One of our classes this week focused on mobile phone case studies and some of the impacts of mobile phone implementation in rural populations. One of the studies, “Mobile Phones and Economic Development: Evidence from the Fishing Industry in India” by Reuben Abraham, was about Indian fishermen using mobile phones to check market prices of fish, coordinate with buyers, etc. The study concludes that there is some positive effects on reduced waste of fish, and a small increase in profits for fishermen, but overall the impact of the phones in the studied community was nothing super amazing. Abraham also asserts that information gaps in markets can be remedied by the creative use of technology, which inspired me to find some creative uses of mobile phone technology that might have a serious impact on development.
When I found the Mobile Money for the Unbanked program from the GSMA, I thought there might be some real potential in it. The basis of the program is to support mobile providers in rural and undeveloped areas to offer banking services to their subscribers. The reason that this is such an intriguing idea is that it uses the mobile platform to provide a service that is already so established in its standard form. The banking system in the US has adopted credit cards, debit cards, and even apps that allow you to check your accounts, but this program is a form of banking that is very new in is conception.
Mobile Money allows subscribers to load money onto their SIM card and use the money to pay for things like taxis or groceries. They can also withdraw cash from it at one of their provider’s locations. This is a great solution to the lack of banking in rural areas, and because of mobile provider recognition many people already trust these companies. The program also gives GSMA great data measuring tools for financial indicators, which is otherwise very hard to collect from people without any documented transactions. The website provides a really cool tracker tool that shows where they have employed the program and where they are planning to.
The Mobile Money for the Unbanked program is one of the really cool and successful examples of taking an existing technology and using it in a non-traditional way to improve ICT4D. I am really excited by the potential for mobile banking, and though there are now apps like Venmo, which allows people to make quick bank/credit transfers, making the mobile providers the bank is a very different approach all together. I will be interested to see if this catches on in the West, or remains in the developing world.
New and old technologies, from mobile phones and computers to radios and lighting, are all connected by an essential common thread: they require power. ICTs might have the ability to improve networks, reduce poverty, or empower women, however, without an energy source the use-value of these technologies are rendered ineffective and irrelevant. Importantly, access to a power supply can be an extreme factor within the digital divide, and more specifically, rural residents often face the burden of this divide. The combination of my five-month experience in Ghana and this week’s ICT4D class has allowed me to raise a few important questions: what do you do when you can’t just “plug it in”? Further, how does ICT become relevant when power and electricity in and of itself is needed?
According to an article written by experts at Linkoping University and the University of Nairobi, the biggest barrier across Africa to ICT is power and electricity. Importantly, they explain that what will improve the livelihoods of many residents, particularly those in slums and rural areas, is not a new piece of technology, but access to energy. This finding echoes a publication from Rural21, the International Journal for Rural Development, titled Without Energy no ICT!. As exposed by Rural21, technologies cannot be useful to the daily lives of people if power and electricity are unavailable. I bring these articles up in conjunction with each other because it is imperative to listen to these needs in the development arena if ICT is ever going to be a realized factor in the lives of these marginalized communities.
Even more, as Rural21 pointed out, inventive and renewable energies might be the power solution that makes developing countries capable of utilizing ICT. Instead of expanding the power grid, why not harvest wind from the “windy coastline” or build new businesses from new environmentally-friendly battery sources (as seen in case-study of Zambia pay phones)? Ultimately, I want to emphasis the need for the ICT4D community to step back and see the real needs of people before simply implanting a flashy technology. While we can always find a power supply for our phones and computers, not everyone can. Therefore, let’s find the energy to power development, for this first step has the potential to empower more people in the long-term.
As we’ve discussed in class, actual technologies themselves have little impact on development. It is only when they are used to effectively deliver the aspirations of poor people that they may be able to positively influence their lives and livelihoods (Unwin, 76). That is what Arthur Zang, a young Cameroonian engineer, had in mind when he built the first fully touch screen medical tablet that could soon save hundreds of lives. The Cardiopad enables people with heart disease living in remote locations to perform heart exams, while the results are transmitted from the nurse’s tablet to that of the doctor who then interprets them. In a part of the world where there is one cardiologist per 70,000 people, where many have great difficulty traveling to urban centers to seek medical care, and where the cost of medical exams is prohibitive for most of the population, the Cardiopad is bound to save thousands of lives.
Taking in factors of development, the Cardiopad has advantages and disadvantages. The factors that might inhibit the Cardiopad from being effective are infrastructure, user interface, and cost effectiveness. Access to high bandwidth and electricity is limited in remote villages, so a wireless solution might fall short. Cables and wires are also susceptible to deterioration and tampering, making the physical infrastructure an inhibiting factor. However, the engineer assures that “the Cardiopad is equipped with a battery that can independently power the machine for more than seven hours.” The other issue is user interface. Nurses and doctors in remote areas will have to be trained on how to use the heart exam software, and that will cost money. I’m not saying it cannot be done, but general acceptance and motivation could be an inhibiting factor. Then there is cost effectiveness. Because the Cardiopad is still in its pilot stage and not yet available on the market, its price isn’t fixed. Hospitals in remote areas are already underfunded and in poor condition. The tablets will have to be privately funded or petitioned for public funding – which isn’t guaranteed. But hopefully like other tablets for development we have learned about in class, they will be available under for $100 and subsidies can cover at least part of the cost.
