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Category — FrontlineSMS Guest Posts

FrontlineSMS goes MMS!

It’s been three long years since the idea of supporting multimedia messaging (MMS) within FrontlineSMS was first raised by a handful of users. About a year later, the Hewlett Foundation stepped in and funded its development, excited by its potential in health, agriculture and governance, among others. Today, we’re excited to finally announce MMS support in FrontlineSMS. And it’s something of a game-changer for us and our users.

To quote from today’s Press Release:

The open-source SMS communications platform FrontlineSMS has delivered major new features as part of a new software release today. With this upgrade, FrontlineSMS allows organisations to receive multimedia messages via a standard email account. More complex than SMS messages, MMS can include text, images, video and audio. This is a huge step forward for FrontlineSMS: it opens the door for social and environmental organisations to incorporate photo, audio and video documentation in their work, and it paves the way for innovations like the FrontlineSMS:Medic partnership with Cellophone that will provide medical diagnostics via MMS. With MMS, FrontlineSMS extends its efforts to empower large groups of people to gather and share information of any kind, anywhere there is a mobile signal

For further details, or for tweets, re-tweets and comments on this story, check out the FrontlineSMS Blog.

Please note: From today onwards, all official FrontlineSMS posts and Guest Posts will be posted on the official FrontlineSMS website. Older entries are still available here by clicking on the relevant category to the right.

August 26, 2010   2 Comments

FrontlineSMS gets reminders

For some time now users have been asking how they can schedule SMS reminders in FrontlineSMS. Well, now they can thanks to some great work by Dale Zak on a ReminderManager plugin. Not only is this great news for the community, but it’s great news for us, and is testament to the growing interest external developers are taking in the software

FrontlineSMS is powerful open source software that turns an ordinary laptop and mobile phone into a low cost communications hub. It’s used by NGOS around the world to send and receive text messages for such efforts as human rights monitoring, disaster relief, education programs and fundraising campaigns. It’s also at the heart of FrontlineSMS:Medic which is revolutionizing global health by empowering rural healthcare workers.

So when my friend Lucky Gunasekara asked if I could develop a much requested reminder plugin, I jumped at the opportunity. For one, it gave me an excuse to dive into the FrontlineSMS source code. And two, it would benefit the entire community.

The FrontlineSMS Reminders Plugin allows you to schedule email and SMS reminders for a specific date range occurring once, hourly, daily, weekly or monthly.

There was a bit of a learning curve to develop the plugin, especially with my somewhat limited Java, Hibernate and Thinlet experience. Thankfully Alex Anderson and Dieterich Lawson were great help answering my questions on the FrontlineSMS Google Group.

The plugin definitely has room for improvement, and I already have a few ideas for additional occurrence types – Every Weekend, Every Weekday, Every Sunday, etc.

You can checkout the source code here:
http://github.com/dalezak/FrontlineSMS-Reminders

You can read the original article here. Thanks to Dale for kindly giving us permission to republish.

May 6, 2010   15 Comments

Ushering in our Project Manager

The FrontlineSMS team is growing. In this Guest Blog post, Laura Hudson – the new FrontlineSMS Project Manager – tells us why she came on board, what she intends to do in her new role, and outlines some of her early thinking.

“It’s exciting and a bit nerve-wracking to represent something as revolutionary as FrontlineSMS at the best of times, but two-and-a-half weeks in to a new job as Project Manager for FrontlineSMS, attending the World Bank’s Innovation Fair on Moving Beyond Conflict was an eye-opening experience. The Fair was attended by innovators and technical experts from all over the world, and was a great opportunity to swap stories and questions, make connections, and plan future collaborations.

Five years on from the first version, and thanks to Ken’s tireless work to raise awareness, FrontlineSMS is a familiar name to many in the mobile and social entrepreneurship field. Still others had heard about it and were keen to try it, and I met at least one implementing partner I hadn’t encountered before!

