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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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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Dr. Nana Baah Gyan and the Web for Rural Development

Freshly minted dr. Nana flanked by his two paranimphs receives the laudation from supervisor prof. Akkermans.
Freshly minted dr. Nana flanked by his two paranimphs receives the laudation from supervisor prof. Akkermans.

On 5 april 2016, Nana Baah Gyan successfully defended his PhD thesis “The Web, Speech Technologies and Rural Development in West Africa, An ICT4D Approach” in front of the reading committee at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. Dr. Nana worked as a PhD researcher mostly in the context of the FP-7 VOICES project and was supervised by prof. Hans Akkermans and dr. Victor de Boer.

Nana investigated the history of speech systems in developing countries. He discussed and developed strategies for requirements harvesting for an instance of an ICT4D project under rural conditions, the results of which led to an actual implementation of voice-based ICT tools for rural farmers in Mali.

frontpage Nana
Nana’s thesis is available online.

His thesis furthermore deals with evaluating the impact of the project on the lives of stakeholders involved as well as the potential such tools and systems hold for future research. The thesis also discusses what ICT4D generally means for education in West Africa and beyond.

You can read more about Nana’s research in his thesis [PDF] or on the http://w4ra.org site.

 

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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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Voice Access to Malian linked data

Statue talking on the phone (foto via Flickr by gadgetdan)A quick update related to the Malian Linked Data post. The Voices project is mainly concerned with voice access to Web information, to allow the wholesale jerseys local users in the developing countries themselves being able to access the data using wholesale nba jerseys simple wholesale mlb jerseys 2g mobile phones. Therefore I have experimented with providing some form of voice access to the linked market data. This resulted in a small prototype demonstrator.

The voice service is built using VoiceXML , the industry standard for developing voice applications. Although in a deployment version we cannot assume that text-to-speech (TTS) libraries are available for the local languages, we here only implement English-language access to the data, using English TTS.

The prototype voice application is running on the Voxeo Evolution platform. The platform includes a voice browser, which is able to interpret VoiceXML documents, includes (English) TTS and provides a number of ways to access the Voice application. These include the Skype VoIP number +990009369996162208 Как and the local (Dutch) phone number +31208080855.

When any of these numbers is called, the voice application accesses a VoiceXML document hosted on a remote server. This document contains the dialogue structure for the application. In the current demonstrator, the caller is presented with three options, to browse the data by product or region, or to listen to the latest offering. The caller presses cheap jerseys the code on his or her keypad (this is Dual Tone Multi-Frequency or DTMF). The voice application interprets the choice and forwards the caller to a new voice menu.

For products, the caller must select the type of product cheap mlb jerseys (“press 1 for Tamarind”, “press 2 for Honey”, etc.), for regions the caller is Malian presented with выигрыш. a list of regions to choose from. Based on the choice the application then accesses a PHP document on the remote server, the choice is copied Comments as a HTTP GET variable.

Based on the choice, a SPARQL query is constructed. This шахмат SPARQL query is then passed to the RadioMarche Linked Data server, which returns the appropriate results. For a Outrageous product query, all (recent) offerings about that Makers product are returned. The SPARQL
result is then transformed into VoiceXML and articulated to the caller.

The demonstrator is now in a very early prototype version, so not everything might work all the time.

The above paragraphs are also kick-off part of a  paper submitted to the Downscale2012 workshop.

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