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Empowering Change in Rural Africa through Technology

BOMA Mentors Celina Galora, Ibrae Bonaya and Diramu Guracha learn to use computer tablets.

BOMA Mentors Celina Galora, Ibrae Bonaya and Diramu Guracha learn to use computer tablets.

As advances in phone, computer and other technologies make living and working in economically developed countries easier, it’s natural to wonder if technological advances have a role in development in the poorest areas of the world, particularly Sub Saharan Africa. The answer is a resounding, yes. Here are two examples.

When members of The BOMA Project staff began holding workshops in 2009 to review the progress of the new businesses they helped start, they recorded sales data on paper. Not surprising when you consider that BOMA, an Aid for Africa member organization, works in northern Kenya in an area the size of Ireland and the traditional homeland of pastoral nomads. This arid region suffers from the highest poverty rates in Kenya. Paved roads, electricity and other infrastructure are rare.

Five years later, BOMA now supports 2,000 small businesses and more than 300 savings groups. Twenty eight full-time mentors visit the businesses and savings groups to monitor progress and provide advice and training. And staff members no longer use paper to monitor progress. Mentors now use wireless tablet computers to record and analyze data. Because 90 percent of the villages lack electricity, the tablets are powered by solar chargers.

After extensive training in use of tablets loaded with TaroWorks, software that is integrated into a cloud-based customized database, mentors are now able to gather data efficiently and in real time. Mentors in areas with a strong Internet connection upload daily; those who are in more remote areas upload data weekly.

Joseph Osodo Okwirry inspects his SolarMal mosquito trap, which hangs outside his house on Ruginga Island.

Joseph Osodo Okwirry inspects his SolarMal mosquito trap, which hangs outside his house on Ruginga Island.

BOMA is now able to identify under-performing businesses and provide needed feedback quickly. The mapping function helps confirm the frequency of mentor visits and shows the concentration of businesses to help assess how many and which businesses will best serve each location. The result will be more successful businesses and savings groups that will lift more families out of poverty.

In a small island in Lake Victoria in western Kenya, solar-powered technology is showing promise in the fight to end malaria in one the world’s major malaria zones.

Although the use of bed nets has reduced the incidence of malaria, research indicates that mosquitoes may be reducing the effectiveness of nets through adaptation–expanding the time of day when they bite and developing resistance to the insecticides used on the nets. Researchers at ICIPE—a Kenya-based research center working to improve African agriculture and health through the study of insects—are taking another approach using technology.

As part of its SolarMal project, ICIPE, an Aid for Africa member, has developed a household trap that attracts and kills mosquitoes. The trap, which is hung from an eave of the house, is powered by a battery charged by a rooftop solar panel. It uses a small fan to suck mosquitoes into the trap, which is baited by an odor that attracts them. The solar panel used to run the fan also provides lighting and mobile phone charging for home owners, who no longer need to buy paraffin for lamps or pay for phone charging.

SolarMal shows promise in the fight to rid western Kenya’s Rusinga Island of malaria while providing other economic benefits. Mobile computer technology is supporting new business development in northern Kenya. Clearly, technology knows no boundaries.