Each Android phone has an open-source data-collection app that feeds into a system called Salesforce. The Grameen innovation counters the electrical challenges in the East-African country, that would otherwise doom projects dependent on electrical power, by utilizing rechargeable batteries which solar energy can sustain.
The project is organized around 400 select farmers, known as ‘community knowledge workers’, who own Android phones—and 3 in 4 of all their peers value their high-tech extension services. But an Android phone costs US$600 plus upkeep costs, nearly twice the per capita income in Uganda. So, how do these smart phone owning farmers acquire them legitimately? The project offers select farmers loans to purchase the phones. On the surface, this approach suggests a level of sustainability, but I have a few reservations.
First, are the benefits of using a smart phone, compared to a regular phone, so great that a farmer ought to take a loan and bear upkeep costs (combined) twice his/her country’s per capita income simply to access information? Of course, information is important, but it is only one variable among many that must be resolved to result in improved earnings for the farmers. Second, even if in the long-term ‘community knowledge workers’ charge for the services they offer, and even pay a fee to the platform providers, how long will it be before they can recoup and repay their loans? What is the interest rate on these ‘Android loans’? These are critical questions that ought to be answered in order for us to truly grapple with the potential economic impact of deploying this sophisticated technology.