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Flavour of the Month Feb 2012: Mobile phones and Telecentres

Almost 70% of the world’s mobile phone subscribers are in the developing world. As an affordable and accessible means of communication, both men and women are realizing the potential of this technology to create economic opportunities and strengthen social networks in rural areas. The mobile phone is no longer just a communication tool but one that's capable of providing additional integrated functions.


Today, mobile telephony is being used to provide information on health, Agriculture, Education and entrepreneurship to rural communities through Short Message Service (SMS) and multi-media supported systems in many parts of the world. This has been made possible through public, private and NGO sector initiatives.


Mobile telephony is the most preferred technology for rural interventions because it effectively reduces the “distance” between individuals and institutions making sharing of information and knowledge easier and more effective. The benefits of mobile phones are amplified by the fact that the spread of mobile technology in some rural areas has occurred much faster than with other information & communication technologies (ICTs).

  • How have you taken advantage of mobile phones to improve communication within your projects/Telecentres?


  • Do you have experience of using Mobile phones to impact positive health behavioural change within your comunity for example to farmers?


  • Do you agree that the chances of success & sustainability of rural services that are based on mobile telephony are greater when they do not duplicate services provided by existing information sources such as telecentres, kiosks and information centres? Why?

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Hi. I have some sympathy for Roger's view. I work for Practical Answers - the knowledge sharing service of Practical Action. We disseminate information about apppropriate technologies - sometimes over the web and sometimes form local centres. We have struggled to fnd the best use for mobile phones in this. In Zimbabwe we have worked to use SMS to tell lead farmers about immediate threats like parasites, and in Nepal farmers can send us an SMS about a crop disease and receive information on how to treat it in return. But we have struggled to use text and mobiles to communicate more complex technical information.

We are about to embark on a call centre operation in Bangaldesh where people can phone in for agricultural information for free - after paying a small subscription. IT wil be interesting to see how this works out.

There is definately a challenge in communicating complex/Technical terms via SMS in just 160 characters. Also the issue reading and making sense of these SMS but the rural target group could be pbroblematic even if the SMS is writen in their native language.

Our experience at Text to change, is that in addition to SMS we have embarked on using voice messages as a way of solving the problem of language. We have established call centre services to 1) Reach target group that prefers voice over text. 2) Make a follow up on successful SMS campaigns. For our case, no subsciption is paid to recieve the voice message.

Hi Maureen, would like to get involved in this line of thinking. The voice message aspect.

Hello Vida, thank you for sharing these expereices from using Mobile phones.

Thank you. What about in your country? Any experiences you can share?

In my Country Uganda. I will share the experience that I have atttext to change. Our focus has been so much on health with a major aim of improving access to information in a cost effective way through providing and sharing quality information.

We have implemented so many mhealth projects on that range from HIV/AIDS (Encouraging communities in parts of Northern Uganda through SMS to go for VCT services), Malaria ( Reminding people to sleep under treated mosquito nets) TB(Reminders through SMS to take medication and go for treatment), Maternal health (Targeting expectatnt mothers through SMS to increase demand for ANC & PMTCT services).

We have also done SMS surveys and quizes on service delivery and through partnerships have expanded beyond mhealth to mAgriculture and mlearning among others. Please read more here:

Hi Maureen,
Thank you very much for the interesting topic and I would like to share one of Sri Lankan experiences where one of leading communication provider in the country has used the mobiles to help rural farmers with their agricultural activities...

The project is called Dialog Tradenet which is a highly efficient marketplace for the agricultural, manufacturing and service sectors, allowing the sharing of market information at the national level in Sri Lanka. The information can be accessed through both high and low-end devices in order to reach the largest part of the population.

The SMS service is offered in English, Sinhala and Tamil, the three languages spoken in Sri Lanka. Dialog Mobile, the largest telecommunications service provider in Sri Lanka, is funding the Dialog Tradenet service as part of the corporate social responsibility. Access to and use of the platform is thus free of charge to users, while call and SMS charges apply.

Dialog Tradenet targets mainly farmers in order to help create sustainable businesses for the agricultural sector. The volatility of vegetable prices, due to unforeseeable cultivation, can keep farmers in poverty.

The main idea behind the Dialog Tradenet initiative is to link cultivation to sales. Farmers can generate more revenues using the service, by planting at the best time, by finding buyers, and also, by identifying better storage and transport services to avoid waste. Dialog Tradenet is a service that can make a difference in terms of providing relevant services to the community and generating new jobs. It also offers high potential for replication in other countries.


