By Bob Aston
Recognizing access to information as a basic human right, Arid Lands Information Network (ALIN) has been innovatively using community-based Information and Communication Technology (ICT) facilities to enable some of the most remote communities to access information.
ALIN has strategically focused its efforts to improve the livelihoods of arid lands communities in East Africa through delivery of practical information using modern technologies with emphasis on agricultural practices and climate change adaptation through Ng’arua Maarifa Centre.
Ng’arua Maarifa Centre located in Ol-Moran ward of Laikipia West Sub County has been facilitating learning and skills transfer among communities embracing a culture of knowledge sharing that has enabled individuals to make informed decision on their livelihood.
The Centre is equipped with computers with internet connectivity and contain information and knowledge products focused on small-scale sustainable agriculture, climate change, sustainable land management (SLM), markets and natural resources management (NRM).
The Maarifa Centre has been offering free services that include: Library services; E-government services; multimedia content; internet access; citizen journalism training; ICT training; advisory services; publications like Joto Afrika, Baobab and Laikipia Mali Asili; and Sokopepe.
The Maarifa Centre has also hosted a NRM and SLM knowledge sharing Mazingira Centre. The Centre has been instrumental in sharing knowledge with farmers through organizing open learning days, exchange visits, video documentations and articles aimed at farmers and pastoralists.
With the recent government regulation on enabling access of government services on digital platforms, the Maarifa center has become vital in allowing close to 8,000 community members access e-Government services that include: downloading Personal Information Numbers; pay slips; making online tax returns; online registration of exams; online job application; and County development plans.
ALIN realized that many rural communities lack the skills to tap into the potential ICT field hence it has focused in the development of ICT resources at the Maarifa Centre. This is aimed at empowering people to use technology to promote community development and bring services such as skills development, e-commerce and e-learning closer to the people.
The uniqueness of Maarifa centers has led to winning of various prestigious awards notable the 2011, Access to Learning Award by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The Maarifa Centre through its blog Laikipia Rural Voices also won the Youth in Agriculture Blog Competition (YoBloco Awards) in 2014.
In developing people’s skills and creating ICT opportunities, ALIN ensures that people are put before technology and research and deploy ICTs that blend with traditional information systems. This strategy is informed by the following factors; communities in arid areas lack the means to access and to share transformative knowledge, they do not have adequate skills and competencies to access needed knowledge and there is lack of knowledge exchange nodes in arid lands of East Africa.
Communities have been provided with a chance to improve their farming techniques and technologies through full access of information and assistance at the Maarifa Centre, something they were not privileged to access before.