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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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Zimbabwe Officials Trying to Fight Cholera Clash With Street Vendors

A cholera outbreak is the second since a 2008-09 epidemic claimed almost 5,000 lives.

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Zimbabwe police was in streets of Harare on Sept. 16, 2018 removing vendors as part of efforts to fight cholera outbreak which has killed more than two dozen people over the past two weeks. VOA

Zimbabwe police Sunday clashed with vendors who were resisting being removed from streets as part of the country’s efforts to fight the cholera outbreak, which has claimed more than two dozen lives in the past two weeks.

Vendors were alerting each other of armed riot police and municipality officials coming to confiscate their wares Sunday in Harare. As soon as police officials left, the vendors would resume their business.

One of them is 34-year-old Maria Mange, a mother who three children who says unless she gets employed, she will remain selling vegetables and fruits in Harare’s CBD.

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Vendors in Harare say they not leave their business as they have no other sources of income with Zimbabwe’s unemployment rate said to be around 85 percent. VOA

“I am refusing to leave the streets on the basis that we cause the spread of cholera,” she said. “Our wares are cleaned or boiled before being consumed. It is dirty water which causes cholera, their failure to collect refuse, plus flowing sewage in the streets and blocked sewer pipes. Why concentrate on vendors and not criminals?”

Another vendor is Ronald Takura who says he has to find a way to make a livliehood.

“No, vendors are not causing the cholera. You are disturbing [our] search for money in our country,” he said. “I do not have a job and I do not have work to do. So do not send us out. I do not understand what is happening in this city. E.D. Mnangagwa, we supported, we do not see what he is doing for us.”

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Obediah Moyo Zimbabwe’s minister of health says there is no going back on vendors in streets, in Harare. VOA

He adds in Shona language, Zimbabweans voted for President Emmerson Mnangagwa in the July 30th elections, but he is not supporting the vendors.

But Zimbabwe’s minister of health, Obediah Moyo, says there is no going back.

“The issue of food vending is another issue, we all agreed that has to stop, especially in the area of epicenter [of the epidemic], that the police are helping us to stop the vending of food,” he said.

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In Zimbabwe trash can go for days or weeks without being collected which experts is one of the factors for spreading cholera outbreak in Harare. VOA

Zimbabwe’s cholera outbreak has since spread to several parts of the country from its epicenter in Harare’s densely populated suburbs.

Also Read: Video- Zimbabwe’s Newly Appointed President Calls For Unity

International organizations such as UNICEF, WHO, and MSF have since moved in with assistance. But critics say the long-term solution is improving water supply, sanitation and regular waste collection by Zimbabwean authorities.

A cholera outbreak is the second since a 2008-09 epidemic claimed almost 5,000 lives. (VOA)