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Projects that use innovative information and communication technologies (ICTs) in developing countries were honoured at the Stockholm Challenge Awards in Sweden last week (22 May).

The awards, which offer a €5,000 (around US$7,800) prize to winners, seek to reward projects that overcome social and economic disadvantage in six areas: culture, health, environment, economic development, education and public administration.

One hundred and forty five projects from fifty countries were shortlisted and invited to the biannual awards ceremony. 

Digital Green — a project that uses digital video to disseminate training techniques to farmers — won the culture category.

The project works in 12 villages in India's rural Karnataka and Tamil Nadu states. Instructional sessions on improved and locally relevant sustainable farming techniques are filmed in the field with ordinary farmers and then shown to villagers three times a week on a laptop or DVD player.

"Only about one in four farmers can read. That has made it difficult for the government to educate its populace about advances in sustainable farming practices," Rikin Ghandi, a founding member of the project, told SciDev.Net.

The farmers feel a strong connection to the material, he says. "Viewers trust the content in the videos because, in many cases, they recognise the villages where they were shot or even some of the participants — who are chosen to represent a variety of ages, genders and locations. Farmers even vie for the privilege of appearing 'on TV'."

Digital Green aims to use the Stockholm Challenge money to extend the reach of the project. They hope to establish a network of partnerships with other grassroots extension programmes.

The winners of the health category were those behind the EpiSurveyor project, which creates free, open-source software for the collection, analysis and dissemination of health information.

Designed to function on mobile devices such as mobile phones and handheld computers, the software allows healthcare workers to transfer data between organisations, says Rose Donna, a technologist and founder of Datadyne, the US-based company that created EpiSurveyor.

EpiSurveyor is currently being used to survey vaccine coverage and investigate polio outbreaks in Kenya and Zambia, according to Rose, and the WHO plans to roll out the use of EpiSurveyor across Sub-Saharan Africa before the end of 2008.

The electronic forms that are used to collect data can also be easily transferred, so countries don't have to start from scratch each time. For example, the Zambian Ministry of Health has been able to rapidly download and adapt forms created by the WHO for Kenya.

Plans are afoot to implement the project in Asia — and expand the functionality of the software.