Information and stories about Africa.

Copper face masksThe COVID-19 pandemic has heavily impacted a lot of countries, specifically in areas like the Americas, Brazil, India and Africa. Africa has especially experienced a surge of positive cases and is struggling in terms of COVID-19 prevention. According to the Milken Institute, while places like North America and Europe are 43.64% and 49.57% fully vaccinated respectively as of September 9, 2021, only 3.28% of Africa’s population are fully vaccinated from the novel coronavirus. Out of more than eight million cases reported in Africa, about 2.84 million cases come from South Africa alone.

Moreover, due to the deadly virus, GDP growth throughout Africa is expected to slow. But, even with these grim consequences, help is on the way from a brilliant company based in South Africa, Copper Fresh. During the pandemic, healthcare experts encourage people to do three things: wash their hands, socially distance when possible and wear a face mask to prevent the spread of the virus. However, Copper Fresh is not developing just ordinary face masks but rather copper face masks.

Copper Fresh

Copper Fresh, a company found in Johannesburg, South Africa, is developing pink copper face masks that will help slow the spread of disease and safeguard people’s health. But, with these specific face masks, it is not just about a color change from blue to pink, it is about the mask material. These masks are made out of copper — the reason why the masks have a light red or darker pink color to them — and because of this, the mask can sanitize itself and kill COVID-19 on its surface.

Benefits of Copper

According to IT News Africa, copper is known to kill a variety of diseases “like MRSA, E.coli, Influenza A as well as norovirus. Moreover, according to the University of Cambridge, “copper and alloys that contain up to 58% copper are effective in killing microbes on furniture and equipment in hospital wards.” While the mask is not fully made out of copper, it has the capability to fend off multiple diseases including COVID-19. Dean Lazarus, a co-founder of the company, explains how these copper face masks beat a normal blue medical mask. “[Copper Fresh] mask kills viruses and bacteria. Whereas your traditional blue mask doesn’t. So, if you take your mask off and then put it back on again, you are still carrying the virus with you,” states Lazarus.

According to Business Insider, Copper Fresh partners with Israel-based MedCu Technologies, a company that makes “fabric infused with copper oxide for paramedics to dress wounds at accident scenes.” This fabric is made by mixing together cloth and copper oxide, which is done by placing copper oxide into the fabric at a “microscopic level on a conveyer belt system.” This new fabric then ships to Johannesburg, where Copper Fresh produces the masks.

Hope Amid COVID-19

Due to the socioeconomic consequences of COVID-19, the chances of households moving into poverty are greatly increasing. The risk of falling into transient poverty is increasing by 17% while long-term poverty is increasing by 4%. The chance of escaping poverty has decreased by more than 5%, according to the Milken Institute.

Now, thanks to Copper Fresh and its innovative new face masks, Africa is one step closer to lessening the number of new COVID-19 cases and helping people rise out of poverty. Not many people would think a mask that has an “N95 filter between two sheets of the copper material” would be so beneficial, but Copper Fresh is ambitiously proving this possible. With almost 50,000 masks made per day selling at R25 each, or just less than $2, plenty of Africans can benefit from this revolutionary technology. Copper Fresh masks symbolize more than just protection — they inspire hope.

– Matt Orth
Photo: Unsplash

Jaguza FarmSub-Saharan Africa is home to 19 of the world’s 25 most impoverished countries. Out of the 626 million people in sub-Saharan Africa, 61% have been “classified as agricultural” by the Food and Agriculture Organization. Agriculture made up 13% of the region’s GDP in 1997 and is the main source of income for many impoverished families. Hence, the growth of agriculture could significantly support poverty reduction and economic development in the region. However, despite thousands of families’ dependence on livestock, many people in sub-Saharan Africa face specific challenges. This includes a lack of information on how to treat common livestock diseases, insufficient inventory tools and inadequate access to veterinary services and medicines to enhance productivity.

What is Jaguza Farm?