Lots of our discussions had to do with what you do after you’ve had the great idea – how to get it from concept to reality, to operating ‘at scale’. So much of the success of FrontlineSMS has had to do with just two things: a great concept; developed with the support and input of a strong user community. I wanted to reflect a bit on what we’re doing to continue to develop along these lines, and we’ll hear more in future from our lovely developers, Alex and Morgan, on the next few months in the FrontlineSMS labs.

In some ways FrontlineSMS is already scaling – the software has been downloaded from our website over 6000 times, and we have a  number of organisations working directly with us to build on the FrontlineSMS brand and software to develop plugins and implementations in specific sectors – including FrontlineSMS:Medic and FrontlineSMS:Credit. The field is so fast-moving and collaborative that new possibilities pop up every day – so much so that it could be hard to settle down and focus on our core business – developing the software.

In the coming months, we’re going to work on a strategy that will set our direction for the next five years, and support an operational plan for the next two years. We’ll be looking at how to consolidate our support to users (more on that in a second) and what we should be looking at next – picture messaging, for example, or examining what sort of interface might be useful with online services like Mxit in South Africa.

Since the beginning, Ken’s mantra has been ‘support the users, and all else will follow‘. Priorities for the next year include improving our support to our users, and providing more online resources and step-by-step help, such as decision-making trees and thematic guides. And as for any organisation, it’s important to know what we’ve achieved.

As a service provider, supporting those who deliver on the ground rather than delivering ourselves, this will take the form of figures and case studies on how many projects using FrontlineSMS, how it’s going, and if possible, approximately how many people they are reaching. To find this out we’ll be contacting users directly, running competitions, and linking users direct to donors in innovative ways – watch this space.

It’s an exciting time for us and for all those out there helping our project and others like it to achieve great things and hopefully, and most importantly, help to make a real difference to people all over the world”.

Laura Hudson
Project Manager
www.frontlinesms.com

April 29, 2010   13 Comments

Mountain meets mobile

In the twenty-first in our series of FrontlineSMS guest posts, Laura Hartstone – one of the organisers behind the “3 Peaks 3 Weeks” Challenge – updates us on their recent use of FrontlineSMS to provide daily climbing SMS updates to supporters around the world

“Keeping in touch with family and friends while in Africa can be a challenge, and even more so while climbing Africa’s highest peaks. Remarkably, mobile phone connections can be picked up from the tall grass plains of the Serengeti to the tallest summit, Uhuru Point – Mount Kilimanjaro.

Every January a team of a dozen women from all areas of the world unite in East Africa to take on three of Africa’s highest peaks. After fundraising the previous year for three “peak” issues affecting Africa – namely health, the environment and education – the teams aim to use their time in Africa as a holiday. Coined the “3 Peaks 3 Weeks Challenge“, the team must complete all three mountains (Mount Kilimanjaro, Mount Kenya and Mount Meru) within 21 days.

To stay in touch with family and friends during the climbs in January this year, the 3 Peaks team used FrontlineSMS. With shaky internet connections in town and heavy power rationing in the cities this past year, the base camp computer was strategically placed in the Serengeti. At this location, the use of solar power and battery banks ensured that both internet and electricity were reliable.

The team then chose a phone (with the support of GSM Association) that had a small integrated solar panel to ensure the team could keep it charged while hiking. All that was then needed was a Safaricom SIM card that provided the team with mobile phone connectivity in both Kenya and Tanzania.

Ready to go, with mobile phone in hand, the team set off for Mount Kenya. Family and friends had subscribed to their FrontlineSMS group list and eagerly awaited updates. Luckily for all, along the way the team sent various SMS reports on their status.

Our sun dances are not working yet. The rain persists and snow arrived this morning. All well regardless and en route to summit tonight

All 11 of us just reached the top of Mt Kenya to a magnificent sunrise

Team was greeted by a beautiful sunrise on the summit of Mount Kenya yesterday morning. Have just arrived at Met Station (alt 3050m) and were greeted by some amazing singing by the porters. All doing really well and having a great time. Also a monkey ate our soap

After Mount Kenya the team traveled across the Kenyan border to Tanzania. They had a quick two days of rest and then headed up Mount Meru, a four day climb. Again with their mobile phone in hand, they kept all of their supporters well informed of their status.

