Like many others around the world, I have been following the terrible news of the hunger that is now ravaging the Horn of Africa, including parts of Kenya. It is tragic that a major cause of food insecurity on the continent is a result of a lack of timely information about weather, correct planting methods and the appropriateness of seeds.
Most of the affected communities are quite literally cut off from the rest of the society.
At the Arid Lands Information Network (ALIN) we work through our information network of 12 Maarifa (meaning knowledge) centers across Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, to address this problem. We facilitate continuous knowledge exchange about ways of overcoming the challenges faced by the communities inhabiting dry lands across sub-Saharan Africa. This might be information on a new water harvesting technique, an effective fertiliser, or a new healthcare development.
Today, on behalf of ALIN, I was delighted to accept the annual Access to Learning Award (ATLA), which recognises our efforts.
Right from its inception in 2000, we realised that technology would be critical in disseminating information to the arid lands communities, due to particularly low levels of literacy; vast geographic distances; and the fast growing need for relevant information. Yet at that point, the internet was not available to most places in Africa.
So, we started to deliver content via satellite and download it using special radio receivers that could access data without the need for a physical telephone line. At local access points, new technologies enabled ALIN to upload content to the satellite and instantaneously disseminate information to remotely located communities far away.
This model eventually became the inspiration for the concept that has won ALIN the ATLA award: the Maarifa centre.
Each of our centres constitutes a room or modified shipping container installed with at least five computers connected to the internet. It contains books , CD ROMS, DVDs, periodicals and even po dcasting equipm ent for viewing of video. In many of the places, the Maarifa centre is the only place over a radius of more tha n 50 miles, where people can access library services and the internet for e-government services, research and social networking. Services are offered free of charge to all community members without discrimination.
My hope is that this award will help us to increase our efforts to reach out to farmers and pastoralists in order to deliver information that makes a difference to their capacity to increase crop and livestock yields. At ALIN our dream is that no longer will access to information be a root cause of poverty and famine in the remote regions of sub-Saharan Africa.