Does Open Data Work for Rural areas? The Case of Uganda

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Author: Mary Nakirya

A Program Manager at Busoga Rural Open Source and Development Initiative an NGO in Uganda, A volunteer and organizar at Net Squared Uganda Network Passionate about Open data, rural development, Agriculture and Education using ICT as an enabler. Good at social media and technology for social good. Believe that Information is an asset and it should be free and transparent.

Despite the fact that they are many advantages of open data ranging from improving public service delivery, reduction of corruption and enhanced transparency, it has been a debate on whether open data can work for rural areas especially because most of the rural population have no access to the internet or even to computers. I believe that for such communities to access data, there must be a lot of innovation on the methods used and type of content made available to them.

Creation of data and making it available online may not mean much alone but information becomes valuable when it can be used by the intended communities. When dealing with the rural communities the right data needs to be sent to them. Also the community needs to be involved. That way, they will be able to get the right data according to their information needs.

Uganda is an Agricultural country with more than 80% of its population employed in the Agriculture sector. As such, any form of outbreak affecting agriculture will greatly affect the economy of the whole country.

Uganda is endowed with many crops. However, bananas are one of the major food crops in central, East and western Uganda. They are the main staple food crops and at the same time are used as cash crops for both export and local market. Throughout Uganda, banana plantations had been infected by banana wilt disease, killing the entire crops which had started affecting food security and farmers’ income. For example the entire Masaka district was a banana growing area , but within about six months the whole district had been wiped off the precious crop. As such, the farmers who are entirely dependent on it were stuck, some blaming it on government for not helping them to control the spread of the disease.

Prevention methods for banana bacterial wilt (BBW) existed, but the government’s challenge was how to determine the most vulnerable regions of the country and get prevention and treatment information to the actual banana growers.

A team from the World Bank suggested to use open data build and spread by ICTs – information and communication technologies, the question was how to do it. They got a network of 190,000+ volunteers across the country who used mobile technology to report on various issues of interest to UNICEF including Banana Bacteria Wilt affected areas. Within a few days, the team was able to raise awareness, visualize the spread of the bacteria, and disseminate symptoms, and treatment options to farmers through mobile phone SMS. This saved the crop and many were able to plant again.

Agriculture advice especially on disease out breaks have been provided by Busoga Rural Open Source and Development Initiative (BROSDI) through its program Collecting and Exchange of Local Agriculture Content (CELAC). This helped farmers in 14 districts to save their crops and animals. A case is during the outbreak of bird flu, a contagious disease to birds, alerts were sent to farmers to take precautions and this saved thousands of chicken.

Also this project is able to collect information especially through knowledge sharing forums, which is validated by the National Agriculture Research Organization (NARO), saved in csv format and sent back to farmers using various ICT methods including SMS, radio and village noticeboards.

Once open data is relevant to the rural population, they embrace it. The issue is how to involve them and make this data available to these communities.

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