When your job is to crisscross one of the most rugged and impenetrable areas to collect real-time information about farm production, marketing, access to finance and the use of mobile phones of people living there, how would you do it in the most efficient way possible?
In August, the Mercy Corps Indonesia team under the Agri-Fin Mobile programme conducted a product development and baseline survey in three districts of West Java Province and one district in Central Java Province. The team collected data from four hundred and eight smallholder farmers, growing potatoes, rice maize and chilli’s using Android Tablet PCs, replacing the use of the traditional hardcopy questionnaire. This is part of an overall technological upgrade of the Agri-Fin Mobile programme in the collection of real-time information.
Twenty enumerators divided equally in the four districts, were provided with 12 Android Tablet PCs using the Grameen data collection tool an application developed by the Grameen Foundation to help achieve efficient data collection and processing from the field.
By collecting and providing vital real-time information about the needs of the farmers, Mercy Corps enumerators helped to ensure that these communities receive the right products for their agricultural, financial and mobile needs. Walking is often the only mode of transport in remote areas of Indonesia where they face very difficult conditions, including isolation and poor road networks.
The Android tablet PC proved to be a versatile tool that supports pen navigation, enabling the enumerators to write text directly on the screen which could later on be printed or remotely sent to a central server depending on the availability of a mobile network coverage. The notebooks combined the best features of paper, notebook PCs and Personal Data Assistant (PDAs), revolutionizing the way the enumerators work and making it easier to capture, access and use information wherever the job takes them.
According to one of the enumerators, Rima Rosita “the Android PC tablet enabled us to gather data faster and analyse it quickly reducing the traditional time that is usually taken between data collection and analysis. Besides, the tablets made it easier to conduct interviews without attracting too much attention in the homes and farms.”
The tablets were also equipped with GPS, SIM slot, wireless connectivity and multi-media capabilities. The Android tablet PC allowed the enumerators to collect data from the field and send it instantaneously to a server managed by Salesforce.com for Mercy Corps in Indonesia.
Over the years, technology and infrastructure have developed rapidly and the use of photocopied paper that was previously being used in data collection is getting obsolete and an enemy of the environment. And thus the Agri-Fin Mobile team noted the need to upgrade the entire system.
The Indonesia team collected extensive data/information at household and community levels covering a wide range of thematic areas such as sex and age aggregated data, farm production statistics, income and expenditure levels, socio-economic and agro-ecological contexts, merchant related information, markets, livelihoods, coping strategies, access to mobile, access to financial services, and agriculture information services. The data was then transmitted to a database system in Jakarta which was accessed instantly and analyzed by the Mercy Corps staff in the Country Office.
Inputs from the enumerators were an important source for Mercy Corps in identifying the most needs of the farmers to the achievement of effective targeting and design of the right type of interventions.
The Indonesia team has thus become one of the first in the Mercy Corps world to build a unique capacity and experience of collecting and processing real-time information from remote parts of the country. It is hoped from this experience that the use of the new technology will be instrumental to achieve a greater accuracy, consistency and timeliness of the information collected from the field.