For the U.S. Embassy and USAID mission in Dakar, Senegal, one of the top areas of focus is food security. Agriculture is central to Senegal's economy, and so ensuring a robust agriculture community is essential to promoting economic growth and trade as well as feeding its population of an estimated 13 million people. We work in close collaboration with Senegalese partners and civil society organizations (CSOs) to find solutions that will meet these challenges and help continue to move Senegal forward.
With a boom in technology across Africa and in Senegal itself, we realized that those in the technology sector, in Dakar and elsewhere, have a unique opportunity to provide new knowledge and skills to these agricultural-focused organizations and civil society organizations (CSOs) by coming together for a few days' workshop in a model "Civil Society 2.0” project led by the Department of State that has become known as TechCamp.
TechCamps are a signature program under Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's Civil Society 2.0 initiative; that aims to build the digital literacy of civil society leaders through two-day, interactive training workshops.
TechCamp Dakar was the first TechCamp to be hosted in Africa and centered on the theme of mobile-agriculture or mAgriculture. With 87 percent of the Senegal population owning a mobile device, it was obvious that helping the agricultural community learn how to tap these tools could have measureable positive impacts on their missions.
Ambassador Lewis Lukens and Senegalese tech entrepreneur and social media expert Marieme Jamme kicked off TechCamp Dakar 2012 alongside a video broadcast from Secretary Clinton who lauded participants for being part of what is “truly a global movement for peace.”
For the next two days, 63 representatives from 51 NGOs and CSOs from around Senegal, including areas where hunger and malnutrition hit hardest, rolled up their sleeves to do hands-on learning and exchanges with 23 local and international technologists. Technology came experts included Ms. Jamme, Google-Dakar representatives, and other technologists coming from organizations as diverse as the global networking firm MeetUp, the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team, and leading development agency Family Health International. The participants gathered in ice-breaker activities that led to discussions around questions, such as: “Can agriculture farmers villages really apply technology to address their problems?”
Agricultural development specialists attended several technology training sessions and came away with new skills and ideas. Training sessions included topics on mobile payment, use of Google Apps for agriculture logistics, use of low cost video for agriculture extensions, and text messaging for collaboration.
A number of proposed solutions came out of TechCamp Dakar, including how to ensure the immediate payment and delivery of agricultural orders made at a distance, strengthening the technical capacity of NGOs to address agricultural policy in Senegal, improving the marketing of agricultural products via web and mobile technologies, mapping the impact of drought to existing agriculture efforts, and building an easy to access virtual library of agriculture research related to Dakar.
Most of all, the participants left TechCamp-Dakar 2012 with new friends and partners. Together, they were united by the common vision of a future for Senegal, whose citizens do not want for food or nutrition and where Senegalese citizens live largely off food that they grow in their own backyard.
We are looking forward to following all the projects that were catalyzed thanks to TechCamp and the work done to help feed the future.