Brad, Angelina team up with FrontlineSMS project in Cambodia:
UNIVERSITY OF CANBERRA PRESS RELEASE
Researchers from the University of Canberra are working with the Maddox Jolie-Pitt Foundation (MJP), an organisation founded by philanthropists Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, to trial a cost effective text-messaging system. The project with the University of New England is funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research to help improve the lives of some of the poorest people in Cambodia.
The mobile phone system can be used to alert villagers about disease outbreaks, like tuberculosis and other important health and agricultural information, like pest problems in Samlaut, a remote and rural outpost in northwest Cambodia where MJP is implementing large scale integrated development interventions.
Although reports are showing that the percentage of Cambodia’s population falling ill with TB declined in 2007, Stephan Bognar, Executive Director of MJP said that Cambodia had approximately 495 new cases per every 100,000. Only Zimbabwe and South Africa had higher rates. “We need, therefore, to find effective tools to quickly disseminate information to isolated and rural communities.”
The University’s Dr Robert Fitzgerald says the researchers chose SMS text messaging as the information tool of choice because Cambodia has 85 per cent mobile phone coverage and texting can cost as little as 3 US cents.
The seed for the simple, but successful technology came from a project to help Cambodian farmers get better prices for their crops.
“We wanted to help farmers access the price of maize or soybeans on demand, so they were in a stronger position to negotiate the sale of their crop,” Dr Fitzgerald said. “Many of these farmers have to borrow money to plant their crop, in most cases paying 4 per cent interest per month.”
“Some traders and farmers knew some price information but that was not always shared, so the only way the farmer could find out about the price was to travel to town or ask nearby friends. So now farmers can text the agricultural information server and straight away find out about the prices.”
The FrontlineSMS system runs on any PC, with a GSM modem and a pre-paid SIM card. The software is free and open source, and was developed by UK-based expert Ken Banks who designed the software back in 2005 specifically for Non-Government Organisations working primarily in Africa.
Dr Fitzgerald is working on a new project with his colleagues to expand the farmer SMS network to include more production and marketing information.