Grameen Foundation AppLab

Charles Marc Wanume, Quality & Research Analyst, and Prossy Birungi, Business Manager
Grameen Foundation AppLab
Tools Used
Google Maps API, Open Data Kit

Grameen Foundation’s Community Knowledge Worker (CKW) initiative aims to build a cross-country network of trusted information intermediaries – CKWs – in Uganda. At the grassroots level, these intermediaries, who are often farmers themselves, use mobile technology to deliver agricultural information both to and from the smallholder farmers. Smallholder farmers in Uganda often have low literacy, are off the power grid, and lack access to important information that can help them make informed decisions to improve their livelihoods. By creating a network of CKWs throughout Uganda, Grameen Foundation aims to revolutionize agricultural knowledge-sharing and, in turn, improve yields, reduce losses, and increase incomes of poor smallholder farmers in the country.

How they did it

Grameen Foundation saw the proliferation of mobile phones in Africa as a way to get information and services to and from poor communities in rural Uganda who would otherwise never have had access to this information. The Community Knowledge Worker (CKW) initiative was started within Grameen-AppLab building on an earlier partnership with Google where Google invested in a two-year project with Grameen Foundation to jointly develop relevant information products for the poor. The partnership culminated in 2009 with the launch of three new products – Google SMS, Google Search and Google Trader which led to Google, MTN and Grameen Foundation AppLab wining the 2010 GSMA Best Use of Mobile for Social & Economic Development Award for their efforts.

Through the initiative, a CKW meets a farmer and registers him or her in his Android phone loaded with a data-collection application linked to Sales force. He records some brief demographic information (questions like “How many children under 11 do you have?”, “Do your children have shoes? Clothes?”, “What do you use for cooking fuel?” With this data, Grameen Foundation is able to establish the farmers’ levels of poverty and track whether the intervention is having a positive impact on their lives over time.

Most of these farmers live outside of the coverage of Ugandan cell networks. The phones are powered by batteries that can be recharged in a variety of ways, including solar and bicycle. The phones use their GPS satellite signal to record the exact time and location of each query with a farmer. When the phones return to a location with WiFi or cell coverage, all of the data about the queries are uploaded to a central server. Using Google Maps, Grameen Foundation is able to create maps showing crop disease outbreaks, the impact of farmers adopting recommended disease control methods, and other important information for farmers and scientists. For example, as detailed in the graphic below, Grameen Foundation was able to start mapping the spread of a chicken blight only twenty minutes after the query data was uploaded to the server. This information is crucial for both rural Uganda farmers, agricultural policy makers, and others concerned with protecting livestock and improving farmer livelihoods.

Heat map of baby chicken blight: whitish diarrhea in chicks less than two weeks old and high death rate

Grameen Foundation customized the open-source Open Data Kit (ODK) application to meet our unique needs. Using Purcforms, which designs ODK-compatible forms, we created surveys that include:

  • Skip logic and input validation
  • Intelligent controls
  • Auto-saving
  • Remote survey management & submission
  • GPS location, images, video, voice
  • Offline support and time tracking

We are using a customized version of ODK Collect for field data collection using mobile devices. The resulting data is used for needs assessment for access to health services or types of crops grown in a specific region. This information can provide a detailed understanding of the challenges rural communities face and equip extension service providers with the knowledge they need to better serve the poor. Ultimately, the data collection is also a source of income for Grameen Foundation’s CKWs, as government agricultural extension agencies, agricultural organizations, and NGOs pay for the survey data collected from farmers.


Grameen Foundation used Google Maps API and ODK to develop an analytical dashboard for the CKW initiative which allows users to track CKW performance, demographics, track repeat usage of information, number of registered farmers, quality and impact of the information provided. The system utilizes the GPS-enabled phones to track locations of all Community Knowledge Workers.

The dashboard and data therein create a variety of opportunities. Tracking questions and responses about livestock disease provides authorities with early warnings about potential disease outbreaks. The dashboard includes mapping that can filter results by farmer, by CKW, as well as query the database by keyword (e.g a given crop), district, demographic, and affiliated organization, all with available date constraints. Using this information, Grameen Foundation and other stakeholders are better able to design and implement interventions that aim to increase farmer productivity and sustain farmer livelihoods.

Market Prices - Farmers have used information on market prices to bargain for better prices from middlemen who buy their produce. A farmer from Bushenyi district in Uganda said, "The phone said that matooke was selling for sh9000 in Bushenyi town but the middleman wanted to buy mine at sh3000. When I showed that I had that information, he bought it at sh6000.” As a result of access to CKWs, farmers in Eastern Uganda are receiving 17% higher maize prices compared to those without access.

Weather Information - Using our search application, CKWs can give farmers three-day weather forecasts as well as seasonal forecasts.

Google Trader - Google, MTN Uganda and Grameen Foundation developed a virtual market place where farmers can post their produce for sell and receive a response with contact information of interested traders.

CKWs as Entrepreneurs - Community Knowledge Workers are trained to 1) provide a link to agricultural research institutions and extension services and administer surveys and 2) to set up off-grid electrical charging micro-enterprises using solar energy. These enterprises can earn them as much as $40 USD/month, versus the $1.25 USD/day previously earned by 60% of CKWs.

“We see the phone as a powerful two-way communication device. In practice, this means we put as much emphasis on innovative ways to collect information as we do on disseminating information.”

– David Edelstein, SVP for Solutions and Regions, Grameen Foundation