For farmers in developing countries, texting is a learning tool
You probably use text messaging to Tweet your friends, classmates or colleagues. In the developing world, more and more people are exploring the “killer app” of messaging and related technologies to earn their livelihood and escape poverty.
Helping smallholder farmers in Southeast Asia to use information and communications technology (ICT) to improve their lot is the purpose of a new project involving U of G’s Helen Hambly.
This fall, the professor in the School of Environmental Design and Rural Development (SEDRD) made her first-ever visit to Sri Lanka under the three-year, $200,000 project funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC).
The project involving Canadian and Sri Lankan academics is led by Gordon Gow, director of the graduate program in communication and technology at the University of Alberta’s faculty of extension.
Gow invited Hambly a year ago to join the team. She teaches in SEDRD’s capacity development and extension program, and has worked with Farm Radio International and rural radio in Africa, notably in Ghana.
“Her work with Farm Radio International caught my eye,” says Gow, “and her work that connects agricultural extension to new communications technologies positions her as an excellent co-investigator.”
Text messaging – called short messaging systems (SMS) in developing countries – allows smallholder farmers to use cellphones to gain information for tending their small plots.
Says Hambly, “Farmers around the world have almost no access to a telephone main line, but they have pervasive use of cellphones. Text messaging is the killer app.”
For example, an extension service might text farmers about an upcoming field school on pesticide resistance in rice. Or producers might receive messages with crop management advice, weather information, availability of plants or livestock, or soil test results.
Podcasts may be archived on the internet for farmers to listen later. Interactive services would allow farmers to ask experts about a particular problem.
The team plans to establish texting and radio and extension services for farmers in the study area around Kandy in central Sri Lanka.
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