Grant to professor enables Web help in Nigeria

In June of 2006, Louisa Ha, a University professor in the school of communication studies, submitted a proposal to a major journal publisher, in hopes of receiving a grant to conduct a study in Africa. Within the year, Ha has seen her plan put into action, receiving help from one her graduate students, Primus Igboaka, and a Nigerian university professor, Raphael Okigbo. Shortly after Emerald Group Publishing announced the Research Fund Awards for Chinese and African research, Ha submitted her proposal.

Ha was then notified her proposal was selected and she was awarded the $11,600 grant in October. Ha’s proposal was chosen among 50 ideas submitted from professors across the globe, according to Igboaka.

Igboaka believes Ha’s project was chosen because it was a concrete idea with a strong sense of direction.

According to the Emerald Publishing Group, “To be eligible, at least one member of each research team must be based in China or Africa and the applications should address the dissemination of knowledge for social good with a specific orientation toward benefit for developing economies.”

Ha’s proposal consisted of a knowledge and collaboration model using computers as a source of communication in order to help the farmers of Africa. The outline of the project, according to Ha, focused on three areas: Interviewing farmers, to assess their needs; setting up a computer center, complete with internet capabilities and lastly, providing a Web site to give the farmers a place to communicate with each other as well as other farmers from other areas. With Okigbo still in Nigeria and Igboaka offering his Nigerian home for the center, four computers, a scanner, a printer and video computer cameras were set up for the project. “[The center] offers free Internet facilities for farmers as well as student volunteers that assist the farmers in putting their hands on the computer, interpreting information received from Internet from African diasporas in United States and United Kingdom,” according to Igboaka. However, it’s not that the people of Nigerian have not experienced Internet service before, but according to Igboaka there was previously nothing specifically oriented toward farming and also the fact that Internet is quite expensive to provide in Nigeria. Grant money was spent on providing a satellite dish for quick, broadband Internet access that is free to the farmers, according to Ha. The Internet site created in the process of the project features discussion boards and links to allow farmers access to information from each other and from additional sources. The discussion board is also a primary way to see into the needs of the farmer, according to Igboaka. The discussion board topics are a primary reflection of the projects success. According to Ha, the farmers chose the topics they were most interested in learning about to create the ten different discussion boards found on the Web site. The topics range from access to fertilizers to transportations issues. “We want them not just to read what we provide, but also they provide their feedback by rating the information and sharing their experience using the advice posted on the Web site. We, the researchers only serve as facilitators and creating the necessary infrastructure to facilitate communication and knowledge documentation and sharing,” said Ha. Although no exact data has been gathered yet to see improvement within the farming community, Ha estimates there are at least 70 farmers within the community they worked with using the Web site and computers.

“We are very pleased with the types of response we’ve gotten,” said Igboaka. Ha also says she has received many positive responses as well and that the Nigerian farmers are quite thankful to be provided with such an opportunity. For further information about the project, Ha’s Web site for the project can be viewed at