Smartphones to the Rescue in Burundi

The UN World Food Programme's latest experiment is with smartphones as data collectors.

UN World Food Programme

Smartphones are now being deployed by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) in Burundi as data collectors, making data collection on food needs a whole lot easier and more efficient. The World Food Programme is a UN Agency delivering food aid to the world's least developed countries—and the hardest-hit disaster-stricken areas—and within any large bureaucracy, a tool like the smartphone is a welcome addition to save time and avoid handwriting-induced interpretation errors.

The WFP has two Hewlett Packard iPAQ smartphones in each of Burundi's 15 provinces and WFP officials are sent into the field to log answers to questions such as, "How many meals a day are you eating?" and "What do you use to cook?" Each phone is about $200, bringing the total project cost to $6,000.

"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," said WFP programme assistant Gerard Bisman.

"You can expand your survey area, and that makes it more valid by interviewing more people", said WFP information officer Marc Neilson.

The ultimate goal is to help more people and reducing costs and inefficiency is one way to do so. Mobile innovations have been employed by a number of other organizations such as Mercy Corps, Ushahidi, and HP Labs India. Let's hope that the WFP and Hewlett Packard are also on their way to creating a sustainable solution for hunger-stricken families in rural Burundi.

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