VU looking further in Mali

[This post by Anna Bon is cross-posted from W4RA.org. See also the VU press release: VU looking further in Mali]

On 13 October 2016, the W4RA team organized and co-chaired, a Green Climate Funds workshop together with Malian farmer organization AOPP (l’Association des Organisations professionnelles paysannes). The objective of the meeting was to form a consortium and prepare a project plan, which will be submitted in the framework of this United Nations program.

The workshop was attended by representatives from the Dutch Embassy, the Swedish and Norwegian embassies, and by development (donor) agencies from the EU, Germany, the United Nations Capital Development Fund, the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and a range of Malian and Dutch development organizations.

The workshop in full effect (photo Anna Bon/W4RA.org)
The workshop in full effect (photo Anna Bon/W4RA.org)

 

Mali is one of the poorest countries in the world, plagued by the effects of climate change and a civil war in the northern regions. The effects of land degradation and desertification are a serious threat to the food security of millions of people, especially those living in rural regions.

Recently, the United Nations prioritized its support to Mali in the framework of the Green Climate Funds, a new programme to fight the effects of climate change on global scale. In response to a call for proposals, organizations in Mali are forming consortia, to prepare project proposals for funding by the Green Climate Funds.

Through ongoing interdisciplinary research collaboration, W4RA has obtained extensive experience in socio-technical field-based action research in West Africa. Building on partnerships with local partners (AOPP, Sahel Eco and Radio Rurale – Mali, Réseau MARP -Burkina Faso, University for Development Studies – Ghana) VU’s research programme W4RA wants to contribute to regreening, local knowledge sharing, local innovation and emerging rural agro-forestry value chains.

Meanwhile the W4RA is training students, through community service education, in rural Africa. This is done through the ICT4D master course (artificial intelligence, information science, computer science,) and various master research projects (Network Institute Academy assistants, various master research projects).

 

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2nd TMT Workshop in Bamako

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Kasadaka as presented by AOPP

From 7-9 May 2016, the second TMT-AOPP workshop was held in Bamako, Mali. This workshop was held in the context of the Tailor Made Training project that VU Amsterdam participates in together with the Malinese farmer organization Association des Organisations Professionnelles Paysannes (AOPP).

During the workshop, which was attended by around 25 AOPP members from all over Mali, we followed up on the results of a previous workshop in 2015, where we co-developed a number of use cases around improving the lives of rural farmers in Mali. Specifically, we developed two prototypes services accessible using simple mobile phones:

  1. An online marketplace for seeds. Farmers can call in to the system to place offerings of seeds or browse current offers of seeds of various quality levels in a specific region.
  2. A chicken vaccination service. For this service, an extension worker can register newly born chickens in the system. The system keeps an administration of when farmers need to vaccinate their chickens against specific diseases. The system then calls the farmer and plays a reminder message in his/her language.

2016-05-08 12.03.55.jpgThese services were developed on Kasadaka, the cheap and low-resource rapid-prototyping platform for knowledge-rich and voice-accessible services. During the workshop we were able to further test the Kasadaka in the field. A field trip to local farmers and a milk cooperation in nearby Ouelessebougou gave us further context and information in how these services can support locals (see also the video embedded below). Chris van Aart from 2coolmonkeys demonstrated his progress on the Senepedia wiki and two Android applications that allow farmers and organizers to use geo-services to count cows, trees or other objects in the field.

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Chris van Aart shows his apps

In addition to these two services, we also presented seven services on the Kasadaka, developed by students of the VUA ICT4D M.Sc. course. These included a weather information service, two vetirenary services, general-purpose knowledge sharing platforms, farmer alert services and a milk market. These services were all very well received and allowed the workshop participants to really see the full potential of voice-enabled information services.

The presentation below shows more information, my personal highlights from the workshop (hence the title) as well as feedback received on the seven student projects.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EAoXpvkdx5w

 

 

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Inspiring TMT Workshop in Bamako

From 9-13 October, the W4RA team visited Bamako in Mali for the Nuffic-funded Tailor Made Training (TMT) workshop at the offices of AOPP (Association des organisations professionnelles paysannes). This association brings together agricultural innovators in the country. The attendees are very interested in using ICTs to improve communication and knowledge sharing among their members.

Kasadaka in Bamako
Kasadaka in Bamako. This version has a built-in touch screen.

Digivet demonstration
Digivet demonstration. Alou Dolo from local IT club Yeleman is helping us.

During the four-day workshop, we demonstrated a number of applications developed in the context of our W4RA research, including the VOICES demonstrators, Mr Jiri and the Kasadaka voice platform which was based on a Raspberry Pi. We also showed the DigiVet application developed by Gossa Lo. In a number of breakout sessiosn, the AOPP members then developed a number of new use cases. These included an information system for seed information. In various locations in Mali, farmers develop and enrich seeds (sesame, sorghum, etc.) and sell these to other farmers. These seeds are adapted to fit the local soil and climate. To improve the effectiveness of this seed information, better sharing of this information is required. Other ideas included a veterinarian service and a marketplace application.

Field trip: visiting the champs ecole
Field trip: visiting the champs ecole. We are standing inbetween sesame plants.

To deepen our understanding of the use cases and the local context, we visited a “Champs Ecole” (testing field) where new types of sesame and sorghum plants and new planting strategies were monitored. We also visited an organisation “Femmes en action” who organize trainings for local women on how to fabricate products out of raw plant materials, such as Baobab-bonbons and the always-delicious Bissap (Hibiscus lemonade). The head of the group, Fatim, was a very inspiring lady and she also showed us tubs full of fish that could be farmed in town residencies. We even got to take home some of the produced dried fish flakes.

Discussing the use casesa
Discussing the use cases

The final day we demonstrated a number of applications. Specifically, we showed a very early prototype of a voice-accessible seed market, as was explored in the workshop. For this, we used Kasadaka as the rapid-prototyping platform. It fulfilled its purpose quite well as the farmers were triggered by this demonstration ad provided valuable feedback and questions to further specify the use case and requirements. Of course, we are still running into some issues, specifically with regestering key presses (DTMF) on the Malian network. We also showed Senepedia.org, a wiki for agriculture (sene, in the Bambara language). In the next months, the AOPP staff will experiment with this wiki to register and share information that concerns their members.

All in all, this was a very successful and inspiring meetup and we are looking forward to going back to Mali in the beginning of next year with new prototypes and demonstrations.

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