Much of the buzz around technology is concentrated in large cities and it can be easy to forget some of the innovative ways in which tech is being utilised to tackle some of society’s challenges and development goals in rural regions.
During a recent trip to Ghana, I was fortunate enough to be able to escape the big smoke for a field visit to Owutsenya, hosted by the Grameen Foundation. They are piloting an innovative project called MOTECH in the Central and Upper East Districts. The project involves two main components, Mobile Midwife, which provides timely IVR (Interactive Voice Response) messages to the mobile phones of pregnant women and mothers of infants under 1, which are appropriate to the stage of pregnancy/child rearing the mother is at. Messaging tackles issues like dispelling prevalent myths, nutritional advice, information on breastfeeding, symptoms of pregnancy etc.
Additionally, MOTECH hosts an application which enables nurses to enter data from simple mobile phones. The records are used by District officers for planning and also enable more up to date records which are followed through on an individual level (rather than by date), which enables better continuity of care. The nurses also receive reminders about defaulters, who haven’t turned up to appointments, follow ups or vaccinations and they then follow up offline. They currently have 15,000 users and are carrying out an extensive impact assessment with Colombia University.
I was fortunate enough to meet a group of women who are utilising Mobile Midwife and a nurse using the data entry platform. Participants were hugely enthusiastic about the messages being received are were keen to receive health messaging beyond pregnancy and to further engage the men in their community.
Farmerline is a platform being developed by Alloysius Attah who won Apps4Africa (West Africa). He is being supported by mFriday. His platform provides 2 way communication between Ag extension officers and farmers via SMS and IVR in local languages. Since the competition, field work has highlighted a need to move beyond access to information and tackle challenges across the supply chain including access to loans, market price info, where to get inputs, linking consumers e.g. hotels, restaurants and processors to farmers etc. They also want to link information to the agriculture calendar. He is currently conducting field research alongside a Canadian fellow to ascertain the best way to proceed and hopes to make the platform freely available to farmers.
ESOKO is a well-established platform which provides weekly commodity prices to farmers by SMS and more recently IVR about 38 crops in order to increase the bargaining power of farmers and enable them to move to the best market. It is free for farmers but they charge NGOs and other organisations to use their service. The system also enables one to profile information and send SMS to relevant farmers e.g. disease outbreaks, on particular crops etc. Each organisation has its own network and can also tap into new networks.
In the long-term, they also hope introduce more extensive IVR services and a call centre for further information regarding agricultural inputs, weather, disease, agricultural dealers and prices. They are currently collecting content with the Ministry of Food and Agriculture and CSIR (Centre for Scientific and Industrial Research). To date, they have over 10,000 people using their platform.
We look forward to seeing how these interesting projects contribute towards improving outcomes across Ghana and beyond.