Developing a Sustainable Weather Information System in Rural Burkina Faso

[This post describes the Information Sciences Master Project of Hameedat Omoine and is based on her thesis.] 

In the quest to improve the lives of farmers and improve agricultural productivity in rural Burkina Faso, meteorological data has been identified as one of the is key information needs for local farmers. Various online weather information services are available, but many are not tailored specifically to tis target user group. In a research case study, Hameedat Omoine designed a weather information system that collects not only weather but also related agricultural information and provides the farmers with this information to allow them to improve agricultural productivity and the livelihood of the people of rural Burkina Faso.

The research and design of the system was conducted at and in collaboration with 2CoolMonkeys, a Utrecht-based Open data and App-development company with expertise in ICT for Development (ICT4D).

Following the design science research methodology, Hameedat investigated the requirements for a weather information system, and the possible options for ensuring the sustainability of the system. Using a structured approach, she developed the application and evaluated it in the field with potential Burkinabe end users. The mobile interface of the application featured weather information and crop advice (seen in the  images above). A demonstration video is shown below

Hameedat developed multiple alternative models to investigate the sustainability of the application. For this she used the e3value approach and language. The image below shows a model for the case where a local radio station is involved.

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André Baart and Kasadaka win IXA High Potential Award

Andre and his prizeOn 19 June, André Baart was awarded the High Potential Award at the Amsterdam Science & Innovation en Impact Awards for his and W4RA‘s work on the Kasadaka platform.

Kasadaka (“talking box”) is an ICT for Development (ICT4D) platform to develop voice-based technologies for those who are not connected to the Internet, cannot not read and write, and speak underresourced languages.

As part of a longer-term project, the Kasadaka Voice platform and software development kit (VSDK), has been developed by André Baart as part of his BSc and MSc research at VU. In that context it has been extensively tested in the field, for example by Adama Tessougué, journalist and founder of radio Sikidolo in Konobougou, a small village in rural Mali. It was also evaluated in the context of the ICT4D course at VU, by 46 master students from Computer Science, Information Science and Artificial Intelligence. The Kasadaka is now in Sarawak Malaysia, where it will be soon deployed in a Kampong, by Dr. Cheah Waishiang, ICT4D researcher at the University of Malasia Sarawak (UNIMAS), and students from VU and UNIMAS.

André is currently pursuing his PhD in ICT4D at Universiteit van Amsterdam and still member of the W4RA team.

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Presenting the CARPA project

The ICT4D project CARPA, funded by NWO-WOTRO had its first stakeholder workshop today at the Amsterdam Business School of UvA. From our project proposal: The context for CARPA (Crowdsourcing App for Responsible Production in Africa) lies in sustainable and responsible business. Firms are under increasing pressure to ensure sustainable, responsible production in their supply chains.. Lack of transparency about labour abuses and environmental damages has led some firms to cease purchases from the region

.With an interdisciplinary partnership of local NGOs and universities in DRC, Mali, and South Africa, this project aims to generate new evidence-based knowledge to improve transparency about business impacts on responsible production.

Co-creating a smartphone application, we will use crowdsourcing methods to obtain reports of negative social and environmental business impacts in these regions, and follow them over time to understand access to justice and whether and how remediation of such impacts occurs. Data integration and visualization methods will identify patterns in order to provide context and clarity about business impacts on sustainability over time. A website will be developed to provide ongoing public access to this data, including a mapping function pinpointing impact locations.

The project will be led by Michelle Westermann-Behaylo from UvA, with the research work on the ground being executed by UvA’s Francois Lenfant and Andre Baart. Marcel Worring and myself are involved in supervisory roles.

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A Voice Service Development Kit for the Kasadaka platform

[This post is written by André Baart and describes his MSc thesis]

While the internet usage in the developing world is still low, the adoption of simple mobile phones is widespread. A way to offer the advantages of the internet to these populations is voice-based information systems. The KasaDaka voice-services platform is aimed at providing voice-services in the context of ICT for Development (ICT4D). The platform is based on a Raspberry Pi and a GSM modem, which enables affordable voice-service hosting, using the locally available GSM network. The platform takes into account the special requirements of the ICT4D context, such as limited internet connectivity and low literacy rates.

