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May. 12 2009 - 10:36 am | 86 views | 0 recommendations | 2 comments

How Cell Phones Are Transforming Global Farming

Several mobile phones

Image via Wikipedia

The future of farming? It’s here already. It’s found in a handy little invention called “the cell phone.”

At a dinner party the other night, I happened to be seated next to Rose Donna, a technologist who, along with former CDC epidemiologist Joel Selanikio, started a non-profit called DataDyne. On their website, the company describes its mission thusly:

Driven by the desire to increase the quantity and quality of data available for worldwide public health, and thereby to positively impact the health of developed and developing country populations, DataDyne.org works with sustainable mobile information technologies, including handheld computers, mobile phones, the Internet, and GPS, to create sustainable information flow in developing countries…

In a nutshell, that means they’ve developed free, “ridiculously simple” to use, open-source programs that allow farmers to harness crucial information via cell phone to prepare for weather, and lets them see valuable, late-breaking news so that they won’t get ripped off when they go to sell their crops.

Put into practice in Chile in April of 2009, DataDyne’s “Mobile Information Project” lets farmers receive a stream of RSS messages directly to their cell phones, no matter what vintage the devices are. Summing up the benefits of MIP, Donna told me,

“It’s giving them access to info they never had before, and putting a tool in their hands that gives them more decision making power. It puts them more in control and less at the mercy of the markets. A cell phone is a computer, and more than just a communication device.”

The program also lets them send text messages to other members of their own farming cooperatives, enabling them to make split second decisions on things like what fertilizer to buy. It may not be an exaggeration to say that the cell phone will soon come to be seen as a tool that is every bit as integral for farming viability as the old-fashioned plow. Just don’t use the things while you drive.


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  1. collapse expand

    If they can grab location data, even cell tower triangulation, there’s a gold mine of data farmers can access. This could really do wonders for monitoring irrigation, land conditions, etc, that could help improve the productivity of land and resources. Cell phones are mobile computing applications, and these could transform rural productivity.

  2. collapse expand


    That’s the idea. We’ll see what sort of outcomes the program yields, but it seems like a great program.

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    I've published two novels: The Secrets of the Camera Obscura (Chronicle Books), and The Third Eye (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday). I'm currently working as a journalist for AOL's Sphere. For the past three years I also spouted political opinion for AOL's Political Machine, which I also helped edit. My non-fiction has appeared in places like Men's Vogue, The Wall Street Journal Magazine, USA Today, Newsday, Travel + Leisure, GQ (Spain), and Vanity Fair (Italy). I've dabbled with short stories, publishing in Nerve and a few small journals.

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