BURUNDI: Smart phones power food surveys

BIHOGO, 1 October 2010 (IRIN) – Smart phones are being introduced to help assess food needs in Burundi and other African states, speeding up data-collection and improving accuracy.

Whereas World Food Programme monitors used to conduct surveys with paper forms, answers to key questions such as “How many meals a day are you eating?” “What do you use to cook?” and “How many people live in your household?” are now entered into Hewlett Packard iPAQ smartphones loaded with a specially developed application.

Each phone costs about US$200. With two devices in each of the 15 provinces, the cost of the initiative is about $6,000, excluding the cost of training personnel.

WFP helps more than 600,000 people in Burundi.

WFP programme assistant Gerard Bisman told IRIN the new technology delivers more accurate data more quickly.

“It used to take us about an hour and a half to complete the entire interview with paper and now it takes only half an hour,” he told IRIN.

Time thus gained “means you can expand your survey area, and that makes it more valid by interviewing more people”, WFP information officer Marc Neilson explained, adding that no longer having to decipher sloppy handwriting helps to reduce data errors.

WFP Burundi is in the first phase of the project with information collected on a memory card and sent to the main office in Bujumbura by WFP or Burundian government vehicles. To make sure the devices are working properly, some staffers send the entire device. Other WFP staffers have started plugging the memory cards into their computers and sending the data by e-mail.

Soon, staff in the field will begin transmitting their findings wirelessly with the country’s new hi-speed 3G network. Neilson said the info can be sent using the older general packet radio service (GPRS). However, the 3G network makes it quicker and “easier to send larger files,” he said.

WFP has also started putting the devices to use elsewhere in Africa, including in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Mozambique.

Source – IRIN