Mobile del Mar: How Mobile App Fisher Friend Helps Fishers in India

Posted by MelissaUlbricht on Mar 31, 2011.
An ongoing project in coastal India is working to improve the livelihoods of “fisher folk.” A mobile app called Fisher Friend provides timely information on local fish markets, the weather, and the sea.

video about Fisher Friend suggests that, “for fishing communities, the key to livelihood is knowledge… knowledge of the market, the weather, and most importantly, the sea.” The Fisher Friend app, which launched in 2007, provides timely and critical information for fishers, and “also increases their knowledge base by providing information on government schemes and entitlements, health services, directory services, and a marine toll-free helpline.”

The project is a collaboration between the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF),Tata Teleservices in India, Astute Systems Technology, Wireless Reach, and Qualcomm.

The Fisher Friend app provides information on potential fishing zones and market rates per species, helping fishers in all phases of their work. MobileActive.org spoke with S. Senthilkumaran, director of MSSRF in Chennai, to learn more about Fisher Friend.

How Do Fishers Use the Application?

Prior to the launch in 2007, MSSRF spoke with fishers at different locations in India via face to face and video chats. The app was introduced at a seminar on “Three Years after Tsunami: A new life for fisher communities,” and 40 mobile phones were distributed to fishers in Tamilnadu and Pondicherry, India.

The application was tested between 2007 and 2009 with more than 460 fishers in 8 districts of coastal Tamilnadu. Each individual had the phone for 10 to 15 days, on a loan basis.

“The fisher folk are using this tool for decision-making such as whether to go fishing or not based on weather parameters, and the potential fishing zone,” Senthilkumaran wrote in an e-mail to MobileActive.org. “They also use it for deciding on storing fuel, availing government schemes, and marketing.”

To spread the word, several awareness programs were conducted with different stakeholders in different locations in India. The team also employs a ‘train the trainer’ approach: a group of young local fishers were trained on the app, and these “master trainers” are showing other fishers how it works. There is a simple pictorial guide in the local, vernacular language (Tamil) on how to use the app.

Fisher Friend carries a monthly subscription charge of Rs.30.

Some other services provided by Fisher Friend include:

  • Ocean state forecast (wave height, wind direction, wind speed, weather)
  • Potential fishing zones (longitude and latitude for availability of fish)
  • Sea safety measures and precautionary methods
  • Schemes from both the state and central governments
  • First aid tips during emergencies at sea
  • Availability of diesel in the petrol stations close to the fishing harbours and other patrol stations
  • Procedures for the registration of fishing boats
  • Early warning information (cyclone and tsunami)
  • Emergency phone numbers — blood bank, government departments, hospitals, police, coast guard, net shops, diesel engine repair shops
  • Market information

Fisher Friend runs on Qualcomm’s BREW platform. On a daily basis, MSSRF collects the location-specific information from various resources and uploads it to a data server maintained by Astute Systems. After this, the web portal sends the content to the Tata Teleservices server. The Fisher Friend user sends a request for service within the application, and the app sends a query to the service through the CDMA 1X or 3G network and fetches the data from the server, back to the mobile handset.

Challenges and Successes

Senthilkumaran said that an initial challenge with Fisher Friend was the coverage and application design. Another was how the message appeared on the mobile screen and in the vernacular language in “a more simplified manner.”

Over time, the group moved from a text-based menu interface to an icon-based interface. For the fishers, the process is simple. He or she clicks on the Fisher Friend icon on the mobile screen and a series of icons are displayed for each available service. The options are further broken down by coastal district.

Senthilkumaran stresses again that all menu options and information are presented in vernacular language. Some sections are lengthy, and require the user to scroll through content. But, the app also has a provision for assigning shortcut keys for each information service. So, the next time a fisher uses the app, he or she can press the shortcut key instead of going through the menu.

As noted in the video, “it is the simplicity of the Fisher Friend application that makes it an effective technology and tool.”

“The users check the information daily, and some times twice a day,” Senthilkumaran said. “For example, fisher folk usually check the forecast before venturing into the sea or sometimes in the sea in case of wind forecast.”

One current challenge is building partnerships with various content partners and building capacity at institutions. “Now there is a continuous upgrading of the information based on several advanced queries such as species-wise information based on sea temperatures,” Senthilkumaran said.

There is evidence of success, according to Senthilkumaran. “The project has collected a number of case studies on how this application is helpful for them to save their boats, nets, and life, “ Senthilkumaran wrote. “Coastguard, department fisheries, and many agencies would like to replicate this program and provide content to the system,” he wrote.

Fisher Friend is currently available for download from the Tata Teleservices app store (the Tata Zone).

In its current phase, Senthilkumaran said he is focused on developing a low-cost standalone GPS solution to Fisher Friend — primarily to indicate potential fishing zones and for things like avoiding rocks to prevent damage to their nets. “We plan to integrate GPS with the app so that data such as Potential Fishing Zone forecasts could be made much easier for use by the fisher folk,” Senthilkumaran said.

Fisher Friend is also discussed in a Vodafone Public Policy Paper about the impact of mobile phones in India.

Photo from Qualcomm site.

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