More information available HERE

Wow, this is very practical example Yapa, thanks for sharing the mobile for Agrisulture experience all the way from Sri Lanka. I have a few questions for you.

1. You mentioned that "Access to and use of the platform is thus free of charge to users, while call and SMS charges apply" Please clarify on this. I am so interested in knowing the kind of access that is free yet SMS and voice are charged. Is it an electronic online platform that can be dowlaoded on a phone?

2. How does the Government of Sril Lanka measure the impact of this nationwide service? Are the farmers giving testimonies on how this has helped them to improve on their products, increased sales and build on their Clientele? Very interesting intervention. Thanks once again Yapa.

Hi Maureen,
Thank you for the reply. To clarify:
1. yes, all the people can freely access the web platform for the service. Those who dont have computers and Internet facilities (especially farmers in this case) can subscribe to the service which will enable them to get SMS alerts on market prices for their goods/ vegetables/ fruits/ ect. so for this SMS service is subject to charge.
2. This initiative is not a Government project, yet it comes under a one of the Community based project carried out by one of the Sri Lanka's popular communication service provider Dialog telecom services.
To provide more info on the project, I would like to invite, one of member and one of the key personale behind the project Sameera Wijerathna to this forum. Hope he can provide more insights on this project. Over to you sameera.. :)

Thanks Yapa:) Sameera, we are eagerly waiting for more info about this intervention.

Here are two examples from Kenya of services accessed by farmers via mobile phones in the agricultural sector which are very popular:

MFarm - M-Farm, is a transparency tool for Kenyan farmers where they simply SMS the number 3535 to get information pertaining to the retail price of their products, buy their farm inputs directly from manufacturers at favorable prices, and find buyers for their produce.

  • Enable farmers to inquire current market prices of different crops from different regions and/or specific markets.
  • Aggregate farmers needs/orders and connect them with farm input suppliers.
  • Enable farmers to sell collectively and connect them with a ready market.

iCow - It has the following features: Prompts farmers on vital days of cows gestation period, Helps farmers find the nearest Vet and AI providers, Collects and stores farmer milk and breeding records, Sends farmers best dairy practices, The world's first mobile phone cow calendar!

iCow®™ also tracks each cow individually and allow the farmers to maintain all relevant information specific to each cow. It will give the farmer access to:

  • A comprehensive Gestation Calendar customized to each cow based on the Date of Service (based on the AI ‘straw’ or any other known measure) and/or the Calving Date
  • The Milking Calendar and customizable Milking Schedules
  • The Milking Calculator
  • A customizable Immunization Calendar
  • Health Information Services
  • Diet Information Services
  • Nutrition Information Services
  • Illness and Disease Information Services
  • Costs of production customizable calendar and calculator
  • Calf Records including gender, weight, Date of Birth, etc.

iCow is accessed by farmers through their mobile phones or the internet.

The application, which took first place in the recently conducted Apps4Africa competition, has been described as an innovation that will revolutionize our interaction with small-scale farmers.

Text to Change has implemented a number of successful mAgriculture and mhealth projects in South America & East Africa.
One example was by empowering local Bolivian farmers by setting up an SMS-based price information system. Read more details here:

Another example of mhealth was that in Tanzania on Safe Medical male circumsision as an effective HIV prevention intervention in female-to-male HIV transmission.
Text to Change (TTC) and MCHIP Tanzania partnered to introduce the use of SMS based technology to step up male circumcision information exchange campaign. Three categories of MC information were available for clients via SMS with the key word ‘’TOHARA’’ (Text to learn advantages of MC), ‘’WAPI’’ (Text to learn where to access MC), ‘’BAADA’’ (Post MC operation Text messages). Through the adoption of a series of efficiencies, the campaign matched the supply of MMC services with demand. In November/December 2010, the MCHIP team, in collaboration with Iringa MC Providers and officials, implemented a “mini-campaign” during the school holidays and provided services to a total of 2,759 clients within 12 working days.

Currently, we are implemeting a project on maternal health targeting expectatnt mothers Using SMS to reduce on maternal mortality and child mortality rates by demading for ANC and PMTCT. Read more here:

With the big number of women engaged in Agriculture, we believe that their health is of great value to the family.


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