languages to reach farmers who are illiterate and who may speak one of Uganda’s minority languages.   The initial success of this project was disseminated to other countries such as Tanzania, Rwanda and Ghana.

 Daniel soon realized, however, that working on the technical aspects of these applications only addressed a small part of the growing need.  He needed to learn more about the theoretical aspects of his work, about research principles and methodology, and how the results of this research could be applied to wider audiences both in Uganda and other developing countries.

The Borlaug Higher Education for Agricultural Research and Development (BHEARD) project is providing Daniel with the tools he needs.  With the goal of increasing the agricultural research capacity of selected institutions in Feed the Future countries, BHEARD provides full funding to researchers in FTF target fields to pursue master’s or doctoral degrees.  BHEARD’s first cohort for the 2013-14 academic year has placed 30 graduate students from Bangladesh, Cambodia, Ghana, Mozambique and Uganda in 12 U.S. universities.  Mali and Malawi will join the second cohort for 2014. 

Now at Michigan State University pursuing his master’s degree in Telecommunications, Daniel is exposed to state-of-the-art research in his field, both in his department and in another USAID-funded program, the Global Center for Food Systems Innovation (GCFSI). Under the Higher Education Solutions Network (HESN) program, GCFSI works with USAID to apply science and technology to find solutions to problems in global food systems. Daniel works with Dr. Susan Wyche, who studies information communication technologies and development in rural Kenya. He is an active member of the Information Communications Technology for Development team in the College of Communication Arts and Sciences, which is also linked to GCFSI.  This group examines multidisciplinary computer-human interaction programs with input from scholars in many fields, including communications, business, engineering, education, and agriculture. 

 Daniel’s work in this field in the few months he has been at Michigan State has brought him an invitation to participate in the Innovation Marketplace at TechCon 2013, sponsored by another USAID-funded program, the ResilientAfrica Network.  RAN is one of seven innovation labs under HESN.

 Opportunities provided by the BHEARD program will help give Daniel the intellectual and technical expertise he needs to carry out his master’s research on use of mobile phone technology in Uganda and, when he has returned to Makerere University, to use his new skills in support of Uganda’s development objectives.