Texting you from the summit of mount meru! Yeehaa! All tired and elated

The number of subscribers increased as the team headed for their final peak – Mount Kilimanjaro. And as they climbed higher, the texts got more and more interesting.

Celebrating Australia Day up here. Just reached top of Barranco Wall. Please send more milo!

We are preparing for summit night on kili tonight. We’re all excited and a little nervous too. The weather has been good so hoping for a beautiful sunrise in 12 hours time. Wish us well

And perhaps the most exciting message was received the next day.

We ROCK! All 11 of us summited Kili this morning at 715am. Delighted, excited and exhausted!

Many thanks to FrontlineSMS, the GSMA and Safaricom for helping make our LIVE updates brilliantly easy and exciting for our supporters to receive. 3 Peaks 3 Weeks is excited to use them again next year!”

[This story was also covered by the GSMA on their Development Fund blog].

For more information:

The “3 Peaks 3 Weeks” website: www.3peaks3weeks.org
More on live updates: http://3peaks3weeks.wordpress.com
Contact me: laura@3peaks3weeks.org

March 17, 2010   18 Comments

Mobile meets citizen reporter in Mozambique

In this, the twentieth in our series of FrontlineSMS guest posts, Marcelo Mosse – Executive Director of the Centre for Public Integrity in Mozambique – talks about their use of the software in promoting citizen engagement in monitoring their national elections, and in their efforts to promote transparency in government

“The Centre for Public Integrity of Mozambique (CIP) is a not-for-profit, non-partisan, independent organisation, endowed with legal status, and with administrative, financial and patrimonial autonomy. Our general objective is to promote integrity, transparency, ethics and good governance in the public sphere, and to promote human rights in Mozambique, and we use our website to launch campaigns, document events, and publish case studies and reports on Mozambique’s political process.

In 2008, local elections took place in Mozambique and the CIP decided to try using SMS to collect events reported by citizens. We implemented FrontlineSMS and launched a press campaign aimed at making the public aware of the opportunity to report and comment on events on the electoral campaign, and events at the voting posts.

Telephone lines were made available and FrontlineSMS was installed and used by CIP staff in charge of coordinating the publishing of text messages on our website. Response from the citizens was considered satisfactory – with mobile phones in use over most of the country and accessible to almost all economic level layers, citizens showed they were eager to contribute.

Later in 2009, during the general elections in Mozambique, we increased the number of available lines for the public and launched a more comprehensive campaign (newspapers, television, and radio). The outcome was considered very satisfactory with SMSs being received right from the beginning of the electoral campaigns. FrontlineSMS was also used to get instant reports from the CIP’s correspondents placed at the 43 municipalities all over the country.

Thanks to FrontlineSMS we were able to compile reports on party and candidate practices during the electoral campaigning, citizen’s reactions and opinions on the electoral process and anomalies at the voting posts.

User experience from those using the software was positive. It was easy to understand and operate, to add phones, and manage and classify messages received. The CIP intends to continue using FrontlineSMS on other campaigns where we believe citizen contribution can be valuable”.

Marcelo Mosse
Executive Director
Centre for Public Integrity Mozambique
www.cip.org.mz

February 14, 2010   54 Comments

SMS joins battle against human trafficking

January 2010 is National Slavery & Human Trafficking Prevention Month. In this, the nineteenth in our series of FrontlineSMS guest posts, Aashika Damodar – Founder of Survivors Connect – gives some background and context on the challenges of fighting human trafficking, and talks about the impact FrontlineSMS has had on their anti-trafficking efforts

“The telephone is used to connect between the commune, district, or the province and throughout the country. When we didn’t have the telephone, it was very difficult to communicate. I had to send men by boats or bicycles. It would take at least one to five days”
Mr. Khao Phorn, 62, Commune Chief

