2020: a wireless video conference in Kenya

Rutger Engelhard

Rutger Engelhard describes a day in the life of an agricultural extension worker in Kenya and the ICT equipment that he might be using in the year 2020.

At 5:30 am, Moussa Ong’ayo, an extension worker in Kakamega, is already excited by the prospect of his first wireless video conference in one of his villages. He activates his personal portable assistant (PPA), and tells it to download his mailbox and display the new messages on the flat screen above his breakfast table. Later, over a cup of tea, he reads his mail and dictates responses, which his PPA records, processes and automatically dispatches by email or text message. Then he calls up today’s weather map and asks his PPA to download and overlay on it satellite images showing the crops currently being grown in the district. He studies the composite image with interest, and makes some mental notes on what to tell the farmers at the meeting planned for today. Suddenly, a locust alert from the national IPM centre pops up on the screen. He dictates a message to a colleague at the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute in Limuru, an expert in the field of indigenous practices, to ask for advice on how to protect crops against locusts. He puts on his new multipurpose watch and looks at the time. He should hurry, this will be a busy day.

His PPA displays his ‘to-do’ list: one meeting with a farmers’ association, several farm visits and tasks from his support unit. When the PPA has calculated his optimal travel route, it sends text messages to inform everyone of his schedule, he collects some printed flyers (after a video show, farmers always ask for flyers to take home) and packs them in his van. He can still marvel over this vehicle – it is equipped with a public address system, a foldable video screen and a computer system with a docking station for his PPA. When he starts the engine, the computer comes to life and automatically connects to two satellite systems, WorldSpace’s Afristar for a broadband Internet connection, and the Galileo satellite navigation system.

En route to his first appointment, Moussa passes one of the district’s weather monitoring boxes. His computer automatically makes contact and downloads the data recorded over the last month. A tune informs him that the data transfer was successful, so he can continue without stopping. Just before he arrives at the farm, the Galileo system warns his PPA to project onto the windscreen in front of him the farmer’s name and the purpose of his visit. He has been asked to assist Catherine Adoyo and her neighbour in solving a land dispute.

After the usual greetings, he asks Catherine to call her neighbour, and together they walk to the disputed boundary. Moussa uses the Galileo receiver in his watch to determine the exact boundary. He starts up his laptop, which has a wireless connection to the equipment in the van, logs on to the computer of the land registry office in Nairobi, and downloads the cadastral information on the two farms, including a detailed map. Moussa notes that their farms are located in an area under customary law, and submits a request for any oral records relating to the two farms. He is informed there is a video, in which the respected head of the clan who died five years ago explains the rights of the two women to the disputed land. They decide to settle their dispute in accordance with the deceased man’s explanation. Using a webcam, Moussa scans their irises, and inserts these biometric signatures into an electronic form to register their agreement.

His next call takes him to Joseph Wambui who has applied for a bank loan to purchase a new tractor. The bank has asked him to assess Joseph’s creditworthiness. Joseph explains his future plans and Moussa taps the details into his PPA. Later, he connects the PPA to the computer in his van and within seconds, the machine produces a business plan and an assessment of the economic feasibility of Joseph’s ambitions. Within a few seconds, the PPA gathers details of the Joseph’s business performance over the past year from the tax office database, and commodity price projections for the next five years from the Kenya Agricultural Commodity Exchange. Moussa emails his report and recommendation to the bank manager, and receives confirmation of receipt, and an assurance that a decision will be made within a week.

Moussa is eager to be on time for his next appointment – a meeting with the leaders of the local farmers’ association. The local MP has promised to address the meeting over a video link, and will be waiting in his office in Nairobi. While Moussa installs the video conference equipment, his PPA links up with the MP’s office. ‘Ladies and gentlemen, the honorable Oscar Chavangi would like to say some words to you from his office in Nairobi’. The MP’s familiar face appears on the screen. ‘Fellow citizens, your extension worker Moussa has invited me to be with you today…’. The farmers gasp with surprise. Moussa beams. He has just organized the first wireless video conference in Kakamega.

Rutger Engelhard is ICT Update’s coordinating editor and managing partner of Contactivity bv in Leiden, the Netherlands.

05 May 2004

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