OnQ Blog

Empowering traditional fishermen in Colombia with mobile nets

Winston Hawkins, age 71, lives in a small fishing village called La Boquilla, on Colombia’s Atlantic Coast. He gets up at 3:00 a.m. every morning, takes his gear and goes to meet his fellow fishermen at their boat. A net is their primary tool for catching fish, but Winston’s tablet with wireless connectivity, provided by the “Fishing with Mobile Nets” project, is their number one tool for planning a safe, productive and profitable fishing excursion.

“I have been fishing for more than 35 years now and this is the first time I’ve had a tool as helpful as this. I use the tablet and mobile application every morning to view the weather forecast and ocean conditions,” said Winston. “Once I determine it is safe, I prepare to go fishing and take the tablet so that I can register the expenses incurred prior to the trip and the kilos of fish caught during the excursion in order to have a real-time forecast of the market potential.”

Since 2013, Qualcomm Wireless Reach, CINTEL, Telefonica Foundation Colombia, USAID and Fundación Proboquilla have collaborated on the “Fishing with Mobile Nets” project to bring the benefits of mobile broadband connectivity to La Boquilla. Our overall goal is to reduce poverty by raising productivity and incomes in vulnerable communities through the digital and social inclusion of men, women and youth. Last week, the collaborators gathered in Cartagena, Colombia, to share project results at a launch event attended by more than 150 guests, including national media outlets.

The fishermen who attended moved me with their heartfelt testimonials and expressions of appreciation for how the project is improving their lives. Hernando Ortega, a fisherman said “the project brought them out of ‘technological backwardness,’ opened doors for them and gave them much joy.”

Minister of Information and Communications Technology (MINTIC), David Luna Sanchez, was so captivated that he walked up to the front of the stage to record Hernando’s testimonial with his smartphone. During his remarks, Minister Luna Sanchez said, “It is possible to make dreams a reality and today, we’ve seen that here with the fishermen using technology.”

Other distinguished speakers at the event included Dionisio Vélez, Mayor of Cartagena de Indias; Germán Darío Arias, advisor to MINTIC; Alejandro Ruiz from Colombia’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development; Elizabeth Mendenhall, USAID Colombia Program Director; Alfonso Gómez Palacio, President of Telefonica Colombia; and Rafael Steinhauser, President of Qualcomm Latin America. 

One of the key factors of success for this project is the co-development of mobile solutions alongside local fishermen and the adaptation of best practices and mobile applications from the “Fishing with 3G Nets” project in Brazil.

Due to the success in La Boquilla, we have expanded Fishing with Mobile Nets to two more traditional fishing villages in Colombia: San Andres de Tumaco on the Pacific Coast and Providence Island in the Caribbean Sea.

To date, more than 200 community members have attended free training courses on the use of mobile technologies for record-keeping, marketing and reaching a larger client base. They are also learning how to diversify their trade with fish farming.

A virtual community platform which they named Cardumen (school of fish) was created, which allows participants in all three villages to share ideas, knowledge and experiences; access relevant online courses; and create opportunities for business collaboration. The community’s Reporteritos, youth trained in journalism skills, are learning to use the mobile devices to create relevant content to publish in the virtual community and at the same time are gaining valuable workforce skills.

After one year of the project’s inception, fishermen using the mobile devices in La Boquilla have increased their monthly income, on average, by 15 percent. Fish farming is opening new business opportunities, while helping to reduce the impact of over-fishing in the environment. 

The author, at lower right in red, with some fishermen from La Boquilla and their families.

As the manager for this project it was a great pleasure to present the results at the event as well as provide a space for participants to share how access to advanced mobile technology has enhanced their quality of life.

To learn more about the project, watch the video here.

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