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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)

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Concerned Zimbabwe’s Citizens Start an Anti-Drug Campaign

While that may help, when young people have finished playing, they still find themselves unemployed and in the same conditions

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Drugs, Africa
A street vendor sells illegal and false drugs in a street of Adjame in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. VOA

A group of concerned Zimbabweans has started an anti-alcohol and drug campaign, targeting communities in which unemployed young people resort to drinking and using narcotics to alleviate the stress of not having work. Those involved in the campaign say the solution lies largely with improving the country’s moribund economy.

Fewer than three in 10 young Zimbabweans have steady jobs. Many are idle and see no economic opportunity. For some, that leads to problems with alcohol and drugs.

Church leaders, community leaders, and government officials have started warning youths of the impact of drug and alcohol abuse in Zimbabwe and its effect on their physical wellbeing and mental health.

With drug use growing in Zimbabwe, President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government has called for an all-stakeholders meeting on February 1 to come up with possible solutions.

Zimbabwe’s deputy director of Mental Health Services, Dr. Chido Rwafa, says the government cannot deal with the problem of substance abuse alone.

HIV, Drugs
More than half of the people surveyed who inject drugs said they avoided health-care services, citing discrimination or fear of law enforcement authorities.VOA

“Alcohol and substance use is a rising problem in all of Africa, and also in Zimbabwe, and it has become one of our top three diagnoses that we are seeing in our mental health unit, so it is becoming a problem. We need a coordinated approach to this problem. It is a multi-sectorial problem. We need a combined effort between government, between non-governmental organizations, with the community itself,” Rwafa said.

Youths are susceptible to peer pressure and can easily gain access to drugs, says Dr. Rwafa. Once hooked on drugs, they also become more likely to engage in criminal activities.

This 20-year-old asked us not to film him when he was smoking cannabis. He says drug use would fall if more people could find employment.

“The best way is just to improve our country economically such that all those people loitering in the streets will find jobs and will be focused. We are going nowhere. Even if you are to look (in the streets), there are some other people damaged (by drugs). Fifty percent of youths in the streets, they can not even work. Their life has been destructed by drugs etc. It is not that they want drug abuse,” Mandizha said.

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Young people with the Ngoma Yorira Theatre Association get ready for a performance at “Theatre in the Park” in Harare, Zimbabwe, as they campaign against drug abuse, Feb, 2, 2018. VOA

Roman Catholic Priest Cloudy Maganga is trying to reduce substance abuse by youths by keeping them busy and offering counseling.

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“Within our hall, upstairs we are creating what we call a study center for the young people. We will have computers… We have also started what we call the sports for the young people. We have created a volleyball pitch, we have created also a netball pitch for the young people so that when they are free, during their free time, they can be engaged in sports, everyone here. So at least with that we are removing them from being just idle,” Maganga said.

While that may help, when young people have finished playing, they still find themselves unemployed and in the same conditions youths like Takudzwa Mandizha say make them turn to drugs. (VOA)