Nepal Field Monitors: From PDAs To Tablet PCs

When your job is to crisscross one of the world's most rugged and isolated mountainous areas to collect real-time information about the food security status of people living there, how would you do it in the most efficient way possible?

KATHMANDU - WFP Nepal has introduced Tablet PCs for field monitor staff to help them collect in-depth information about food security across the country, replacing the use of Personal Digital Assistant (PDAs) and satellite phones. This is part of an overall system upgrade of WFP Nepal’s real-time information management system called eWIN.

Thirty-five WFP field monitors, who are based in different parts of Nepal, were provided with Tablet PCs in July of this year to help achieve efficient data collection and processing from the field.

By collecting and providing vital real-time information about the food security status of the most vulnerable in the country, WFP field monitors help ensure that these communities receive the right food at the right time. Walking is often the only mode of transport in remote areas of the Himalayas bordering Tibet where they face very difficult conditions, including isolation, adverse weather and altitudes above 4,000 meters. These monitors serve as the backbone of the Nepal Food Security Monitoring System (NeKSAP), the most comprehensive data collection and field surveillance system in Nepal.

During the handing over ceremony, Deputy Country Director Nicolas Oberlin expressed his expectations that the new technology would be “extremely convenient” to work with. “The field monitors work in difficult circumstances and we are pleased to provide them with the best tool to make their work easier,” he said.

Work Made Easy With Technology
The tablet PC is a versatile tool that supports pen navigation, enabling the user to write text directly on the screen which can later on be printed. It combines the best features of paper, notebook PCs and PDAs, revolutionizing the way field monitors work -- now it is easier to capture, access and use information wherever the job takes them. The tablets also have GPS, SIM slot, wireless connectivity and multi-media capabilities. It runs on Windows 7 which allows the field monitors to use Microsoft Office applications and e-mails so that they can remain connected with the office while working in some of the remotest parts of the country.

“Over the years, technology and infrastructure have developed rapidly and the system that we were using (PDAs and Satellite phones) was getting obsolete. There was a pressing need to upgrade the entire system,” said Mariko Kawabata, Head of the WFP Nepal’s Food Security Monitoring and Analysis Unit (FSMAU).
“WFP Nepal has built a unique capacity and experience of collecting and processing real-time information from remote parts of the country. We are confident that the use of the new technology will be instrumental to achieve a greater accuracy, consistency and timeliness of the information collected from the field.”

In Nepal, the WFP field monitors have been an unparalleled source of grassroots information on food security. They collect extensive data/information at household and community levels covering a wide range of thematic areas such as socio-economic and agro-ecological contexts, food supplies, markets, livelihoods, coping strategies, nutrition, health, education, etc. The data is then transmitted to a database system in Kathmandu which can be accessed instantly and analyzed by the FSMAU staff in the Country Office.

Inputs from field monitors have been an important source for WFP to identify the most food-insecure population, contributing to the achievement of effective targeting and design of the right type of interventions. Information from them have also been used by various stakeholders including UN agencies, donors and policy makers in designing and monitoring different food security programme and has helped provide early warning in various contexts including natural disasters, food price increases and political instability, facilitating a timely intervention by relevant stakeholders.

“We are all thankful to the country office for providing us this powerful tool, with the best technology to work with. We are encouraged to work even better,” said Raju Chhetri, one of the field monitors.