On Sept. 29 we met with a farmer group in the Vergul area north of Batticaloa after clearing our visit with authorities from the Sri Lankan National Guard (the area is still closely monitored by the military after the conclusion of hostilities in 2009). We learned at the meeting that many of the farmers who had been initially registered in the campaign are now working elsewhere due to economic conditions in the area following a crop failure.
While the farmers expressed continued interest in using text messaging to communicate price information and news updates, there is a fundamental challenge with language in this area. Tamil is the main language and the current SMS system is not able to render these characters. To get around this, messages are composed in a form of phonetic Tamil using a latin character set. However, many farmers said they are unable to read latin characters, so there is a persistent barrier that will need to be addressed, most likely through the intorduction of a voice-based system.
Neverthless, a local leader (pictured above, second from left) expressed interest in continuing with some involvement in the project and generated some ideas with the farmers to introduce a news update service involving a local library. We will follow up but the challenges in this part of the country are significant and it is difficult to know if we can successfully kickstart another campaign at the moment.