African app developers tackle poverty

Mobile app developers in Africa are looking at new ways to share important market data amongst rural farmers
Mobile app developers in Africa are looking at new ways to share important market data amongst rural farmers

While many of us associate the word 'app' with gaming and frivolous, throwaway party games for our iPhones, there are a number of forward-thinking developers in Africa that are creating basic mobile apps that help to combat poverty and promote positive social change.

26-year-old Kenyan dairy farmer, Amos Gichamba saw how farmers were being exploited by the buyers of their cows' milk who were selling it onto dairy companies at a massive profit.

"The price of milk at the farmer level is very low compared to how much it's sold to consumers. So they end up getting very little money for a lot of work," told CNN.

Information is power

Seeing a clear information gap, Gichamba, decided to create a mobile phone app to help share useful information between rural farmers.

The Kenyan farmer developed a text message-based system so that farmers can send questions to a central computer, which will contain a growing database of information about local dairy markets – and will text the farmers the vital information they need in 140 characters or less.

"As Africans, we are the ones who understand Africa the best," Gichamba told CNN. "We see situations from the ground. We are involved with what's happening. So, when we are coming up with solutions, we come up with solutions for problems we know."

Mobile use in Africa is exploding

Wired phone lines and broadband connections are very rare in rural Africa. Cell phone use, however, is exploding, with mobile phone subscriptions growing at a rate of about 50 per cent per year, faster than that of any other continent, according to the International Telecommunication Union.

27-year-old developer Jessica Colaco, a researcher at Strathmore University in Nairobi, Kenya, has started a "boot camp" program for young people who want to become app developers.

"What we need is more evangelism," the app evangelist told CNN. "People need to know what Africa is doing -- and how they can adopt from us… People in the environment know exactly what they need," Colaco told CNN.

Jon Gosier, founder of a Uganda-based company Appfrica, noted that new apps offering rural farmers essential market data are "being tried a lot and I think there's a lot of use, but it has to be more ingrained just in.. people's daily workflow than it is."

Via CNN Labs

Adam Hartley