“There is no electricity in this commune. People use oil lamps, batteries, and dynamos. I recharge my telephone at my mother’s house with a fueled dynamo. Using the telephone is very important to communicate with family or relatives, and is quite cheap. Without the telephone, if we want to visit them, we would spend 40,000-50,000 for transportation each time”
Mrs. Phally, 30

“The Telephone is very important for our society. If there was no telephone, everything would be slow”
Mr. Seng Sareth, 53

“These are just some of the thoughts of people throughout SE Asia on the introduction of mobile phones in their daily life. With mobile phone usage on the rise, our team at Survivors Connect has been brainstorming: “How can such a small but powerful globalized tool of communication be used to address human rights concerns?”. We found it thanks to FrontlineSMS.

RaFH was established in 1993 as a non-profit organization, focusing on the fields of social health science, gender equality, women’s and child rights, reproductive health and family planning and the Northern and Southern most provinces of Vietnam, especially in rural, mountainous and remote areas where ethnic minorities and disadvantaged groups reside. Their mission is to contribute to national poverty reduction programs, deliver primary healthcare in target areas and improve human rights conditions.

Most recently RaFH, along with many non-profits in the region, have seen an increase in the trafficking of young women and children up to China for the purpose of domestic servitude, forced marriage and often times commercial sex and other forms of labor. This has been particularly problematic in the North where the Vietnamese-Chinese border is porous for locals, resulting in regular migration upward.

When the international community on anti-trafficking, as well as several NGOs like RaFH first took notice of this phenomenon, groups flooded into the region to start raising awareness in “vulnerable communities” along the border. Often this entailed skits, presentations, and material handouts that discuss what human trafficking looks like, who is a trafficker, what are popular job scams a trafficker may tell you and how to stop it. Many NGOs were satisfied with this work and were able to tabulate that they reached several hundreds of villagers.

However, this did not reduce incidents of people going missing, or trafficking. What we learned over time was that many of the activities of these NGOs were anti-migratory in nature and in their messaging. Without working with communities and building better education infrastructure, access to proper health care, and skills training, rarely would we be able to stop an individual from leaving their community or village for another job opportunity. Our question then became, how could we make migration safer and stop human trafficking from happening to others? This involves understanding the broader system of human trafficking, and an understanding of everything that happens between points of origin to points of destination.

This brought us to Lao Cai, a border province with Guangxi, China, with two international border gates and several paths by which local people travel regularly, and even daily for work. It is a busy commercial center, also popular for tourism. Lao Cai has 25 ethnic minorities such as the Hmong, Thai, Dao, Tai, Muong to name a few, accounting for 75% of the whole population there. These ethnic minorities have little access to education and major resources. With its geographical features, such as high mountains and remote and widely spaced communities, trafficking in women and children has been increasing. Lao Cai also borders with Ha Khau district in China where there are several brothels receiving victims of trafficking from Vietnam. Up to 2008, it is estimated that 341 women were trafficked up to China for commercial sex, and many more for marriage.

Earlier last year, RaFH held several training courses for 136 representatives of local authorities in the region such as police, health workers, women’s unions, from provincial and grassroots level, owners of hotels, restaurants and more. They were brought together to create what is popularly called (in anti-trafficking circles) “community intervention teams” (CITs), equivalent to US-based human trafficking task forces. They were taught all about human trafficking, major issues unique to Lao Cai and how each of them could respond from their vantage point if a case were to arise. From there, 8 CITs formed, each including about 7 members from the police, justice, health centers, women’s unions and others. Their main tasks are to identify trafficking cases and intervene, rescue and support victims. They also disseminate information in the community to raise awareness about the issue and teach others how to protect themselves from trafficking.

RaFH has created a formal center at the Provincial Lao Cai Womens Union, equipped with computers, books, as well as trained staff to counsel and support victims of trafficking. These types of centers can be found all around the world and prove to be most effective when they use the energy, talent and skills of all types of members in the community, from teachers to social service workers. It is in this space that Survivors Connect found an opportunity to support their CIT through the use of FrontlineSMS.

