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Charles R. Hale, Director SRH 1.310, 2300 Red River Street D0800, Austin, TX 78712 • 512.471.5551

Mexican Center and Universidad Veracruzana Receive TIES Grant

Posted: January 13, 2009

The Mexican Center of LLILAS, the Universidad Veracruzana (UV), and the Universidad Veracruzana Intercultural (UVI) in Veracruz, Mexico, have been awarded a three-year grant of $250,000 by USAID to assist farmers in rural Veracruz to create small business start-ups using innovative information technology.

The TIES (Training, Internships, Exchanges, and Scholarships) grant is the first awarded for information technology in Mexico by the USAID Higher Education for Development (HED) program, which supports partnerships between U.S. and Mexican universities on a range of development issues. Through the project, students from UV, UVI, and the University of Texas will collaborate directly in the field with rural farmer cooperatives on such things as crop management, marketing, and micro finance. UVI is a component institution of the Universidad Veracruzana that gives indigenous students a chance to gain a college education while they work to improve life in their own communities.

Marco Muñoz, Assistant Director of LLILAS and founder of the nonprofit Center for Sustainable Development and Productivity, will assist in identifying groups of smallholders for the project. Tapan Parikh, a professor at the School of Information at the University of California, Berkeley, will help implement a technology he has created that converts cell phones into hand-held computers. These cell phones, which don’t require a signal or service, are capable of recording and aggregating planting information, financing efforts, and communication with other farmers. Yael Schwartzman is a student of Parikh who has spent the past three years refining this technology at a coffee cooperative in Oaxaca. She will work on the ground with students and farmers to adapt the cell phone application, called DigitalICS, to the needs of the Veracruz project. Besides introducing new technology, the project participants will focus on ways for small-scale farmers to add value to their products and successfully market and sell their goods in Mexico and internationally. The goal is for farmers to expand the market reach of their products and increase their incomes, while taking ownership of information technology and successful small business practices so that they can become self-sustaining in the long run.

Beginning in fall 2009, the USAID grant also will provide scholarships for eight students from UV and UVI to come to UT Austin to study, either as undergraduates or master’s students, taking classes that are relevant to the rural development project. To complement their IT work in their home towns in Veracruz, these students will participate in a special Web technology course through LANIC, the Latin American Network Information Center at LLILAS. Students will return to Mexico with the training to become leaders in their communities and the tools to make their regions economically self-sustaining. At the same time, UT students will travel to Veracruz beginning in summer or fall 2009 for periods of up to three months to conduct field research with the farmer cooperatives and gain firsthand experience of economic and social conditions in rural Mexico. The Mexican Center is actively seeking UT undergraduates in their final year and M.A. and Ph.D. students who wish to participate in the project.

In December 2008, representatives from LLILAS traveled to Veracruz to meet with their counterparts at UVI. The team visited one of the four UVI campuses, each of which is located in one of the main indigenous regions of Veracruz. At the Tequila campus, in the Grandes Montañas area near Córdoba, the group met with students and faculty to discuss the project and how it can be successfully integrated into the surrounding communities. Members of the team will return to Veracruz in late January to begin hands-on application of the project with farmers. With the TIES project, UT and UV hope to establish a model for job creation in rural Mexico while also connecting its participants to new, global technologies. As Bryan Roberts, Director of LLILAS and principal investigator of the project, notes: “The importance of the locale and its capacity to create livelihoods and retain population has, paradoxically, increased with globalization, particularly in face of the increasing inability of external labor markets to absorb labor. The good news is that new communications technologies offer hope of improving livelihoods even in hitherto remote communities.”

For more information, please contact the Mexican Center at 512.232.2423.

This project is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Higher Education for Development (HED) office. The contents are the responsibility of The University of Texas at Austin and the Universidad Veracruzana and do not necessarily reflect the views of HED, USAID, or the United States Government.

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