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Frontline SMS: pastoralists check stock prices on their mobiles

Sellina Narumbe is a pastoralist from Isiolo, northern Kenya.  Reliant on her livestock for her survival, she has been hit hard by the ongoing drought sweeping parts of the country.  Lack of pasture has killed forty of her fifty goats, and left her with only seven cows from her original stock of twenty.  

In collaboration with the World Food Programme, ActionAid has been providing vital monthly food rations to over 80,000 people in Isiolo.  Distribution of the supplies is handled by community members themselves through self-organised “Relief Committees”.  Sellina acts as Secretary of her local Relief Committee, overseeing distributions in five villages.

She’s also recently joined a project being rolled out by ActionAid and infoasaid, a consortium of the BBC World Service Trust and media development agency Internews.  The project aims to help combat food insecurity amongst communities affected by the drought, using innovative technology – Frontline SMS and Freedom Fone – to transmit information simultaneously to multiple recipients from a laptop computer. 

250 Relief Committee members – Sellina included -  were provided with mobile phones and solar charges as part of the project.

“Every Monday I receive a list of livestock prices from Rahab Mburunga who is ActionAid’s Data Officer in Isiolo,” explains Sellina.  “She forwards the information from the Ministry of Livestock. Once I receive the list, I transcribe the livestock prices to our local language, Turkana. Then I write a bulletin and post it on a notice board in the community. I then organise a community gathering to alert people to the fact that new price information is available. The same process follows with information I get on staple food commodity prices sourced from the Ministry of Agriculture.”

Most people in this area are illiterate and the fact that the project is also providing a recorded message service using Freedom Fone which allows us to listen to local Swahili updates is very good.

“The bulletins help us to keep tabs on the price of staple foods such as maize, beans and vegetable oil.  The market information allows us to achieve better prices for our livestock, when we sell to traders. This boosts our household income.”

“The solar chargers have also provided a source of revenue. I charge other mobile phones for 20 Kenyan Shillings [approx. $0.20]. This allows me to purchase air time for my phone”.

And aside from being useful for sending and receiving information relating to food and livestock prices, the phone provided to Sellina by the project has proved to have other uses. 

“Three weeks ago there were outbreaks of diarrhoea in Apetet and Eng`ol villages. I called ActionAid’s office In Isiolo who responded by calling the District Health Office and within 30 minutes we had health officers here.”

The project has also brought benefits for ActionAid in terms of reducing the time (and cost) staff spend travelling to and from projects. 

“ActionAid in Isiolo now uses Frontline SMS to inform us about dates of food distribution. Before they had to travel 35 kilometres to reach these villages” explains Sellina.