Why are we calling it Helpline SMS Networks? We’re using FrontlineSMS to coordinate CITs better and equip them with an easy and cost effective tool to respond to the needs of victims and survivors faster than they currently do. Their primary goal is to help victims, survivors and support the healthy functioning of a referral system/alert-response network. To have a well-concerted and coherent strategy to deal with human trafficking, which is mired in complexity, it is essential that all relevant agencies (both state and non-state) act as partners in effort, and are able to use their capacity to respond appropriately to all situations, like gears in proper alignment.

The referral system we’re building (with FrontlineSMS as the core platform) is essentially a network of agencies and individuals that provide support and services for a victim or survivor in a trafficking or unsafe migration situation. By using FrontlineSMS, they go beyond being a normal network – they are becoming a fast and efficient system for communication and information sharing.

So, how does the Helpline SMS Network work?

RaFH Counseling centers operate FrontlineSMS from their in-office laptop. All CIT members are equipped with a mobile phone that is strictly used for the Helpline SMS Network. From their computer, they have contacts organized based on location in Lao Cai, whether they are members of the CIT, or constituents/villages they have done awareness presentations to, health care workers, police, border patrol etc. They regularly send messages to their constituents about human trafficking, alerts on latest activity and cases. Villagers can text back, ask questions, be a part of the dialogue, and report to the CIT if there is an incident of violence, a sudden disappearance of a child, arrival of outsiders into a village, or simply if someone is planning to leave Vietnam.

This information is kept on the CIT’s radar and regular checks are made to see if he/she has made to their destination, or if there may be trafficking involved. If any of the members of the CIT find something in the field, they report their findings back to RaFH. They also use FrontlineSMS to stay in touch with their clients receiving services at the Counseling Center, in order to monitor the progress of every survivor and to ensure their safety in the rehabilitation process. It is these very survivors that also inform the messages, tactics and strategies used by the CITs because they know first hand what trafficking is and what the experience is like.

Below is a summary of the networks core functions:

Helpline SMS: “Ending Slavery one SMS at a Time”

Victim Identification: This aspect of RaFH’s work focuses on victim identification through a combination of community education and awareness-raising activities as well as implementing direct outreach strategies. RaFH collects the mobile numbers of people in their target areas so that they are first point of contact for a potential victim or for an individual wanting to migrate.

Distribute Information: The Helpline SMS network regularly sends mass texts to their target communities about latest trafficking cases, popular scams, offers a trafficker may make, and information about events and resources in their area.

Victim Services & Protection: Once victims are identified and out of his/her situation, they immediately present a wide variety of service needs. An adequate response to these needs requires a comprehensive service program including the power and skills of law enforcement, social service providers, health care workers and human rights advocates. These very people make up the CIT/SMS Network. When an individual or client is in some emergency situation or needs assistance either going to the hospital, police, or even a courtroom, he/she can contact the SMS Network or CIT to get that support.

Referrals: Lets the CIT/network know that a client is on his/her way for help and communicates the nature of the problem. Referrals can be for medical care, a legal advocate, police or anyone with the relevant skill set in the network.

Status Update: Allows CITs to stay in touch with individual clients/survivors and support them through the rehabilitation process.

Support Groups: The network connects survivors and clients receiving care at the counseling center with others and provides information on location for meetings and resources.

Campaigns: RaFH soon plans to use FrontlineSMS to run formal campaigns and surveys to determine how effective their services/quality of care is.

We have learned a lot about both human trafficking and the power of community-based approaches in combating modern-day slavery. By establishing a set of links between existing available resources and services, the system is regularly highlighting new gaps in services and allowing the network to improve. Overtime, its built-in “self improvement” character will help us understand why unsafe migration and trafficking occurs.

