IITB, Mumbai, India


Prof Krithi Ramamritham
IITB, Mumbai, India

Prof Ramamritham asked the Workshop to consider how the work of the DIL (Developmental Informatics Laboratory) at IITB might relate to needs in Southern Africa. He gave a detailed account – illustrated by mini-videos and simulations - of how the aAqua (‘Almost All Questions Answered’) project works. The project is based on close collaboration between researchers at IITB, government agricultural extension workers in rural Maharashtra State, an NGO in the area of alternative rural education, farmers, and kiosk operators. The technical platform enables farmers to ask questions about problems and opportunities in agriculture, and receive advice both from scientific experts and fellow-farmers ‘with traditional knowledge who also participate as experts’ (subject to vetting for quality and relevance). aAqua operates multilingually. IITB is a leading partner in development of Universal Networking Language (UNL). In the aAqua project IITB works closely with the Farm Science Centre Krishi Vigyan Kendra at Shardanagar, Baramati, 70km from Pune. This centre is one of many set up by the Indian government to facilitate technology transfer relating to agriculture. It serves scores of villages and provides information to about 20 villages. It provides information to farmers and seeks to apply scientific knowledge to solve their problems. aAqua has enabled the Farm Science Centre to address the needs of a wider range of farmers. Farmers traditionally seek advice from other farmers, books and newspapers. The computer as a source of information is new and the business model for the kiosk operator is still emerging. The kiosk operator enters questions into the aAqua system. A technician may go to the farm and photograph evidence. At the Farm Science Centre, questions are transcribed by the moderator and passed on to each expert who researches the question and writes out a response. The moderator then enters the response into the aAqua system. Questions and answers in the aAqua system are cumulate in a knowledge base which users are free to interrogate. It is recognised that many users may lack adequate reading skills, and this is taken into account in the design of the website where plentiful use is made of images and icons e.g. in presentation of real-time prices of various crops at markets in the region). Another project being undertaken by IITB concerns preventive health education for India’s nomadic people.