This research focuses on lowering the barrier to entry of voice-service development, by reducing the skill set needed to do so. A Voice Service Development Kit (VSDK) is developed that allows the development of voice-services by deploying and customizing provided building-blocks. These building blocks each represent a type of interaction that is often found in voice-services. (for example a menu, user voice input or the playback of a message) The researcher argues that the simplification of voice-service development is an essential step towards sustainable voice-services in the ICT4D context; As this increases the potential number of local voice-service developers, hremoving the dependency on foreign (and thus expensive) developers and engineers. This simplification should ideally be achieved by providing a graphical interface to voice-service development.

The VSDK was evaluated during the ICT4D course at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, where students built applications for various ICT4D use-cases using the VSDK. Afterwards a survey was conducted, which provided insight on the students’ experiences with voice-service development and the VSDK. From the results of the evaluation is concluded that the building-block approach to voice-service development used in the VSDK, is successful for the development of simple voice-services. It allows newcomers to (voice-service) development, to quickly develop (simple) voice-services from a graphical interface, without requiring programming experience.

The VSDK combined with the existing KasaDaka platform provides a good solution to the hosting and development of voice-services in the ICT4D context.

More details can be found in the complete thesis.A slidedeck is included below. You can find the VSDK code on Andre’s Github: http://github.com/abaart/KasaDaka-VSDK

 

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Machine-to-machine communication in rural conditions: Realizing KasadakaNet

[This post describes research by Fahad Ali and is based on his Msc. thesis]

Contextual constraints (lack of infrastructure, low-literacy etc.) play an important role in ICT for Development (ICT4D) projects. The Kasadaka project offers a technological platform for knowledge sharing applications in rural areas in Sub-Saharan Africa. However, lack of stable internet connections restrict exchange of data between distributed Kasadaka instances, which leads us to research alternative ways of machine-to-machine (m2m) communication.

Example of a KasadakaNet situation, with a wifi-donkey mounted on a bus, visiting a city and two remote villages, creating a so-called sneakernet

Fahad Ali’s research focuses on mobile elements and using wifi sneakernets for this m2m to enable information sharing between geographically distributed devices. He developed a Raspberry Pi-based device called the Wifi-donkey that can be mounted on a vehicle and facilitates information exchange with nearby devices, using the built-in wifi card of the rPi 3.The solution is based on Piratebox offline file-sharing and communications system built with free software and uses off-the-shelf Linux software components and configuration settings to allow it to discover and connect to nearby Kasadaka devices based using Wifi technologies.

Experimental setup: the wifi-donkey taped to an Amsterdam balcony to test range and bandwith.

We evaluated the solution by simulating a low resource setting and testing it by performing so-called “pass-bys” in an Amsterdam residential area. In these cases, SPARQL queries are exchanged between host and client devices and we measure amount of RDF triples transferred. This setup matches earlier case requirements as described in Onno Valkering’s work.Results show that the system works fairly reliably in the simulated setting. The machine-to-machine communication method can be used in various ICT4D projects that require some sort of data sharing functionality.

You can find out more about Fahad’s work through the following resources:

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ICT4D at Sustainability day

During the National Day for Sustainability (Nationale dag voor duurzaamheid in het hoger onderwijs 2017), the ICT4D team presented our current research and educational activities to the many participants of this event, hosted at VU. Anna Bon and myself presented our work on sustainable methodologies for ICT4D as well as current work on small and sustainable ICT platform (Kasadaka), see the slides below.

After this, the participants got a chance to meet our students and their very nice projects up close in an interactive demonstration session. Selected ICT4D students presented the voice-accessible services.

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All photos by SURFSara, more pictures of the event can be found on Flickr.

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VU’s 4th ICT4D symposium: a look back

Yesterday, 18 May 2017, the 4th International ICT4D symposium was held at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.  The event was organized by the W4RA team and supported by VU Network Institute, the Netherlands Research School for Information and Knowledge Systems SIKS, VU Computer Science Department and VU International Office. Invited speakers from Ghana, France and the Netherlands highlighted this year’s theme was “Sustainability and ICT4D”.

Keynote speaker Gayo Diallo from Universite de Bordeaux discussed the possibilities of ICT for African Traditional Medicine (ATM). In his talk, he showed how semantic web technologies can play a role here to connect heterogeneous datasets for analytics and end-user services. Such services would need to be based on voice-interaction and localized technologies. His slides can be found here.

Chris van Aart from 2Coolmonkeys discussed a number of smartphone applications developed in the context of W4RA activities, including Mr. Jiri a tree-counting application. He proved there is a market for such applications in the African context (Slides).

