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The Connect Uganda service aims to create an Internet-based database of information for farmers throughout Uganda in local languages.
Over the next year, Maendeleo Foundation, which promotes use of computers in East Africa in order to improve the economy of the region, will pilot the project in five libraries. The pilot project is supported by EIFL’s Public Library Innovation Programme (EIFL-PLIP), and the Maendeleo Foundation is one of five new EIFL-PLIP grantees in Uganda.
To implement the pilot project, Maendeleo Foundation, which is based in Butebe village in Mukono in Central Uganda, will partner with the Uganda Community Library Association (UgCLA) and Makerere University’s Centres for Lifelong Learning. UgCLA has 91 member libraries, located in rural villages, close to where the farmers live. Makerere University, based in the capital city, Kampala, operates centres for learning in 15 areas.
‘Uganda’s 42 regional languages and lack of infrastructure in rural areas have made it difficult to relay pertinent agricultural information to the majority of farmers,’ said Ms Asia Kamukama, head of Maendeleo Foundation.
‘The libraries will provide agricultural information in local languages to farmers in their communities. In return, farmers will work with the librarians to give feedback on the information. At the same time, our server will track usage of resources in the local language database in each community, and so we will gather valuable data about farmers’ information needs,’ she said.
The Connect Uganda Pilot Project will install three Android-based tablets in each of the five libraries.
‘We have chosen these tablets because they use very little power. In Uganda, the electrical power grid reaches only a small percentage of the population – about 5-10% – mostly in urban areas. Rolling blackouts, poor maintenance of the grid, lack of infrastructure and cost make this source of electricity unreliable.
‘Sitting on the equator, Uganda is ideal for efficient use of solar power. We will install solar panels in those libraries that need them to power the tablets, and test this source of power in the libraries too. If we are successful with the pilot, we plan to scale this service up to reach many more farming communities,’ said Ms Kamukama.
Background to Connect Uganda Pilot
Serving a community need
The majority of Ugandans (87%, according to the World Bank) live in rural areas and are involved farming. Information flows to rural areas – where farmers struggle to make a living – are hindered by many obstacles. There are several organizations to support farmers, but most of these are based in urban areas. Cost, poor roads and limited means of transport mean that these organizations struggle to reach farmers. There are community libraries and resource centres spread throughout Uganda, but most do not have electricity to power computers and connect to the Internet, because the electrical grid reaches only a small percentage (5-10%) of the rural population. Some librarians have computer skills, but their libraries do not have computers, and so they cannot practice or transfer their skills. Uganda has 42 local languages, and information in these languages is extremely scarce.
The new service
Connect Uganda Pilot will create and test an Internet-based database of information for farmers in local languages, working through five community libraries. If the pilot succeeds, it will be scaled up to reach the whole country.
The pilot is being coordinated by the Maendeleo Foundation. The foundation will install three Android-based tablets in each of the five libraries, and connect them to the Internet through existing 3G and GSM cellular networks. Where needed, the foundation will also install solar panels to power the tablets. The libraries will package existing agricultural information, and translate it into local languages. They will also gather new information from the farmers to share through the Connect Uganda Pilot database. Librarians will gather data about farmers’ information needs, and the Maendeleo Foundation’s database will track use of resources in the local language databases. Farmers will have free access to the computers in the libraries, and librarians will train them to use the computers.
The five selected libraries are
Key partners are the UgCLA, which has 91 member libraries spread throughout Uganda, and Makerere University in Kampala, the largest university in Uganda, whose Centres for Lifelong Learning (CLL) have offices in 15 areas. Students and volunteers at the CLL will help the librarians translate agricultural information into local languages.