How the Mobile Phone Revolutionized Africa (Part 2): Disaster Management, Agriculture, & Health

By | July 27, 2016

This is the second article of the two-part series “How the Mobile Phone Revolutionized Africa”. The first article focused on Banking and Education. This article will look at Disaster Management, Agriculture, and Health.

During the early years of mobile communication in Africa, the Short Messaging Service (SMS) was at the heart of the communications revolution. Today, the next frontier for mobile use in Africa is the internet. The number of Africans accessing the internet via their mobile phones surpasses  the number of desktop internet users, and will continue in the future. Most of the mobile devices are low-end feature phones, but the more expensive smartphones are also increasing in popularity as prices drop.

Below are more examples of how mobile phones have revolutionized communications and transformed Africa. You may also read more at CNN’s article for Africa.

Disaster Management

Mobile phones are finding innovative uses in refugee camps, they allow displaced persons to reconnect with family and loved ones. Refugees United, an NGO, has teamed up with mobile phone companies to create a database for refugees to register their personal details.

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The information available on the database allows refugees to search for family members and friends that they have lost contact with.

Agriculture

The agriculture sector is one of the largest employers in Africa, and mobile phones have made a huge difference in the lives of farmers in the continent. In the previous years, a vast majority of farmers in Africa do not have access to financing or technology. By serving as platforms for sharing weather information, market prices, and micro-insurance schemes, mobile phones now allows Africa’s farmers to make better decisions, resulting into a higher earning potential. Farmers are able to send text messages to find out crop prices in places thousands of kilometers away.

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As far back as 2003, Kenya’s Agricultural Commodities Exchange partnered with mobile operator Safaricom to launch SokoniSMS64, a text-messaging platform to provide pricing information to farmers. M-Farm also offers a similar service, while the iCow is an SMS and voice service that allows dairy farmers to track their cows’ gestation, acting in effect as a veterinary midwife.

Health

The World Health Organization estimates that nearly 30% of drugs supplied in developing countries are counterfeit. Bright Simons, a 28-year-old Ghanaian doctoral student, devised a simple text-messaging solution to tackle counterfeit medicine in African countries. Simons’ pioneering solution was to put unique codes in scratch cards on medicine packaging. The buyers can send the unique codes via SMS to a designated number to find out if the drug is genuine or not. The system is called mPedigree, and it is now used by several African countries. It is also being rolled out to other areas such as Asia, where there are similar problems with counterfeit drugs.

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Mobile phones are going to play an increasing role in providing better healthcare to citizens. Phone companies are realizing that mobiles are highly effective and lucrative for the dissemination of health and lifestyle tips, and reminders for doctors’ appointments.

In Africa, the mobile phone has evolved from a mere communications tool, to a device on which most of Africa’s economic ambitions rely. These advances built around the mobile phone have improved the population’s status in the financial markets and have helped solve issues brought about by the continent’s infrastructure problems. In some regions, more Africans have a mobile phone than access to electricity or even water. The mobile phone has opened up opportunities for the people of Africa, and it has profoundly changed the banking, agricultural, telecoms, and pharmaceutical sectors in the continent.

 

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