Jaguza Farm is an agriculture-tech company bridging the gap in multiple countries. It aims to deliver services and solutions to small farmers who lack the information needed to improve their productivity. With help, these farmers can enhance their agricultural processes and techniques to rise out of poverty. Hoping to help local farmers allocate their resources more efficiently and become more productive, Ronald Katamba and Christine Kihunde Kiiza co-founded Jaguza Tech Uganda Ltd. and created the Jaguza Livestock App. The Jaguza Farm monitoring system provides data-driven solutions by allowing farmers to track and monitor their livestock. At the same time, farmers receive animal health data, possible outbreak alerts and educational content on agricultural techniques.

How Does Jaguza Innovate?

By combining data science, expert agricultural knowledge and machine learning, Jaguza helps customers manage their herds and finances and keeps track of their inventory on one accessible and easy-to-use app. Aware that many farmers and users are located in rural areas and do not have access to the internet, Jaguza allows users to use “USSD Code and SMS” platforms to access Jaguza services. Hence, services can be accessed and used offline or online to remove barriers of accessibility that commonly plague rural farmers.

The Jaguza app meets its goals in various ways. After tagging a cow’s ear with a smart monitoring device that is noninvasive and solar-powered, the system gives recommendations on how to increase milk yields, improve reproduction rates and detect illnesses. Developing more strategies, Jaguza also points to drone technology as a way to work in conjunction with data-tracking and herd-managing strategies. In addition to tracking livestock and preventing livestock diseases, Jaguaza Farm allows users to buy livestock and equipment through its app, learn about the local livestock market and access affordable vets.

Utilizing Farm Software

Jaguza Farm allows more than 18,000 users to download its free software onto any smartphone or device. Then, users can import and manage livestock excel spreadsheets and project birth and production rates. Moreover, possibilities include the ability to set up and monitor alerts and access satellite maps to view weather forecasts.

The Jaguza Farm Software allows African farmers to track animal databases through ear tag and sensor numbers. This technology allows farmers to keep health records to plan for long-term and short-term decisions instantly on the navigatable Jaguza cloud server. Ultimately, Jaguza software allows thousands of farmers the chance to better allocate their resources and increase their revenues.

Recognizing Impact and Potential

Currently impacting farmers in 13 different countries, Jaguza has helped its clients see an increase of 35% in their livestock production. Helping accelerate e-agriculture entrepreneurship for growth and job creation in Africa, Jaguza won the 2019 Pitch AgriHack competition, which recognizes young entrepreneurs who work to create a more sustainable economy in the region. The United Nations in Uganda also selected Jaguza Farm as the most innovative startup in 2014. The organization’s efforts were also recognized by IST Africa, the Ashoka Organization and Ikea Social Entrepreneurship.

Providing farmers with innovative and accessible tools improves conditions for countless people. As Jaguza Farm continues to work on behalf of African farmers, a measurable impact in the region becomes more recognizable as farmers are able to rise out of poverty.

Carolina Cadena
Photo: Flickr

cholera in nigeriaBetween January and August 2021, Nigeria experienced a surge in cholera cases with more than 31,000 “suspected cases,” 311 confirmed reports and more than 800 deaths. With close to 200,000 COVID-19 cases, a surge of cholera during the pandemic has heightened public health concerns in Nigeria. As such, addressing cholera in Nigeria is currently a top priority for the country.

What is Cholera?

According to the World Health Organization, “cholera is an acute diarrhoeal infection caused by ingestion of food or water contaminated with the bacterium Vibrio cholerae.” Despite being both preventable and treatable, cholera is very dangerous as it can kill an individual within hours without intervention. While mild cases are easily treatable with “oral rehydration solution,” more severe cases necessitate “rapid treatment with intravenous fluids and antibiotics.” These are resources that many impoverished developing countries simply cannot afford.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number “of people who die from reported cholera remains higher in Africa than elsewhere.” The WHO emphasizes that the “provision of safe water and sanitation is critical to prevent and control the transmission of cholera.” The WHO also recommends oral cholera vaccines in areas where cholera is endemic.