Overall, I think the Cardiopad is a huge step forward in putting ICTs to use for development. At only 24 years old, Arthur Zang has engineered a device that crosses not only thousands of miles across the African continent, but also propels humanity years into the future towards saving the lives of more people in more regions across the globe.
An article in the NY Times demonstrates just how difficult it is for those living in rural areas of an already extremely impoverished country to improve their standards of living. The article discusses the recent discovery of coal in Mozambique and how such a discovery will provide a massive economic boom for the country. However, the money that would flow in from the mega-project ($6 billion) will hardly help improve the livelihood of its residents, according to a report by USAID that was addressed in the article.
The untapped coal was discovered in an area where already many people were living. In order to extract the coal, all of the people living there had to move. Most of the villagers thought this project would bring jobs and a brighter future. Instead they were moved 25 miles away and are faring worse than they were before.
While I was reading the article, I kept wondering how people who live so far below the poverty line in countries rich with resources can use ICTs to their benefit. In the case of Mozambique, it seemed almost intangible for many communities to ever reach a point in which they could seriously benefit from ICTs. It also begged the question of how we can exploit the natural riches of a country and then channel the resources derived from such in order to benefit those who most deserve it – something that seems is taking a very long time to actually happen.
Even though the article didn’t directly address ICTs, it was nonetheless a serious indicator of some of the obstacles facing ICT4D, especially in the “bottom billion” countries. After having discussed the digital divide in class, it was clear that there are still so many places not even close to being able to close the gap – especially the rural and marginalized.
This case study focuses on radio’s contribution to the livelihoods of Alpaca farmers in the Peruvian Andes. Over recent decades Alpaca farmers have seen an increase in climate variability, which has led to a set of cold spells that have killed livestock, reduced birth rates, introduced new diseases, and reduced yields of their herds. In 2008 the Peruvian NGO Desco joined with Oxfam GB to pilot the CAMELTEC project “aiming to address technological, social, political and institutional issues that affected these communities.” CAMELTEC was based around information access–using radio to offer meteorological warnings and advice on how to reduce the impact of climate variability on animal death. Radio broadcasts were provided in preparation of weather events and throughout the events themselves. Additionally, CAMELTEC offered information on market pricing for alpaca wool, institutional support from local governments and more.
Specifically, CALEMTEC applied this information through a weekly radio broadcast called Amanecer Alpaquero (Alpaca Farmer’s Daybreak), provided in both Spanish and Quechua (the most important indigenous language of the region). This program was popular not only because of its informational value, but because of its use of humour and music. The program also offered women a unique opportunity to provide input, giving farming women opportunities for learning which were unavailable before because of cultural and family reasons.
This radio program was very successful, reaching around 2,000 people instantaneously at a very low cost (only $900 a month). More than 80% of respondents said the tuned in weekly to the show and since the start of CAMELTEC the mortality rate of alpacas has been reduced from 18% for adults and 25% for calves to 12% overall, saving about $500 worth of livestock per farmer.
During our class discussion of the future of rural and agricultural development, the idea of GMOs as a future means of alleviation of poverty and hunger was advanced. Although a contentious issue, it is an empirical fact that genetically modified crops offer increased food security through drought resistant and higher-yield crop varieties. However, we should not let the promise of the technology blind us to the trade policies of some of the largest GMO producers and pushers. One of the chief problems that has arisen is the patenting of life. Large multinational corporations like Monsanto enter a country, extract the seeds and strains they consider of value, and patent them. They can then claim sole rights over the seeds and sell them back to the community they were taken from, at a premium. Given that multinational corporations have the backing of the WTO, smallholder farmers are unable to export any patented crops unless they pay a licensing fee that cuts deeper into the razor-thin profit margins of the millions of smallholder farmers in India alone. So far in India at least, the result is a surge in bankruptcy and suicide among smallholder farmers, fueled by an acutely increased sensitivity to price fluctuations and poor harvests due to the increased cost of farming for those least able to afford it.
Several developing and developed countries are actively fighting the WTO agreement that patented life (TRIPS Article 273B) and/or the rise of GMOs in general. One of the breakout stars of the resistance movement is Dr. Vandana Shiva, who succinctly and I believe convincingly argues against the WTOs IP legislation in the video embedded below. How we look at agricultural rights has important implications for discussions of globalization and human rights, which I believe makes everyone a stakeholder in the fight for agricultural sovereignty.
I have included several other resources below for learning more about the current seed-war, as well as a link to the website for Navdanya, Vandana Shiva’s organization: