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 Friday, November 23, 2012
With little access to formal extension services, a rural Zambian community set up an internet connection to develop local agriculture, education and energy facilities. The community is now using local radio to encourage other villages to do the same.

There have been very few studies into the effects access to broadband internet can have on agriculture in rural Africa. The reason for that is simple: broadband internet is still very rare in rural Africa. But in Zambia, a rural community, called Macha, does have broadband. There, internet and agriculture – and much more – combine as part of an integrated project to inspire the local community to reach its collective potential.

Traditionally, people have earned their living here through subsistence farming, mostly growing maize. Although agriculture always sustained the community, cultivation practices had not changed in many years. NGOs and internationals consultants came and went. And Macha remained a typical rural area with bad roads, scattered water pumps, limited electricity, patchy mobile phone coverage, dilapidated schools and health facilities.

In 2003, in a cooperative effort, community members came together to build a wireless network that would connect Macha to the internet via a satellite connection. They started with a VSAT link that offered download speeds of up to 128 kbps. The service soon became so popular that the bandwidth could not cope with the volume of internet traffic. The problem eased in 2011 when Macha upgraded the connection to a microwave link via a newly available cell phone network, which offers speeds of 2 Mbps, making it truly broadband.

The internet link is further distributed throughout the community via a wireless local area network (WLAN). There are more than 100 wireless access points, offering connectivity to both offices and homes. Surveys and measurements show that Macha has an active internet community of around 200 individuals, 67% of whom are on line for more than three hours a day. Half the users access the internet from home, and 71% use it frequently to surf the web for educational purposes.

As well as having a channel to communicate with friends and family outside of the community, access to the technology produced a discernible difference in agricultural practices within the first year. One community member found information on the web about sunflower farming, and decided to give it a go. A few years later, sunflower farming has blossomed in the village and it is now the community’s second most important cash crop.

(Source: ICT Update)