The Nigerian Government’s Efforts

The Nigerian government continues to implement policies to control the spread of cholera. Promoting basic sanitation, improving hygiene practices and providing clean water are ways the government does this. In an attempt to mitigate the spread of cholera in Nigeria, the government has also supplied solar-powered boreholes with the help of the International Organization of Migration (IOM). As of 2019, the IOM has maintained 58 of these boreholes in Borno state and created 11 new boreholes. The IOM also “rehabilitated 10 and connected them to solar power.”

An important way to stop the spread of cholera is through improving the vaccination system in Nigeria. After an outbreak occurred in 2017, the National Primary Healthcare Development Agency instated cholera vaccination programs. The next step will be to increase the supply of vaccines.

The MSF’s Role in Eradicating Cholera

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), otherwise known as Doctors Without Borders, is an independent global organization working to prevent cholera in Nigeria, among other missions. Its main focus is to provide medical aid in areas where it is most needed. Beginning in the 1980s, the MSF has responded to cholera epidemics across the world. Since then, the organization has worked to come up with new and more effective ways to eradicate cholera.

The MSF’s efforts to address cholera include supplying cholera kits, investigating outbreaks, establishing cholera treatment facilities, community education, improving access to water and sanitation and vaccinations, among other efforts. Cholera kits include “rehydration salts, antibiotics and IVs, along with buckets, boots, chlorine and plastic sheeting.” Sanitation improvements allow MSF to ensure the availability of clean water to citizens of Nigeria. Additionally, soap and clean water are provided for at-home use.

Promoting health is another major goal of the organization. At the time of an outbreak, those who work in the health field visit churches, schools and homes to help educate people on measures they can take to prevent the spread of cholera. Vaccinations are also employed to address Nigeria’s cholera outbreak. Providing vaccines is difficult, despite their ease of administration. Nonetheless, the MSF is working on vaccine campaigns. With patients receiving the proper care they need at the time they need it, the MSF states that deaths can potentially decrease from as high as 50% to as low as 2%.

The MSF’s Achievements

In 2019, the MSF supplied more than 231,000 cholera vaccine doses to endemic nations across the world. With the work of the MSF and increased government initiatives, it is possible to significantly reduce cholera in Nigeria.

– Nia Hinson
Photo: Flickr

The Samburu ProjectThe Samburu are indigenous peoples located in Kenya and East Africa. The Samburu tribe is historically nomadic, traveling throughout the region to provide for its members. With close relations to the Maasai tribe, the Samburu tribe shares a similar language, both derived from the mother language Maa. The Samburu Project aims to provide clean water access to the Samburu people.

“Women’s Rights are Human Rights”

Kristen Kosinski founded The Samburu Project after a trip to Kenya in 2005. While meeting with female leaders in the region, Kosinski met Mariama Lekwale, known as “Mama Mussa,” a remarkable women’s rights activist and member of the Samburu tribe. Mama Mussa introduced Kosinski to many Samburu women, all of whom brought up the issue of water during shared conversations. Kosinski learned that water was the focal point of many of these women’s lives. It was the women’s responsibility to procure drinking water for the family, an extremely complicated task.

Safe drinking water was severely lacking in the region, with few available wells. The existing hand-dug wells faced contamination from waste products. Waterborne disease was rampant, causing illness and death across the region. As it is the women’s job to search for water, parents often pull daughters out of school to help with this arduous task, depriving young girls of their education. According to Water.org, globally, women and children “spend a collective 200 million hours collecting water.” This time could go toward more productive activities such as education and paid employment.

Impact in Numbers

Seeing how a lack of access to water disproportionately affects girls and women, Kosinski was inspired to work together with Mama Mussa to drill four new wells in the region before the year 2007. In 2007, Mama Mussa, unfortunately, passed away, however, her son Lucas Lekwale took over this incredible mission. Together, Lekwale and Kosinski committed to drilling an additional 75 wells in the region before the close of 2015. Since its start in 2005, The Samburu Project has built 126 wells in the region, providing more than 100,000 Kenyans with clean and safe drinking water. Over time, The Samburu Project gained many well-known partners such as Whole Foods, OPI, Chobani, Wells Fargo Advisors, Rotary International, Lyft and Forever 21, to name just a few.

