VeSeL is a research project, part of the Bridging the Global Digital Divide network, sponsored by the EPSRC in the UK. The aim of the VeSeL project is to enable rural communities in Sub-Saharan Africa to use advanced digital technology to improve their agricultural practices and literacy levels.
1) To explore and develop participatory methods for developing novel solutions in rural communities with particular emphasis upon educational barriers:
- To work with trainee teachers to enable them to explore ICT in novel ways to enhance ICT and basic skills in rural communities, e.g. literacy, numeracy;
- To understand and recognise the value of education in family and societal life;
- To identify and form appropriate partnerships for long-term sustainability; and
- To support the formation and sustainability of community networks â€“ of teachers, farmers, gatherers.
2) To identify the most appropriate technologies, develop and test:
- Novel technologies for collecting, analyzing, archiving and visualizing information to support farmers to develop improved agricultural practices;
- Innovative communication access facilities for sharing between isolated and dispersed rural communities; and
- Radically different user interfaces for illiterate or semi-literate user groups.
3) To explore the transfer of lessons learnt from one community to another, for example between Kenya and South Africa.
In the United Kingdom, Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is part of our everyday life â€“ from chatting and taking pictures on a mobile phone, to writing an essay for college, to being able to buy goods in the shops or on-line.
The situation for rural communities in Africa is very different. People rely upon farming the land to provide food to eat and sell, and yet they lack valuable information â€“ for example about their soil conditions, the weather forecast, or the location of the best market for their goods. They also lack basic literacy skills, and have little or no knowledge about ICT.
Technology ought to be able to do a great deal to help these communities to improve food and water security, education and health. But what is the right technology and how can we help these communities to use it effectively? This is the question at the heart of this project.
A team of UK experts in telecommunications, renewable energy sources, sensor technology, education and design are working with local experts at the University of Nairobi, organizations such as Aptivate, agricultural information providers and teacher training organizations in Kenya. This collaboration enables us to define the most urgent information requirements for a rural farming community and to design and test appropriate technologies to meet these needs.
This may mean providing sensors to give information about soil quality, cameras to take pictures of crops, or use of the Internet for up-to-date weather information and communication with other villages and the world beyond. We are working with trainee teachers to help them to use technology within the community and set up the school as an ICT hub. And we are working with children to see how they can help their families to use and maintain the technology to best effect.
Our aim is to fuse educational and environmental objectives to empower local communities.