The U.S. National Peace Corps Association has launched a unique Internet-based program that could revolutionize development planning by emphasizing the bottom-up approach.
The program, “Africa Rural Connect”, is an online global collaboration network where knowledgeable people, including African farmers, work together to communicate and respond to the needs of African farmers.
Molly Mattessich, manager of Africa Rural Connect said the network was started as a way for returned Peace Corps Volunteers, the Diaspora and African farmers to discuss challenges and solutions in rural agriculture.
“We know that people who have lived in Africa have some of the best ideas about agriculture and we thought that getting everybody to talk to one another online would be a great way to figure out some of the most creative, most practical solutions to agricultural problems. And then hopefully eventually we can try to implement some of those solutions,” she said.
Mattessich said since its inception the program has received many great ideas intended to improve the lives of subsistence farmers, mostly women in rural communities of Sub-Saharan African.
“We had a real successful year last year. We received ideas from over 12,000 people from 180 countries, and those ideas ranged from rabbit farming in Kenya to soy milk pasteurization in Ghana. A lot of people discussed issues related to water resources and reducing post-harvest losses,” Mattessich said.
She said Africa Rural Connect is a perfect avenue for ideas for those with interest in the development of Africa.
“A lot of different development agencies are looking for ideas from farmers living in Africa, and we hope to be able to provide resources to implement some of those ideas,” she said.
Mattessich said the bigger idea behind Africa Rural Connect is to encourage a bottom-up approach to agricultural development in Africa.
“We think that people on the ground know what the issues are; they know the resources that they have and we really want to understand and work with the ideas and the parameters that are on the ground…So we really want to offer a platform to the African Diaspora and farmers in Africa to share their thoughts,” Mattessich said.
She said the National Peace Corps Association has launched a new contest this year for ideas and suggestions on ways to improve the lives of subsistence farmers in Africa.
“We’ve just started a new contest for this year and from now through November of 2010 we will be awarding cash prizes to the best ideas. So it’s a great time for anyone with an idea about rural agriculture and how to make it better to post on the Website,” she said.
Mattessich said judges will select the two best ideas and both winners will each receive an award of $1,000.
She said participants can post their ideas on the Africa Rural Connect Website.
“This contest runs through the end of this year, through November and someone can go to the Internet and the Web address is www.AfricaRuralConnect.org and they can become posting their ideas on that Website,” Mattessich said.
She said even though not every village or town in Africa has Internet, Mattessich hopes that people can hear about the Website and contact their friends or community members with access to the Internet.
“Some of the areas in which we want hear ideas from people include how to improve communication among farmers, and if someone does not have access to the Internet and they think there’s a great to get that access or using cell phone technology, if we can hear that great idea perhaps we may be able to improve online communication in that area,” Mattessich said.