The Far-reaching Impacts of Access to Water

According to the United Nations, water forms “the core of sustainable development and is critical for socio-economic development, healthy ecosystems and for human survival itself.” Furthermore, water is essential for eliminating diseases and “improving the health, welfare and productivity of populations.” As such, The Samburu Project’s mission is an important one.

The Samburu Project’s mission is “to provide access to clean water and continue to support well communities with initiatives that promote health, education, women’s empowerment and general well-being.” Safe water has also played a significant part in curbing the spread of COVID-19 in the area. Reducing contamination and increasing access to hygiene practices like handwashing through “tippy tap” handwashing stations has dramatically reduced potential instances of infection and transmission in the region.

Eliminating the search for water gives women time to earn an income, lifting many out of poverty. It also gives young Kenyan girls time to focus on their education, with more than double the number of girls enrolled in school as a result of acquiring access to clean water. With accessible clean drinking water, health, hygiene and wellness improve and young girls can attend school instead of shouldering the burden of collecting water with their mothers. Furthermore, women can focus their energy on activities that empower them to rise out of poverty.

The Samburu Project has done incredible work in Kenya, ensuring that the fundamental right to water is upheld for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged communities.

Michelle M. Schwab
Photo: Flickr

Education in KenyaThe World Bank reported in 2015 that 36.8% of people in Kenya lived below the international poverty line, set at $1.90 per day. Estimates from April 2020 predicted that this level would continue to follow a slow downward trend to approximately 33.1% in 2020 and 32.4% in 2021. These recent statistics tend to vary across sources, however. For example, Statista reports that in 2020, 27.3% of Kenyans lived in poverty. Ultimately, sources seem to broadly agree that more than a quarter of the population in Kenya lives under the international poverty line. However, poverty rates could reduce by increasing opportunities for education in Kenya. The potential of education in Kenya reflects in the country’s successes over the years.

Poverty Reduction Progress in Kenya

Though the number of Kenyan citizens in poverty is undoubtedly high, Kenya has made great progress in reducing poverty in the last 15 years. In 2005, the World Bank found 46.8% of people living in poverty. This means that according to the World Bank statistics, poverty in Kenya has decreased by more than 10% in slightly more than 15 years. However, there is still a significant need for further poverty reduction progress in Kenya.

Eliminating poverty is crucial for a number of reasons as poverty has an irrefutable impact on other areas of life. One of these impacted areas is education. Global Citizen argues that poverty is the greatest barrier to education for children. Families living on less than $1.90 a day often cannot afford to send their children to school, whether that be due to high attendance fees, the cost of school materials or the need for the child to contribute to the family farm or business. Hence, addressing education is intertwined with addressing poverty in countries such as Kenya.

Educational Success: Free Primary School

Located in East Africa, Kenya is part of a region where harsh climate, violence and general instability lead to high poverty rates and limited access to education. Yet, in the education spectrum, the country has made great progress in recent years, showing the overall potential of education in Kenya. One successful initiative began in 2003, when the Kenyan government rolled out the Free Primary Education (FPE) program, waiving all primary school fees for students. As a result, Olympic Primary School in Kenya’s capital of Nairobi reported that enrollment nearly tripled. This growth in attendance seems to have occurred nationwide as UNICEF reports that before the COVID-19 pandemic closed many schools in early 2020, primary school enrollment in Kenya stood at 99%.

World Bank statistics show Kenya’s successes in improving education through FPE and other programs, with the most recent data from 2018 showing a literacy rate of almost 82% for people older than 15. This is up significantly from 72.16% in 2007 and 78.73% in 2014. Yet, despite these improvements in literacy and primary school enrollment rates, Kenya still struggles to provide high-quality education and see children through to secondary school. Though nearly all children in Kenya attend primary school at some point, many of them drop out to supplement the family income. In 2017, the Kenya Climate Innovation Center reported a 27% dropout rate in primary school.

