Technology for Farmworker Communities
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Project Abstract: Pesticide Protection and Warning System
This E-Team is developing a system of products that work together to protect the farmworker of Central California from pesticide exposure. Each day throughout the year, thousands of immigrant men, women and children in the Central Valley of California work in the fields that grow the fruits and vegetables that our nation puts on the dinner table. In the process, they are often exposed to harmful pesticides that compromise their health. Our Seguro product line is specifically designed to mitigate the effects of such pesticide exposure.
We are developing two types of products. The Seguro Protective Suit that the farmworker will wear everyday uses materials that work to repel and adsorb pesticides present in the air, on the plants and in the soil. It prevents the pesticides from getting onto the skin or in the lungs of the farm worker. The second product works closely with the suit: the Seguro Sensors are bio-sensors that use a visible light or color change and an audible warning system to alert the farmworker and their family when pesticides are present in the home or in the field.
There are currently no products on the market that protect farmworkers from pesticide exposure. In most cases, farmworkers wear their own clothing,which can spread the pesticides to their children's clothing during laundering. The alternative is to discard their clothing on a daily basis. The most common protection they now wear are 100% cotton bandanas, a very poor material for filtering pesticides, or, less often, they wear respirators which have been designed for protection from paint fumes a completely different substance than pesticides. The farm labor contractor does not normally supply any protective gear to the farmworkers.
Project Abstract: ICT for Health Education in Farmworker Communities
The objective of this work is the design and evaluation of a system for informal health education in rural, farmworker populations using mobile devices. We focus on Spanish and English speaking agricultural communities in California. Californias is the largest generator of agricultural revenue in the U.S., as well as its largest producer of fruits and vegetables. Our initial focus is on communities in Tulare County, the top agricultural producer (in terms of gross revenue) in the U.S. as well as the nation's largest dairy producer. Of the 4 million MSFW (migrant and seasonal farmworkers) in the United States, 1.3 million work in California [A]. We have conducted needs assessment with farmworkers in the California Central Valley in conjunction with engineering and industrial design students as part of a service learning initiative. The community, working with the students, identified key needs related to accessing information, emphasizing health information. We are in the midst of ethnographic studies with the community to support the design of a relevant and useful system, with an emphasis on creating a sustainable solution. We stress the importance of continually working with the community to develop relevant and sustainable solutions.
In order to continue this work beyond design concepts, we need funding specifically for the following: (1) a rigorous survey on technology/health/information across 200 households in 4 farmworking regions across California to provide support and new insights into the design process; (2) prototyping of 2 systems for preliminary user testing with communities; and (3) development of a robust system for use in an intervention-style study across ~40 households that measures changes in health knowledge and relevant behavior.
Agricultural workers in the United States suffer from many of the same problems as rural populations in developing countries; for example, it is estimated that 3 out of 5 families live below the poverty line, that 85% of farmworkers are unable to decode printed material in any language, and one estimate indicates that migrant farmworker life expectancy is 2/3 the national average [B,C]. Notably, only 10% speak fluent English, while more than 80% speak Spanish [C].
Estimates indicate that migrant and seasonal farmworkers alone total over 4 million, or more than 1% of the U.S. population. In total, 56% of farmworkers travel for employment; 42% overall maintain homes in their native countries, where they return in the off-season. Among those who follow the crop, there are three distinct streams that workers follow each year: the Eastern stream, beginning in Florida and going up to New England and Ohio; the Midwestern stream, originating in southern Texas and diverging to most states in the Midwest; and the Western stream, beginning in southern California and moving north along the coast [D].
Approximately 80% of farm workers are foreign-born, the overwhelming majority of these (95%) from Mexico. Still, many other groups participate in agricultural work, including Native Americans, Jamaicans, Laotians, Filipinos, Haitians, Puerto Ricans, and Hmongs [E]. Spanish is the native tongue for 84% of the population. English represents 12% with the remaining 4% comprised largely by Tagalog, Ilocano, Creole, and Mixtec. Literacy is decidedly low, as 85% of farmworkers are unable to decode printed material in any language. Tremendous income inequalities distinguish this group from the rest of the U.S. population. Whereas the per capita GDP is more than US$37,000, half of all farmworker families earn less than US$10,000 annually.
[A] National Center for Farmworker Health. About America's Farmworkers Fact Sheet, 2004.
[B] Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Community and Migrant Health Center Course: Population Specific Concerns, http://p2001.health.org, Feb 2005.
[C] United States Department of Labor, Findings From The National Agricultural Workers Survey (NAWS) 1997-1998, March 2000.
[D] The Conexiones Project, http://conexiones.asu.edu, Feb 2005.
[E] Farmworker Health Services Inc. About Migrant and Seasonal Farmworkers, http://www.farmworkerhealth.org, Feb 2005.