University's Mexican Center Earns Grant to Improve Economic Development in Mexico

The Mexican Center of the Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies (LLILAS) at The University of Texas at Austin, the University of Veracruz (UV) and the Intercultural University of Veracruz (UVI) have received a three-year, $250,000 grant to provide innovative information technology to rural farmers in Veracruz, Mexico.

The Training, Internships, Exchanges and Scholarships (TIES) grant is the first awarded for information technology in Mexico by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and Higher Education for Development (HED), which support partnerships between U.S. and Mexican universities on a range of development issues.

To supply effective, global technology solutions for small-scale farmers, the universities will work with Tapan Parikh, a professor at the School of Information at the University of California, Berkeley, to implement a new technology he created that converts cell phones into handheld computers. The wireless devices, which do not require a signal or service, are capable of collecting and storing planting information, financing efforts and communicating with other farmers.

In addition to providing new information technologies, project participants will help farmers add value to their products and successfully market and sell their goods in Mexico and internationally.

Marco Muñoz, assistant director of LLILAS, said the goal is to help small-scale farmers take ownership of information technology and successful small business practices so they can become self-sustaining.

"Our challenge is to establish a model for job creation in rural Mexico, and to connect small-scale farmers to new, global technologies," Muñoz said. "With these cost-effective communication technologies, we offer hope for improving livelihoods in remote communities."

The TIES project will provide study abroad opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students at The University of Texas at Austin. Students selected to participate in the program will collaborate with UVI students and rural farmer cooperatives in Veracruz on various initiatives, including crop management, marketing and micro finance.

The funding will also bring UV and UVI students to The University of Texas at Austin to enroll in courses that are relevant to the rural development project, including a Web technology course through the Latin American Network Information Center at LLILAS.