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Afghan Girl Coders Design Game to Fight Biggest Problems of Their Country

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Like the team of Afghan schoolgirls who rose to fame last year when they competed in a robotics competition in the United States, the coders show what reserves of talent there are to be tapped when Afghan girls are given a chance.
Afghan Girls design games to fight opium and inequality, wikimedia commons
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Think Super Mario Bros., but with an Afghan twist. This is how Afghanistan’s first generation of female coders explain their abilities as game-makers after uploading more than 20 games on digital app stores this year.

More than 20 young women in the western city of Heart have established themselves as computer experts, building apps and websites as well as tracking down bugs in computer code.

Like the team of Afghan schoolgirls who rose to fame last year when they competed in a robotics competition in the United States, the coders show what reserves of talent there are to be tapped when Afghan girls are given a chance.

“Coders can work from home and it is in this process women are building a new career path for themselves and for the next generation,” said Hasib Rasa, project manager of Code to Inspire, which teaches female students coding in Herat.

One of the games designed by the all-female team has caught the eye of developers and gamers as it illustrates the scourge of opium cultivation and the challenges the Afghan security forces face as they try to stamp it out.

The 2-D game “Fight Against Opium” is an animated interpretation of the missions that Afghan soldiers undertake to destroy opium fields, fight drug lords and help farmers switch to growing saffron.

Afghanistan is the world’s largest source of opium but it also grows saffron – the world’s most expensive spice – which has long been pushed as an alternative to wean farmers off a crop used to make heroin.

Despite a ban, opium production hit a record in 2017, up 87 percent over 2016, according to a U.N. study.

The 2-D game "Fight Against Opium" is an animated interpretation of the missions that Afghan soldiers undertake to destroy opium fields, fight drug lords and help farmers switch to growing saffron.
Afghanistan Flag, wikimedia commons

Khatira Mohammadi, a student who helped develop the anti-opium game, said she wanted to show the complexities of the drug problem in the simplest way.

“We have illustrated our country’s main problem through a game,” said Mohammadi.

At the institute, more than 90 girls and young women, wearing headscarves and long black coats, are trained in coding and software development, a profession seen by some in conservative Afghanistan as unsuitable for women.

In Afghan society, it is unusual for women to work outside the home. Those who do, are mostly teachers, nurses, doctors, midwives and house helpers.

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After the ouster of the Taliban in 2001, women regained freedom to work in offices with male colleagues – but many consider working as a software developer a step too far.

Hasib Rasa said girls are encouraged to design original player characters, goals, and obstacles that reflect Afghanistan’s ethos.

The course is exclusively aimed at females, aged 15-25, who are unable to pursue a four-year degree due to lack of funds or hail from families where they are prevented from enrolling in co-education schools.

“In Afghanistan the ability to work remotely is a key tool in the push for equality,” said Rasa. (VOA)

 

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Young African Coders Compete to Curb Hunger With Sensors and Apps

The hackathon was held during a conference in Kigali on ways to attract more young people to agriculture through information and communication technology tools

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A demonstration of how Zambia-based application AgriPredict can help identify pests and diseases through Facebook, in Kigali, Aug. 21, 2018. (VOA)

From an app to diagnose disease on Zambian farms to Tinder-style matchmaking for Senegalese land owners and young farmers, young coders have been finding solutions to hunger in the first Africa-wide hackathon on the issue.

Eight teams competed in the hackathon, organized by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and a Rwandan trade organization this week in the country’s capital Kigali.

Experts say keeping young people in farming is key to alleviating hunger in Africa, which has 65 percent of the world’s uncultivated arable land, but spends $35 billion a year on importing food for its growing population.

“In our families, agriculture is no longer a good business. They don’t get the return,” said Rwandan Ndayisaba Wilson, 24, whose team proposed a $400 solar-powered device that can optimize water and fertilizer use.

“We believe that if the technology is good and farmers can see the benefits, they will adopt it.”

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Four of the team members of Rwanda’s STES Group pose with their $400 solar-powered device with sensors and connectivity that can optimise water and fertiliser use, in Kigali, Aug 21, 2018. (VPOA)

Among the proposed solutions were an app that links aspiring farmers with land owners in Senegal and a Nigerian mobile platform that uses blockchain to help farmers demonstrate their creditworthiness to lenders.

The winner was AgriPredict, an app already operating in Zambia that can help farmers identify diseases and pests. Those pests include the voracious fall armyworm, which eats crops and has wreaked havoc in much of sub-Saharan Africa.

Farmers can access the app directly from their phones or via Facebook. CEO Mwila Kangwa, 31, said the initiative came out of the twin disasters that hit Zambian farmers in 2016: the fall armyworm and Tuta absoluta, the pest commonly known as the tomato leaf miner.

“We noticed there were no tools whatsoever that will help farmers mitigate or prevent or even counter these diseases so we came up with this idea of creating a software to help farmers,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

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Three of the team members of AgriPredict from Zambia who won the the first Africa-wide hackathon aimed at curbing hunger levels, in Kigali, Aug 21, 2018. (VOA)

As winners, the Zambian team will receive coaching from the FAO to refine their product and an opportunity to meet potential funders and partners.

“What they brought was a technically sound solution … and the ability to convey the message to young people by using, for example, Facebook,” said Henry van Burgsteden, IT officer for digital innovation at the FAO and one of the judges.

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The hackathon was held during a conference in Kigali on ways to attract more young people to agriculture through information and communication technology tools.

High unemployment and the challenges of rural life mean many young people desert farming for the city, while aging farmers struggle with climate change, poverty and poor infrastructure. (VOA)