Thanks to the power of FrontlineSMS, we can build more effective human rights networks that cost little, deliver results, and combat trafficking better than we have ever seen. This software provides timely access to services, channels of information to those that need it, migrants, potential victims as well as agencies trying to serve them. We hope to replicate this model in other countries where rural trafficking is a great problem and hopefully make a serious stab at slavery in our lifetime“.

Aashika Damodar
Founder
Survivors Connect
www.survivorsconnect.org
Follow us on Twitter: @sconnect

January 24, 2010   59 Comments

Fishing meets texting in Banda Aceh

We continue our recent agriculture theme in this, the eighteenth in our series of FrontlineSMS guest posts. Here, Teddy Syahputra – a System Consultant at the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in Banda Aceh - talks about their use of the software, and how it is set to underpin a new nationwide SMS service in the country

“The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations in Banda Aceh (Indonesia) have been using FrontlineSMS for over two years, and recently it was deployed in a pilot project concentrated on the needs of local fishermen. Following the success of this early pilot, we are now implementing a nationwide project called Fish Marketing Information System (FMIS) to support the development of conducive and fair trade practices for economically competitive fish products from Aceh in the local, national, regional and international markets.

Image courtesy FMIS

The price information is processed by a computer-based system (primarily a website and MySQL database) using FrontlineSMS as the SMS gateway. Fish price information is being disseminated to fisherfolk, fish farmers, traders, processors and government agencies through a combination of SMS, local radio, the project website and local newspapers.

For the data collection we developed our own software – called “Enumerator” – and we provide each of the collectors with a handset with the software pre-installed. The software is easy to use, allowing the operator to insert the species name and the prices in pre-defined fields. “Enumerator” then binds the data into an SMS, which is then sent to FrontlineSMS for processing and passing into the database. Integration and implementation was easy thanks to FrontlineSMS’ powerful ‘keyword’ functionality.

FMIS and FrontlineSMSThe next phase of the project is to implement FrontlineSMS/FMIS throughout other provinces in Indonesia, but this time the Indonesian Government will be handling the SMS gateway in each province, and the local website.

This project has already helped hundreds of people in Indonesia, with many more to follow. FrontlineSMS has been invaluable in helping us achieve this. Not only is the software free, but it is incredibly easy to use – we downloaded it and had it working ourselves in no time. This ease-of-use is also essential if other districts are to be easily able to replicate what we have done here”.

Teddy Syahputra
National Information System Consultant
Food and Agriculture Organisation of United Nations
Banda Aceh, NAD – Indonesia
www.fao.org

December 15, 2009   38 Comments

Mountain-top texting for charity

In the seventeenth in our series of FrontlineSMS guest posts, Laura Hartstone – one of the organisers behind the “3 Peaks 3 Weeks” Challenge – talks about their plans to use FrontlineSMS to provide daily climbing updates to supporters around the world via SMS

The 3 Peaks 3 Weeks Challenge is an annual all-female climbing event which aims to summit three of Africa’s highest peaks in less than three weeks raising money and awareness for the three peak issues currently facing Africa; environment, education, and health.

The challenge is organized in partnership with Save the Rhino International (SRI). They help with event management and logistics as well as collecting and distributing raised funds to the three pre-selected non-profit organisations in Africa.

Photo courtesy Laura Hartstone

3 Peaks 3 Weeks provides an opportunity for women around the world to experience the diverse culture and beauty of East Africa while contributing to ongoing development efforts. To date the event has raised over half a million dollars. On January 9th, 2010 the third annual team will take on the challenge. Eleven women from Canada, USA, UK, Australia and Ireland will unite in Africa. The task will be difficult – and their effort, monumental.

Over the past year the team has held events, fundraisers, and walked the streets of their hometowns seeking donations to support grassroots initiatives in East Africa. Even during the current economic hardships, they have managed to raise over $100,000. With passion to help make poverty history, and outstanding commitment to social responsibility, these women are inspiring people around the world.

