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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)
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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)

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Parts Of Asia-Pacific Region Suffer From Acute Malnutrition And Hunger: UN

The report notes climate-related disasters are rising in the region, having a detrimental impact on agriculture.

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A Papuan child suffering from malnutrition lies in a hospital bed for treatment in Agats, the capital of Asmat district in Indonesia's easternmost Papua province. VOA

Four U.N. specialized agencies warn that many parts of Asia and the Pacific suffer from alarmingly high levels of malnutrition and hunger. This is the first time the Food and Agriculture Organization, the U.N. Children’s Fund, the World Food Program and the World Health Organization have issued a joint report, which calls for urgent action to reverse the situation.

The report finds efforts to reduce malnutrition and hunger have come to a virtual standstill in Asia and the Pacific. Unless greater effort is made to tackle this situation, it warns prospects for economic and social development in the region will be at serious risk.

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Malnourished and displaced Somali children sit in a tent in their camp on the outskirts of Mogadishu, Somalia. VOA

As of now, the U.N. agencies say many parts of Asia and the Pacific will not reach the U.N. sustainable goal of ending all forms of malnutrition and achieving zero hunger by 2030.

The United Nations reports 821 million people globally suffer from hunger. World Food Program spokesman Herve Verhoosel said 62 percent of that number, or 509 million people, are in the Asia-Pacific region, with children, in particular, bearing the biggest burden.

Verhoosel said 79 million children, or one in every four under age five, suffer from stunting, and 34 million children are wasting. He says 12 million children suffer from severe acute malnutrition, which increases their risk of death.

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Faduma Hussein Yagoub, a polio sufferer, came with her family to Dadaab from Somalia. Her husband and two of her five young children died of hunger on the way. Despite the dangers thousands of refugees every week are making the journey, walking for weeks across the desert and braving attacks by armed robbers and wild animals:

The report notes climate-related disasters are rising in the region, having a detrimental impact on agriculture. Loss of crops, it says, results in more hunger, more loss of nutrition and loss of livelihood.

Also Read: Loss of Teeth In Elder People Linked to Malnutrition

According to the report, climate-related losses in Asia between 2005 and 2015 amounted to a staggering $48 billion. Authors of the report say countries in the region must adapt agriculture so it’s more resilient to extreme climate events, and to mitigate the damage from climate change. (VOA)