GSU staff involved with developing Web access to aid Nigerian farmers

Villagers and officials in Ihiala, Nigeria, participated Feb. 28 at the opening ceremony for the SI May
Knowledge Centre, where for the first time, local residents would have free access to the Internet.
The center houses four computers offering resources of use to farmers and unrestricted access to the Web.

The process of creating the center involved an intercontinental collaboration between Dr. Louisa Ha, a
Bowling Green State University professor of telecommunications; Primus Igboaka, a BGSU doctoral student
in telecommunications, and Dr. Raphael Okigbo of Nnamdi Azikiwe University in Nigeria.
It was the focal point of their pilot study looking at whether farmers would like and use the Internet
and a specialized Web site, how they would use it and what they would find helpful.
One of the articles they wrote about the project, "Knowledge Creation and Dissemination in
Sub-Saharan Africa," was published in Management Decision. It has been chosen for a Special
Commendation for Research of Value to the Developing World among the 2009 Literati Network Awards for
Excellence.
But more important than the award is the impact that sharing knowledge can have on people, according to
Ha.
"Creating something that has both theoretical and practical use to the community and that can
contribute in some way to economic development-for the scholar, that is the most rewarding and
gratifying," she said.
The project to bring information to farmers in rural southeastern Nigeria through the Internet was begun
in 2007 with $12,000 in funding from the Emerald Publishing Group in the United Kingdom.
The grant was the first foreign grant to be received by BGSU and, as a nongovernmental grant, carried no
political baggage, Ha said.
With about 20,000 people, "Ihiala is a rural area but with a certain distinction," Igboaka said
of his hometown. "The people are quite well-educated. And because it was visited by missionaries
early in the last century, it is not uncommon to see Indian and Irish families; there is a lot of
diversity."
However, Ihiala is poor, with high unemployment. It is still suffering the effects of being on the losing
side in the 1967-70 civil war and lacks access to many government services. Its terrain is scarred with
hundreds of erosion sites from deforestation. Before the creation of the center and the Web site, named
Nigeria Knowledge Center there was no Internet access to the world of information or for local farmers
to share their knowledge with others outside the area.
Another problem, Igboaka said, has been that government services are often not useful to citizens because
they are not based in research on what is actually needed. "We wanted to provide relevant knowledge
to farmers in Ihiala."
Working with a team of student volunteers, Okigbo conducted a series of interviews and collected written
questionnaires from local farmers – including a number of women farmers, who are particularly
disadvantaged – asking them to identify their major farming problems and what they felt would be most
useful in solving them, and how they thought they might participate in knowledge creation and sharing.
Another goal was to assess their agricultural knowledge.
Following the center’s initial three months of operation, the same farmers were again surveyed.
"They perceived the center as helpful," Igboaka reported. Ha added that the farmers encouraged
their friends and relatives to use the center. "It became a social atmosphere. People met and
talked with one another."
While the Internet center was a success, getting it under way was exceedingly difficult. "It took a
lot of money, time and energy" to provide the connection in rural Nigeria, Igboaka said. "In
the United States, there are telephone poles everywhere, but in Nigeria there are not."
A VSAT, Very Small Aperture Terminal, satellite was chosen to bring the Web to Ihiala, using broadband
service, which allows for downloading pictures and videoconferencing. "We are at the very forefront
of broadband in Nigeria," Igboaka said.
Now that the pilot study has been completed, "the knowledge center is no longer a research project,
it’s a service," Ha said. The goal is to find ways to continue that service in a permanent location
for the villagers. Some funding has been received from a local foundation, and the team is seeking
additional support.

On the Net:
http://www.nigeriaknowledgecenter.net/