Internet and Mobile Phone Access Help Farmers Help Each Other

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For 25 years Yacouba Sawadogo, a small-scale farmer in Mali, has been working to stop the process of desertification in the Sahel region of western Africa. During  the 1970s and 1980s the Sahel, a semi-arid area along the southern edge of the Sahara desert that stretches from Senegal’s Atlantic coast to the Ethiopian highlands, experienced severe droughts that left the land baron.

For years farmers like Sawadogo have been adapting numerous innovations to re-green the Sahel. In 2010 the Web Alliance for Regreening in Africa (W4RA) was established to increase access to communication technology so that farmers in the region can share their innovations with one another.

The program, which lasts through 2012, partners with Vrije Universiteit (VU) in Amsterdam  and the Africa Regreening Initiative to increase the means of communication between farmers. With only 5.7 percent of the population in Africa having internet access, the program helps provide web based and mobile phone based communication technology to small scale farmers in the Sahel.

W4RA also trains large numbers of farming communities to use computers and phones.  And the program uses radios to transmit information about agriculture. Chris Reij, who works on the Africa Regreening Initiative and is the author of “Investing in Trees to Mitigate Climate Change” featured in State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet, says that increasing communication between farmers will help them adapt better farming practices.

“In this region, tens of thousands of hectares of land that was completely unproductive has been made productive again thanks to the techniques of Yacouba,” he said of the small-scale farmer from Mali. Sharing such techniques through communication technology will help with food security in the region and “play an increasingly vital role in reducing poverty and conflict,” according to W4RA.

By Graham Salinger

Danielle Nierenberg
Danielle Nierenberg, an expert on livestock and sustainability, currently serves as Project Director of State of World 2011 for the Worldwatch Institute, a Washington, DC-based environmental think tank. Her knowledge of factory farming and its global spread and sustainable agriculture has been cited widely in the New York Times Magazine, the International Herald Tribune, the Washington Post, and
other publications.

Danielle worked for two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Dominican Republic. She is currently traveling across Africa looking at innovations that are working to alleviate hunger and poverty and blogging everyday at Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet. She has a regular column with the Mail & Guardian, the Kansas City Star, and the Huffington Post and her writing was been featured in newspapers across Africa including the Cape Town Argus, the Zambia Daily Mail, Coast Week (Kenya), and other African publications. She holds an M.S. in agriculture, food, and environment from Tufts University and a B.A. in environmental policy from Monmouth College.
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