What does Africa need more – easy access to fresh water or better cheaper internet connections?
Rory Cellan-Jones, who blogs on technology for the BBC, travels to Mombassa, Kenya to see how a local NGO is using broadband Internet to bring water pumps to farmers. Here are excerpts from his blog entry of 15 September 2009.
The Super MoneyMaker Pump. Photo: KickStart
“My guide was Martin Rogena, a Kenyan working for an organisation called KickStart, which supplies irrigation pumps to farmers across East Africa. Martin is also a big believer in the power of the internet to transform countries like Kenya”.
“We set off [to] a poor suburb of Mombasa [where every shop] seemed to be selling mobile phones or offering to recharge them – and every few yards there was a stand selling fresh water at around 20p a litre”.
“Martin explained that Kickstart was a charity but it didn’t give away the “Moneymaker” pumps it supplies [but was charging] around £50 for a portable pump – far short of the cost of making and supplying them – and they are now in use right across drought-stricken areas of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda”.
“[At a] little settlement [...] about 10 miles from the beach where the Seacom cable bringing broadband to the region comes ashore, [Cellan-Jones met a group of] farmers who [...] had clubbed together to buy a pump. [The farmers supported around 20 people by growing tomatoes,] maize and some other vegetables”.
“These people had very little [and there was no electricity] but nearly all of them had mobile phones. [...] The farmers explained that the phones [...] had made them feel much more connected to the rest of Kenya”.
Martin Rogena of Kickstart on broadband. Photo: BBC
“Outside one of the huts, Martin Rogena got out his laptop, plugged in a broadband dongle [broadband wireless USB adaptor], and went online at a reasonable speed – he was picking up the signal from the nearby mast, which is in turn linked to the fibre-optic cable at the coast. But why, I asked, did a faster internet connection matter to a charity which was trying to alleviate the impact of drought?”.
“He explained that Kickstart collects data from every pump it supplies across the region, sending staff armed with laptops to talk to the farmers and make sure they are getting the right results. From its Nairobi office, It also needs to communicate with donors around the world and with its branch office in Tanzania”.
“The charity is already finding that faster broadband is making communication easier – and is cutting costs, though perhaps not to quite the extent that has been promised”.
“The farmers had never been on the internet – but they too were excited about what it might mean for them. “It will help us find information to help us improve the way we farm.” said one. “We will use it for marketing our crops to other countries outside Kenya,” said another”.
“We headed back into Mombasa, past lines of women carrying water containers on their heads. This country is short of lots of things – water, electricity, books for schools. But there is a great thirst for better connectivity – and who are we to say that they’ve got their priorities wrong?”.
Source: Rory Cellan-Jones, BBC dot.life, 15 Sep 2009