Even if students complete primary school, very few of them go on to any further education. Statista reports that in 2019, 10.1 million children attended primary school in Kenya. However, only 3.26 million children enrolled in secondary school the same year and only 509,000 Kenyan students attended college in 2019. More recent data is not available due to widespread school closures as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Potential of Education in Kenya

Getting students into primary schools was the first step to improving education in Kenya. But, while the most recent World Bank data states that, in 2018, the Kenyan government spent 5.3% of the country’s GDP on education, schools are still short on resources and teachers. In some classrooms, the teacher-to-student ratio exceeds 1:100, leaving teachers overworked and overwhelmed. The government is working hard to increase the percentage of students who transition to secondary school but requires more resources to employ enough teachers and support high-quality education for students.

Overall, education in Kenya has seen a vast improvement in the number of students attending primary school in the last 20 years as a result of FPE and other work. Now, Kenya must look to improve in other areas of education in order to fully empower students with the tools and knowledge to rise out of poverty.

– Julia Welp
Photo: Flickr

Resource rushes impact global povertyIn June 2021, impoverished South Africans in the province of KwaZulu-Natal flocked to the town of KwaHlathi after reports of diamonds in the area, the most modern example of a resource rush. Many people hoped this could be their key out of poverty in a country with a 32.6% unemployment rate and a stagnating GDP per capita. Unfortunately, the gems were actually quartz, a common crystal found across the globe, dashing the hopes of these amateur miners. In the developed world, the resource rushes once common in the 19th century have now largely faded away, replaced by institutionalized mining companies. However, the developing world still struggles with informal mining and its environmental, economic and political consequences. Because of this, resource rushes impact global poverty both directly and indirectly.

What is a Resource Rush?

Resource rushes occur when a natural resource is discovered and many people move to participate in its extraction. In the 19th and 20th centuries, resource rushes for gold and diamonds led to the colonization and settlement of many parts of South Africa, Australia and the Western United States. Modern-day resource rushes do not drive the same levels of migration. However, they still carry large impacts on the economies of developing countries.

Why is it Important?

In the 21st century, resource rushes create both opportunities and conflicts. Currently, more than 15 million small-scale “artisanal” miners operate in resource-rich areas, many times informally. Nearly 100 million people rely on the income that artisanal mining brings. Artisanal miners usually have to sell their goods below market price as there is usually only one large local buyer. While an important source of income, the extraction process is largely inefficient due to the small scale of these artisanal mining operations. This creates an opportunity to develop single or multi-person mining operations by increasing the efficiency of artisanal miners and connecting them to global markets.

On the other hand, resource discoveries commonly drive violent conflicts and human rights abuses. Large resource discoveries, combined with access to arms from previous conflicts, have driven wars in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Sierra Leone. Many times, the armed groups extracting these resources use them to fund their operations, drawing the label of “conflict minerals.”

Resource rushes also lead to migration. Mineral deposits, largely in rural or environmentally preserved areas, attract large numbers of settlers who heighten the human impact on these areas. These impacts create environmental strain, leading to deforestation, lower standards of temporary informal housing and chemical pollution.

Building a Better Mining Industry

Artisanal and small-scale mining ventures offer many opportunities for growth around the world. While problems of health hazards and political conflicts exist, many actions by national, international and NGO stakeholders are working to overcome these challenges.

One project involving the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) partnered with the Peruvian government to improve the environmental impacts and working conditions of small-scale mining. This project utilized technical assistance, working with national governments to create system-wide change. This resulted in the implementation of mercury-reducing technologies in Peruvian mines. Other initiatives in the continent have sought to organize small-scale mines to sell their products on the international market, avoiding price-setting middlemen.

Another project in Central Africa by PACT, an NGO that focuses on mining issues, works to create a verification system so that consumers can choose responsibly sourced raw materials. This verification system includes 54,836 miners spread across 727 mines with 672 government officials tasked with implementing the system. By verifying raw materials and helping consumers gain access to raw material markets, PACT has made a large impact on raw material extraction in Central Africa.

These projects aim to reduce the impacts of informal mining at the local level, but national governments of importing countries can also implement policies toward the same goal. In 2012, the U.S. launched the Public-Private Alliance for Responsible Mineral Trade, a multi-sector task force aimed at implementing measures to stop imports of conflict minerals.