The 3 Peaks 3 Weeks team will now use FrontlineSMS to stay in touch with supporters, friends and family while on the mountain. The team will carry a mobile phone and send a LIVE update via SMS to base camp. From base camp, the SMS will instantly reach supporters around the globe using FrontlineSMS’ ‘auto-forward’ functionality. Hear which girls are getting altitude sickness, who can’t sleep at night, what food they are being served, and when they make it to the summit! You can subscribe to the live updates by texting the word CLIMB to +255 688 905 872. You will get an automated reply either immediately, or within a day or two, confirming your subscription! Thanks.

More information is available here:

The “3 Peaks 3 Weeks” website: www.3peaks3weeks.org
More on live updates: http://3peaks3weeks.wordpress.com
Contact me: laura@3peaks3weeks.org

December 10, 2009   26 Comments

SMS tackles farmer literacy in Niger

In this, the sixteenth in our series of FrontlineSMS guest posts, Joshua Haynes – a Masters student at The Fletcher School at Tufts University – describes their application of the software to help improve the lives of farmers in Niger, West Africa

Projet Alphabétisation de Base par Cellulaire (ABC), conceived of and spearheaded by FrontlineSMS’s newest Advisory Board member Jenny Aker, uses mobile phones as tools to aid in adult literacy acquisition in rural Niger. This project is funded by UC Davis, Oxford University, Tufts University and Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and housed at and managed by CRS/Niger.

Adult literacy in rural areas faces an inherent problem. In Niger, for example, there are no novels, newspapers or journals in native languages like Hausa or Zarma. The 20% of Nigériens who are literate are literate in French. The vast majority of rural villagers have struggled to maintain their livelihoods since time immemorial without ever knowing how to read a single word. What’s the point of literacy if there is no need for written materials?

Mamadou Issoufou, like 80% of people who live in rural areas, has access to a couple of different weekly markets where he can buy and sell his millet. One market, Dogon Kirya, is 11 kilometers away and the other, Doubélma, is 15 kilometers away. As Dogon Kirya is closer, he usually travels there, but he knows that sometimes he can get a better price when he goes to Doubélma. If a fellow villager who traveled to Doubélma the previous week indicates that prices were better there than in Dogon Kirya, then Mamadou might decide to go the extra four kilometers, but he’s not sure he’ll get the same prices this week, too. He leaves it up to chance.

On Wednesdays, the Service d’Information sur les Marchés Agricoles (SIMA) sends radio broadcasts on the prices of the most important staples like millet and sorghum for the largest markets in the country. Unfortunately, Mamadou, like most rural farmers, doesn’t have access to the broadcast, and if he did, his two main markets aren’t large enough to be covered by SIMA. Even if they were large enough, Dogon Kirya’s market is held on Tuesdays, so any information from the radio would be six days old.

Farmer, Niger. Photo courtesy Joshua Haynes

If Mamadou had access to some sort of real-time, demand-driven information, he could make better choices on where to buy and sell his goods. The mobile phone is a perfect device for transmitting information, but even though Mamadou may have access to a phone, he can’t read. The point of literacy in rural areas is increase access to information, and this is where FrontlineSMS plays an important role.

This past summer, between my first and second year as a graduate student at The Fletcher School at Tufts University, I was fortunate to work with Jenny, the amazing staff at CRS and SIMA, including Djibou Alzouma, Aïchatou Bety, Sadou Djibrilla, Scott Isbrandt and Ousseïni Sountalma, to develop a system called IMAC – Information sur les Marchés Agricoles par Cellulaire. IMAC – pronounce ‘ee-mak’ – allows users to query for farmgate and market prices of agriculture products in a number of markets in four languages. It is built to work as one of the Projet ABC components, but can be used in areas with higher literacy levels.

Mobile training, Niger. Photo courtesy Joshua Haynes

In addition to the querying functionality, we added the ability for SIMA-trained CRS agents to update the crop prices by sending IMAC a specially formatted SMS. The prices are quickly checked for errors in Niamey, the capital, and then are live for all to use. Before, it could take up to three weeks for market prices to get recorded, go through a number of different administrative stages and finally end up in the database in the capital, but now it takes a matter of seconds before the data can be accessed.

