SUNARMA is an NGO founded in Ethiopia that aims to educate farmers in sustainable practices and provide solutions for social upliftment. While active in many areas of Ethiopia, SUNARMA is focusing on the Amhara region on the border with Sudan in its work with BluPoint.
Last Green Belt
Ethiopia, together with a number of other countries, forms the last “green belt” between the Sahara desert and the rest of sub-Saharan Africa. It is imperative that the forests in this part of Africa be managed correctly in order to prevent, and hopefully to revert, rapid deforestation and encroaching desertification.
Amhara, in the north west of the country, is at the forefront of this struggle, as it is home to sap-rich trees that are farmed for their gum resins: frankincense and myrrh.
Funded by Comic Relief’s Common Ground Initiative, BluPoint and SUNARMA are together bringing offline access to digital materials on livelihood training for farmers of frankincense and myrrh in Amhara. In the border town of Metema and the surrounding woreda(district), farmers are given training on participatory forest management and advice on bringing their gum resin to market.
Training is typically delivered by SUNARMA staff by oral presentation. Blu Network’s technology can be used to reinforce the oral training tradition and to allow farmers to take away digital artefacts on their own devices for later reference. In addition to the core training, BluPoint hubs can be used to deliver information on the latest market prices for gum resin, to familiarise the farmers with satellite imagery of the region, and to educate them on other agricultural livelihood activities.
Metema is an inhospitable region in which to live and work. Given the environment and other factors, this deployment presented a unique set of challenges for installing and maintaining the BluPoint technology.
Many of the local farmers speak, read and write Amharic. This uses a different written script based on Ge’ez, which looks like this: አማርኛ. The Blu Network platform can adapt written web page content in Amharic so that it is presented in a video format that can be viewed on a feature phone. Currently there is no good text-to-speech service for Amharic, and so further training materials have been recorded or dubbed by local Amharic speakers.
Internet connectivity in Ethiopia is notoriously poor. Not only does it suffer from the problems of providing infrastructure to a geographically dispersed, rural population, but the lack of privatisation means cost of access is high. The sole national provider, EthioTelecom, has been known to shut down internet access at times of crisis and during exam periods. It has also been reported that the Ethiopian Government uses a centralised monitoring system for all internet traffic, which, following tests in country, makes already slow connection speeds more unreliable. It was with these challenges in mind that we developed the ability to update content on the BluPoint hubs via a file update, which can be delivered to any disconnected BluPoint hub via a smart device using so-called “sneakernet“.
In April 2018, the initial BluPoint hubs were deployed at the local SUNARMA offices in Genda Wuha and in a remote, off-grid village called Das Gundo. With no access to electricity in any form in the village, the SUNARMA team installed a 150W solar panel on the roof of a hut, which charges solar batteries via a charge controller. This provides sufficient power to run the BluHub 24 hours a day and also to provide a USB charge port for other devices. Local agents were trained on how to use and look after the BluHub and the solar installation.
There have been a number of local administrative restructures in the area, as well as a snap presidential election in October 2018, that have presented some challenges to the project. In recent months, tensions in Amhara relating to ethnic cleansing of the minority Qemant people have meant that access to the area has been very difficult. Nevertheless, the SUNARMA team returned to Das Gundo in February 2019 under armed escort and found the BluPoint hub installation in perfect working order over ten months after setting it up in the remote location.
It is hoped that, through the outreach work and the Blu Network platform, it will be possible to bring farmers in direct contact with the cosmetics and perfume organisations which their gum resins supply.
Contact Blu Network to learn more about the BluPoint hubs: