As with most discussions of AFRIK-IT, a number of person-to-person
correspondence takes place behind the scene on the subject matter being
discussed on the list. Here is an interesting one between Hiro Yoshida and
Rene Gommes generated by the 'IT, the media and drought alerts' discussion,
they gave me permission to send it to the list, in case others will be
Dear Mr. Gommes,
I am a M.Phil. /Ph.D student at SOAS, University of London. My research
topic is "Earth observation and other geo-information for logistical
applications in refugee relief". I am a geographer specialised in Asia and
Africa as well as a remote sensor.
My supervisor, Professor Tony Allan (SOAS), showed me your message on
"African Network of IT Experts and Professionals (ANITEP) List" dated 07
July 1995, and Mr. Clement Dzidonu let me know your emai address. I would
like to make a few comments on meteorological and environmental information
in developing countries.
1. First of all, flows of information need to be bi-directional. The format
and content of information that farmers receive have to be relevant to
their needs. Obviously, this is not easy because the kinds of information
required by farmers are different from one region to another, and likely to
change over time. In order to keep defining relevant formats and contents
of information, scientists would need to keep communicating with farmers.
This may sound odd, but those practices of Participatory Rural Appraisals
(PRA), which has been well reported by Robert Chambers of Sussex University
(UK), seems to provide practical clues to the establishment of such
communications. Bi-directional flows of information would not only benefit
the poorest but also provide useful local level information for
environmental and social scientists.
2. What could be sensible way to achieve for such communications? To
observe, or develop, farmers' awareness for information, field work by
scientists and practitioners would be essential especially in the earliest
stage of bi-directional communication. It is not, however, feasible for
scientists to make frequent visits to villages.
The Internet could be an answer. It is capable of transmitting text and
even images, and enables people in distant parts of the world to interact
with each other. Kenya, South Africa (See
"http://www.ru.ac.za/networks.html" on World Wide Web) and northern African
countries such as Egypt are connected to Internet, and the number of
African countries becoming interested in computer network is increasing
(Browse "http://www.sas.upenn.edu/African_Studies/AS.html"). Use of
Internet, however, faces a contradiction that "how many people who are
directly affected by the weather (such as farmers) posses TV sets (or
Probably the most sensible strategy is to construct a network with multiple
layers which are interlinked each other. Radio, TV, telephone, fax,
wireless and computer networks are all useful media for this purpose. A
multiple layered network is reliable even when one network crashes because
of an environmental or political crisis.
3. If development of such communication network is successfully installed
for a few regions, expansion of it would be almost spontaneous. Communities
adapt to a new tool if it is useful.
4. The most important outcome of providing meteorological and environmental
information to the poorest is that it would construct an alternative
decision making process. A farmer knows his or her village and its
environment. If he or she becomes able to relate such local knowledge to
larger local and regional contexts, the farmer will start design a strategy
for future. This is a decentralised decision making process which is likely
to be more effective than the conventional centralised (or hierarchical)
decision making process. Bi-directional communication networks are a way to
Is this another utopian illusion? Unrealistic optimism needs to be
eliminated from application design, but what such bi-directional
communication network does is required by all of us. After all, I think
that the question is to what extent it can be realistically implemented.
What do you think?
Hiro Yoshida (SOAS, London)
Hello Mr Yoshida
Your message well received: there is nothing I could disagree with. The
only problem I see is that, although internet is now accessible - often
through a local fido addict - in most African countries, it is still very far
away from farmers - I am talking of subsistence farmers -.
Also note that we are not dealing with speakers of European
languages, but rather speakers of ewe, fanti, bambara, sukuma, lingala,
shona, etc. For the time being, it is thus only the uppermost layers (the
French/English and Portuguese speakers) which is internet-accessible, which
is, basically no problem as what we want to get down to farmers is not
information, but advice, i.e. information with considerable local value added.
It took the Malian met service and agric. extension about 10 years of
dia-logue (i.e. ,as you say, bi-directional talk, as opposed to the all too
famous double-monologue) before farmers started realizing that there was
some benefit in the agromet advice. And this was a very favourable context:
due to the drought in the Sahel (which apparently peaked - and ended - in
1984) traditional reference systems failed. To some extent, the farmers had
no choice but go by the "modern" advice.
The problem here is not a IT one, just one of plain old-fashioned human