Although the data is stored and updated in the database, FrontlineSMS is the primary access point which captures the message, sends it to the database for processing, waits eagerly for the response, and speedily sends the response to the waiting villager. By exploiting FrontlineSMS’ HTMLRequest functionality, we were able to access a backend system and turn FrontlineSMS into a demand-driven automatic information dissemination tool.

I was fortunate to return to Niger in October (2009) to not only see how well the system was still working – a big relief for developers – but to be surprised by the number of new markets and products that had been added to the system. Thanks to FrontlineSMS, CRS and SIMA, these additional markets will allow even more villagers, once at least semi-literate, to obtain information that will better help them make more informed decisions about their economic resources.

Joshua Haynes
Candidate, Masters of International Business, 2010
The Fletcher School
Tufts University
http://fletcher.tufts.edu

November 30, 2009   64 Comments

An SMS “kickstart” for Kenyan farmers

In this, the fifteenth in our series of FrontlineSMS guest posts, Rita Kiloo – Customer Care Executive at KickStart in Kenya – describes how their use of the software enables them to extend and improve their outreach efforts among rural farmers in the country

“KickStart’s mission is to help millions of people out of poverty. We do this by promoting sustainable economic growth and employment creation in Kenya and other countries, and by developing and promoting technologies that can be used by dynamic entrepreneurs to establish and run profitable small scale enterprises.

In 1998 we developed a line of manually operated MoneyMaker Irrigation Pumps that allow farmers to easily pull water from a river, pond or shallow well (as deep as 25 feet), pressurize it through a hose pipe (even up a hill) and irrigate up to two acres of land. Our pumps are easy to transport and install and retail between $35 and $95. They are easy to operate and, because they are pressurized, they allow farmers to direct water where it is needed. It is a very efficient use of water, and unlike flood irrigation, does not lead to the build up of salts in the soil.

Photo courtesy KickStart, Kenya

With irrigation, farmers can grow crops year-round. They can grow higher value crops like fruits and vegetables, get higher yields (the Food and Agriculture Organization reports that irrigation increases crop yield by 100-400%) and most importantly, they can produce crops in the dry seasons when food supplies dwindle and the market prices are high. Because of the long dry seasons and growing population, there is potential for many thousands of farmers to start irrigating without flooding the market. There are local, urban and even export markets for the new crops.

A few months ago we decided to start using text messaging as part of our outreach efforts to farmers, and had heard good things about FrontlineSMS. Basically, we now receive lists of mobile numbers of prospective clients from our sales teams – these are clients who have visited our dealer shops countrywide, and who have shown an interest in our irrigation pumps. They usually leave their contact details with the sales people at the shop.

At the end of every month I receive a copy of the contact lists from at least 70 sales people, which may total about 5,000 contacts. I randomly pick around 500 to 1,000 mobile numbers and put these into an Excel spreadsheet. Once this is done, the numbers are uploaded into FrontlineSMS and we send out a uniform SMS to prospective buyers of the pumps. Here is a sample of the kinds of messages we send out:

Kumbuka kununua pampu ya kunyunyiza mimea ya MoneyMaker. Kwa maelezo zaidi, piga simu kwa 0725-xxxxxx

(“Remember to buy the MoneyMaker pump for irrigating your crops. For more details, kindly call 0725-xxxxxx”)

The texts are scheduled for every week of the month, and are categorized into territories, allowing us to keep track of the areas where the interest is coming from. There are a number of advantages in using FrontlineSMS, one of the main ones being that I am able to reach more farmers through SMS than I would be able to by calling them one-by-one. We are also able to keep in more regular contact with interested farmers, and remind them about the pumps. Not all of them buy pumps straight away”.

Rita Kiloo
Customer Care Executive
KickStart Kenya Program
www.kickstart.org

October 27, 2009   41 Comments