By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions
SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY
The rise of social networking websites (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_social_networking_websites) during the past few years has swept across the internet. The popular Facebook (www.facebook.com) site alone has over 350 million users worldwide. In Africa, there are more than 67 million people with access to the internet – just over 6 percent of the population (http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats1.htm). And this phenomenon has even begun to penetrate and influence life in poor places with weak internet infrastructure. A farmer in Kenya, Zack Matere, has boosted his potato crop by turning to Facebook for help.
On his farm in Seregeya near Eldoret, Kenya, Matere used the internet to find a cure for his ailing potato crop.
“I cycled 10 kilometres to the local cyber café, Googled (www.google.com) ‘potato disease,’ he told the BBC, “and discovered that ants were eating the potato stems.
“I checked again and found that one of the solutions was to sprinkle wood ash on the crop.”
Matere also used the internet to find a buyer for his rescued crop, and has been able to triple the price he gets for tree seedlings he sells.
Zack believes he is a bit of pioneer: “I think I am the only farmer in the area who uses the internet.”
He uses his mobile phone to access the internet and it costs him about US 0.66 cents a day to do it.
This is a lot of money for small-scale farmers so Zack has a plan to tackle the cost. He will share the information he uncovers on the internet with other farmers in the community by posting it on local community notice boards.
He has noticed some important realities about how people he knows interact with the mobile web. He has found most people do much more with the Net than surfing the mobile web alone at home.
“The internet is quite an individual pursuit. But a notice board is more of a group thing.
“So if I post an item on a notice board on potato disease, for example, the community can read it, talk together and come to a decision.”
One example of the kind of intelligence Matere is able to glean from the internet is reports of cartels deceiving farmers by buying potatoes in over-large 130 kg bags instead of 110 kg bags. Matere takes this information and translates it into Swahili and posts it on community notice boards.
Matere also has to fend off other people looking to use his community’s water supply, which he has done by photographing interlopers with his mobile phone and then posting the photographs on Facebook.
“When they came before, I took photos of what they were doing, posted them on my Facebook page and was able to get assistance,” he said.
“I got in touch with Forest Action Network (http://www.fankenya.org/) and they came back to me quickly saying they would help me protect the catchment area.”
He has also discovered there are more profitable ways to make money for farmers.
“There is a lot of money in tree seedlings or bee hives. So if we can get these young people to use the land in an environmentally (friendly) way, they can get even more money than through farming.”
“I have 400 Facebook friends and I think some of them can buy the honey.”
Matere is philosophical about the future: “I am now seeing the practicality of the internet here in rural Kenya. The problem is I am the only one. That is why the notice board is important. All we need is a bit of relevant information to help us.”
“Once it is made simpler and is more in the local language with more local content, people are going to access the internet here,” he predicts.
1) A blog with news and tips on how to use the social networking tools for business opportunities. Website: http://www.socialnetworking-weblog.com/
2) Four stories on how social networking radically improved business prospects for some people. Website: http://www.bnet.com/2403-13070_23-219914.html
3) A Business Week article on the good and bad of social networking for business. Website: http://www.businessweek.com/smallbiz/content/aug2008/sb2008086_346094.htm
4) Txteagle: A service in Kenya that is paying people to do tasks and translations with their mobile phones. Website: http://txteagle.com/index.html
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