Uganda, like other East African nations, has made impressive advancements in mobile phone usage and penetration in recent years through the widespread distribution of cellular signals. During the past 10 years, mobile phone access in Uganda grew by 50%. Today, nearly 25 million Ugandans own or have access to mobile phones.
The African Youth Empowerment and Development Initiative (AYEDI), implemented by the Bantwana Initiative of World Education, Inc. (WEI/Bantwana) with the Government of Uganda, local partners, and communities is a four-year project funded by the U.S. Department of Labor. which aimed to reduce hazardous labor and increase decent work opportunities, primarily in agribusiness, among 4,277 out-of-school adolescent youth living in rural areas in four districts of northern and east-central Uganda.
In consideration of the widespread penetration and availability of mobile technology in Uganda, WEI/Bantwana commissioned a small action research study with FIT Uganda Ltd. under AYEDI to explore how mobile-enabled services might improve productivity in agribusiness for AYEDI youth.
A total of 144 youth and 234 caregivers were enrolled to participate in the study and were signed up to receive agribusiness-related information (weather and pricing information, financial tips, etc.) to their mobile phones three times per week over a period of five months. Participants were also organized into complementary Business Support Groups, which met on a bi-weekly basis for two hours and were led by trained facilitators using smartphones pre-loaded with an application that included an agenda and guided questions for each meeting.
Despite some challenges (including poor network connection and lack of access to charging facilities), many youth and caregivers provided feedback indicating the benefits of the study. At the start of the study, while only 10% of youth and caregivers were using their phones for mobile money or other business purposes, by the conclusion of the study, 51% participants reported that that had increased their phone usage for mobile money and business transactions, in part based on the information they received via messaging and the Business Support Groups. Nearly 40% of youth also reported that the information they received influenced their farming choices and improved their business decisions.
In the future, when using technology to reach rural populations, consideration should be given to a number of challenges that were encountered during the study, including obstacles related to literacy levels, poor network connections, and access to charging facilities. However, overall feedback and results from the study demonstrate that digital content and mobile-enabled services offer promise for improving agribusiness opportunities for youth, particularly when complemented with a group-based approach to enhance learning and problem solving, and WEI/Bantwana looks forward to using these lessons learned to inform the use of ICTs in its future programming.