After the break, Francis Dittoh from UDS Ghana discussed issues around sustainbility for a meteo application he is currently developing for Northern-Ghana (slides). Wendelien Tuijp from VU’s CIS then presented multiple perspectives on ICT4D (Slides). The symposium was closed by a video presentation from Aske Robenhagen, showcasing the ongoing work in Nepal around mapping knowledge networks and developing a smartphone application supporting information exchange for local accountability extension workers. More information on that project can be found at nepalnetworks.org/

The presentations of the day can be found through the links above. The entire symposium was live-streamed and you can watch it all on youtube or below.

Below is a lost of the approximate starting time of the various speakers in the video

  • 6m19 Dr. Gayo Diallo – Université de Bordeaux (FR): Towards a Digital African Traditional Healthcare using Semantic Web.
  • 56m28 Dr. Chris van Aart – 2CoolMonkeys BV (NL) : Developing Smartphone Apps for African farmers.
  • 1h30m00 break.
  • 1h52m00 Francis Dittoh – University for Development Studies (Ghana): ICT business development in rural Africa.
  • 2h23m00 Wendelien Tuyp – CIS-VU : Sustainable Community Initiatives and African Farmer Innovation.
  • 2h52m00 Aske Robenhagen Network Institute Academy Assistant VU – Building resilient applications for sustainable development. Better video of this can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-hzRSo4TJtA

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W4RA research displayed in Museon

In modern day research, dissemination is key and it is therefore always nice to see research results being shared with the public in new and unforseen ways. Our work within the Web for Regreening in Africa (W4RA) is now part of a exhibition in the Museon museum in the Hague. The exhibition focuses on the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for 2030. As content partner of the Museon, the W4RA programme of VU has contributed ideas, visuals and texts for the exposition related to SDG No. 15, entitled “Plant in het Zand” (Plant in the sand).museon exhibition images

From the press release: Land degradation and desertification are increasing due to both natural and human causes, including climate change and population pressures. Areas can no longer meet the needs of their populations, with famine and poverty as a result. There are various solutions, but regreening – the natural (re)generation and protection of trees by local farmers themselves – is a highly successful one. Belts of trees act as windbreaks, helping to stop soil blowing away, keeping it moist for longer, and providing a micro-climate that is better for people, animals and plants. Trees also provide food and many other economically useful products.

Within the W4RA programme, we integrate local ICT web and mobile app innovations to support local knowledge sharing around regreening efforts.

 

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Downscale2016 proceedings published

 

Proceedings screenshotI chose to publish the proceedings of Downscale2016 using Figshare. This gives a nice persistent place for the proceedings and includes a DOI. To cite the proceedings, use the text below. The proceedings is published using the CC-BY license.

Victor de Boer, Anna Bon, Cheah WaiShiang and Nana Baah Gyan (eds.) Proceedings of the 4th Workshop on Downscaling the Semantic Web (Downscale2016). Co-located with the 4th International Conference on ICT for Sustainability (ICT4S) Sep 1, 2016, Amsterdam, The Netherlands. doi:10.6084/m9.figshare.3827052.v1 

 

 

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Msc project: Low-Bandwith Semantic Web

[This post is based on the Information Sciences MSc. thesis by Onno Valkering]

To make widespread knowledge sharing possible in rural areas in developing countries, the notion of the Web has to be downscaled based on the specific low-resource infrastructure in place. In this paper, we introduce SPARQL over SMS, a solution for exchanging RDF data in which HTTP is substituted by SMS to enable Web-like exchange of data over cellular networks.

SPARQL in an SMS architecture
SPARQL over SMS architecture

The solution uses converters that take outgoing SPARQL queries sent over HTTP and convert them into SMS messages sent to phone numbers (see architecture image). On the receiver-side, the messages are converted back to standard SPARQL requests.

The converters use various data compression strategies to ensure optimal use of the SMS bandwidth. These include both zip-based compression and the removal of redundant data through the use of common background vocabularies. The thesis presents the design and implementation of the solution, along with evaluations of the different data compression methods.

Test setup with two Kasadakas
Test setup with two Kasadakas

The application is validated in two real-world ICT for Development (ICT4D) cases that both use the Kasadaka platform: 1) An extension of the DigiVet application allows sending information related to veterinary symptoms and diagnoses accross different distributed systems. 2) An extension of the RadioMarche application involves the retrieval and adding of current offerings in the market information system, including the phone number of the advertisers.

For more information:

  • Download Onno’s Thesis. A version of the thesis is currently under review.
  • The slides for Onno’s presentation are also available: Onno Valkering
  • View the application code at https://github.com/onnovalkering/sparql-over-sms

 

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