Dr. Nana Baah Gyan and the Web for Rural Development

Freshly minted dr. Nana flanked by his two paranimphs receives the laudation from supervisor prof. Akkermans.

Freshly minted dr. Nana flanked by his two paranimphs receives the laudation from supervisor prof. Akkermans.

On 5 april 2016, Nana Baah Gyan successfully defended his PhD thesis “The Web, Speech Technologies and Rural Development in West Africa, An ICT4D Approach” in front of the reading committee at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. Dr. Nana worked as a PhD researcher mostly in the context of the FP-7 VOICES project and was supervised by prof. Hans Akkermans and dr. Victor de Boer.

Nana investigated the history of speech systems in developing countries. He discussed and developed strategies for requirements harvesting for an instance of an ICT4D project under rural conditions, the results of which led to an actual implementation of voice-based ICT tools for rural farmers in Mali.

frontpage Nana

Nana’s thesis is available online.

His thesis furthermore deals with evaluating the impact of the project on the lives of stakeholders involved as well as the potential such tools and systems hold for future research. The thesis also discusses what ICT4D generally means for education in West Africa and beyond.

You can read more about Nana’s research in his thesis [PDF] or on the http://w4ra.org site.

 

Inspiring TMT Workshop in Bamako

From 9-13 October, the W4RA team visited Bamako in Mali for the Nuffic-funded Tailor Made Training (TMT) workshop at the offices of AOPP (Association des organisations professionnelles paysannes). This association brings together agricultural innovators in the country. The attendees are very interested in using ICTs to improve communication and knowledge sharing among their members.

Kasadaka in Bamako

Kasadaka in Bamako. This version has a built-in touch screen.

Digivet demonstration

Digivet demonstration. Alou Dolo from local IT club Yeleman is helping us.


During the four-day workshop, we demonstrated a number of applications developed in the context of our W4RA research, including the VOICES demonstrators, Mr Jiri and the Kasadaka voice platform which was based on a Raspberry Pi. We also showed the DigiVet application developed by Gossa Lo. In a number of breakout sessiosn, the AOPP members then developed a number of new use cases. These included an information system for seed information. In various locations in Mali, farmers develop and enrich seeds (sesame, sorghum, etc.) and sell these to other farmers. These seeds are adapted to fit the local soil and climate. To improve the effectiveness of this seed information, better sharing of this information is required. Other ideas included a veterinarian service and a marketplace application.

Field trip: visiting the champs ecole

Field trip: visiting the champs ecole. We are standing inbetween sesame plants.

To deepen our understanding of the use cases and the local context, we visited a “Champs Ecole” (testing field) where new types of sesame and sorghum plants and new planting strategies were monitored. We also visited an organisation “Femmes en action” who organize trainings for local women on how to fabricate products out of raw plant materials, such as Baobab-bonbons and the always-delicious Bissap (Hibiscus lemonade). The head of the group, Fatim, was a very inspiring lady and she also showed us tubs full of fish that could be farmed in town residencies. We even got to take home some of the produced dried fish flakes.

Discussing the use casesa

Discussing the use cases


The final day we demonstrated a number of applications. Specifically, we showed a very early prototype of a voice-accessible seed market, as was explored in the workshop. For this, we used Kasadaka as the rapid-prototyping platform. It fulfilled its purpose quite well as the farmers were triggered by this demonstration ad provided valuable feedback and questions to further specify the use case and requirements. Of course, we are still running into some issues, specifically with regestering key presses (DTMF) on the Malian network. We also showed Senepedia.org, a wiki for agriculture (sene, in the Bambara language). In the next months, the AOPP staff will experiment with this wiki to register and share information that concerns their members.

All in all, this was a very successful and inspiring meetup and we are looking forward to going back to Mali in the beginning of next year with new prototypes and demonstrations.

Voice Access to Malian linked data

Statue talking on the phone (foto via Flickr by gadgetdan)A quick update related to the Malian Linked Data post. The Voices project is mainly concerned with voice access to Web information, to allow the local users in the developing countries themselves being able to access the data using simple 2g mobile phones. Therefore I have experimented with providing some form of voice access to the linked market data. This resulted in a small prototype demonstrator.

The voice service is built using VoiceXML , the industry standard for developing voice applications. Although in a deployment version we cannot assume that text-to-speech (TTS) libraries are available for the local languages, we here only implement English-language access to the data, using English TTS.

The prototype voice application is running on the Voxeo Evolution platform. The platform includes a voice browser, which is able to interpret VoiceXML documents, includes (English) TTS and provides a number of ways to access the Voice application. These include the Skype VoIP number +990009369996162208 and the local (Dutch) phone number +31208080855.

When any of these numbers is called, the voice application accesses a VoiceXML document hosted on a remote server. This document contains the dialogue structure for the application. In the current demonstrator, the caller is presented with three options, to browse the data by product or region, or to listen to the latest offering. The caller presses the code on his or her keypad (this is Dual Tone Multi-Frequency or DTMF). The voice application interprets the choice and forwards the caller to a new voice menu.

For products, the caller must select the type of product (“press 1 for Tamarind”, “press 2 for Honey”, etc.), for regions the caller is presented with a list of regions to choose from. Based on the choice the application then accesses a PHP document on the remote server, the choice is copied as a HTTP GET variable.

Based on the choice, a SPARQL query is constructed. This SPARQL query is then passed to the RadioMarche Linked Data server, which returns the appropriate results. For a product query, all (recent) offerings about that product are returned. The SPARQL
result is then transformed into VoiceXML and articulated to the caller.

The demonstrator is now in a very early prototype version, so not everything might work all the time.

The above paragraphs are also part of a  paper submitted to the Downscale2012 workshop.