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Mobile meets farmer: Stories from Kenya

As modern communication becomes more ubiquitous in the developing world, increasingly working its way into the lives of rural communities, opportunities to use mobile phones to connect people with each other and the outside world continue to grow.

In this edition of Digital Diversity, Clare Salisbury – a recent MA in Multimedia Broadcast Journalism at the University College Falmouth – shares her interest in how mobile and Internet technologies are influencing small scale farmers, food producers and NGOs in the developing world. Clare is making a radio documentary on the impact technology is having on administering aid in Africa, and she recently visited Kenya as part of her research.

Digital Diversity is a series of blog posts about how mobile phones are being used throughout the world to improve, enrich, and empower billions of lives.

By Clare Salisbury

In the summer of 2011, I traveled to Kenya to make a multimedia documentary about the impact of mobile phone technology on farmers and NGOs that support them. Although I was prepared to see mobiles everywhere, driving from the airport into the city, I couldn’t believe the enormous billboards advertising mobile operators which lined the motorway. The next morning, I sat in a shopping mall in Nairobi and watched as people literally battled for space inside the nearest mobile phone store. People were even queuing to get in the door.

 

A small village shopfront offers mobile banking services to the community. Photo: Clare Salisbury

 

This is, of course, just another day in the capital. During my week in Kenya I would see that the real changes are happening in the hands of people based in rural areas. For these people, the possibilities opened up by access to a mobile handset are life changing.

Whilst in Nairobi I met John Cheburet who founded a radio programme in 2008 to complement the work of The Organic Farmer’s magazine and other outreach work. His programme focuses on agricultural techniques in a programme aired on two national radio stations.

John uses FrontlineSMS to manage the growing number of text messages he receives from the farmers who tune in every week. It’s a great tool as far as production goes; especially because he can send reminders to his listeners about upcoming programmes. John also admits that it’s a great way to think up content, for example – if he wants to make a programme on successful chicken farming techniques, he can easily find a farmer who’s working with chickens to interview by flicking through his SMS message inbox.

Moreover, this feedback ensures his programmes are reactive to the opinions of the listeners which enriches his programme. ‘Farmers know things’, he told me, ‘for a radio programme to be interesting, there has to be a two way communication.’

But as I found out later in my trip, this conversation  facilitated by FrontlineSMS is happening in more than just two directions. In Busia, a border town between Uganda and Kenya in the western region of the country, I met Emmanuel: a small scale dairy farmer who trains his peers and neighbors as part of the Send A Cow project.

He was carrying a copy of The Organic Farmer magazine. It turned out he never misses an installment of John’s radio programme on the Kenyan Broadcasting Corporation (KBC). I asked him whether he ever texts into the show. He said he does, and that through the programme, he has made contact with other small scale farmers across the country and exchanged many ideas and techniques.

 

Florence is a dairy farmer from Busia. She can receive information and veterinary help via her phone. Photo: Clare Salisbury

 

Emmanuel had clearly been motivated by the success and potential of text messaging. He told me how he encourages all the farmers and he helps to train them to use SMS effectively. This encounter was fascinating and it showed me that whilst the concept of text messaging is a simple two way dialogue, combined with a powerful radio presence, the two way conversation is only the beginning. As John said to me back in Nairobi; when he is producing, he likes to imagine that as well as disseminating information on The Organic Farmer, he is really only contributing to a much bigger knowledge exchange throughout the farming community.

I learned during my trip that mobile phones are changing the future for the small scale farmers in Kenya. And the many potential benefits of mobile technology continue to be explored. Spending a day in Nairobi’s sophisticated iHub innovation space for the tech community offered me an enormously exciting insight into what mobile technology tools could be to come for farmers in Kenya and across Africa, too. As international infrastructure accelerates to accommodate the technology being developed, farmers in Africa are increasingly able to benefit.

Clare Salisbury is a freelance broadcast journalist based in the UK. In July 2011, she travelled to east Africa to produce and present a multimedia documentary, Aid20 on the impact mobile phones are having on aid and agriculture. Clare has recently graduated from University College Falmouth with an MA in Multimedia Broadcast Journalism, and pursues an interest in technology for international development in her ongoing blog. Aid20 was partially funded by One World Media. You can find Clare’s full radio documentary, as well as more audio and photos from her trip, on her website.

Further information on the powerful combination of mobile and radio can be found on the FrontlineSMS:Radio website.

Digital Diversity is produced by Ken Banks, innovator, anthropologist, National Geographic Emerging Explorer and Founder of kiwanja.net / FrontlineSMS. He shares exciting stories in Mobile Message about how mobile phones – and technology more broadly – is being used throughout the world to improve, enrich, and empower billions of lives. You can read all the posts in this series, visit his website, or follow him on Twitter.

Comments

  1. National Geographic « Aid 20
    November 3, 2011, 4:06 pm

    [...] a blog post which I wrote about FrontlineSMS, and it’s users has been published on the National Geographic Newswatch blog, curated by Ken Banks, founder of FrontlineSMS and National Geographic Emerging [...]