Looking to the Future

Resource rushes impact global poverty by fueling conflicts, migration and creating substandard mining industries that further contribute to deforestation and various forms of pollution. However, through projects such as PACT’s, organizations are working to improve the conditions of small-scale ventures so that workers and their dependents can sell their products on the international market. In this way, impoverished people have the opportunity to improve their lives and rise out of poverty.

– Justin Morgan
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

USAID Assistance to SudanUnited States Agency for International Development (USAID) assistance to Sudan offers hope to alleviate poverty in the struggling country. Sudan has a population of more than 44 million people, but as of August 2021, approximately 13.4 million Sudanese people require humanitarian aid. Citizens are grappling with conflict, food insecurity, economic crisis and the impact of drought and flooding. The onset of COVID-19 has only exacerbated issues of poverty in the country. Even though there were developmental gains in the past decade, the African country of Sudan is still dealing with widespread poverty, conflict and violence. However, with USAID assistance to Sudan, the country has the potential to make significant strides in reducing poverty.

The Economy of Sudan

The secession of South Sudan in 2011 is a leading cause of many of Sudan’s modern economic struggles. When South Sudan seceded, the most significant economic loss to Sudan was oil revenue. Oil contributed to more than 50% of the Sudanese government’s income and “95% of its exports.” Without oil revenue, the country experienced a lack of economic growth and “consumer price inflation” as well as soaring fuel prices. However, Sudan came to an agreement with South Sudan “to lower oil transit fees” in 2016 in order to address some of these issues.

While oil is still Sudan’s main economic sector, about 78% of the population work in the agricultural sector. However, the agricultural industry in Sudan is highly rain-dependent and very sensitive to “changing weather patterns” that lead to drought and flooding. This volatility can hurt the incomes of the many people whose livelihoods depend on agriculture.

The State of Poverty in Sudan

Sudan faces significant challenges regarding poverty. Sudan has “one of the highest rates of stunting in the region,” with global acute malnutrition impacting about one million children in the country. In addition, roughly 83% of the citizens live in rural areas and 80% of the population survives on less than $1 a day. Furthermore, more than a third of the country experiences food insecurity. The culmination of these factors means, on the Human Development Index, Sudan ranks 170th out of 189 countries. This ranking puts Sudan in the “low human development category,” according to the 2019 Human Development Index.

USAID Assistance to Sudan

“The United States has been the largest donor of humanitarian assistance to the people of Sudan for more than a quarter-century.” USAID assistance to Sudan aims to reduce poverty and provide immediate humanitarian relief. In June 2020, USAID gave Sudan roughly $356 million “to support the democratic transition in the Republic of Sudan following a peaceful revolution in 2019.” Of this funding, $20 million went toward the Sudan Family-Support Program, “a safety net administered by the World Food Programme” to assist Sudanese people “through a difficult period of economic reform needed to end unsustainable state subsidies on wheat and oil.” In addition, some of the funding went toward strengthening the COVID-19 response in Sudan.

More recently, on August 3, 2021, USAID Administrator Samantha Power proclaimed that the agency will provide more than $56 million worth of humanitarian aid to Sudan. The aid looks to increase healthcare resiliency by assisting with “emergency health care,” medical resources and the training of healthcare personnel. Furthermore, the funding will support victims “of gender-based violence by improving case management and training personnel on survivor-centered approaches.” The funding will also increase resources with regard to water and sanitation. Through this assistance, USAID strives to help approximately 13.4 million Sudanese who need humanitarian aid.

Looking Ahead

With the addition of this recent aid, the U.S. asserts its position as the most significant donor to Sudan, providing nearly $377 million worth of aid since the beginning of 2021. U.S aid to Sudan provides support for millions of Sudanese people who deal with food insecurity, lack of clean water and conflict, among other issues. With U.S. aid, Sudan can make strides in the fight against poverty.

– Kyle Har
Photo: Flickr

How Affordable Irrigation Technology Helps FarmersSupPlant, an Israeli firm that installs sophisticated irrigation systems for villages facing water scarcity and low yields, wants to improve its system and spread its work to even more people in need. As such, the organization is pioneering affordable irrigation technology by cutting down on the amount of infrastructure its systems need to function.

The Old Ways

Reliable data is crucial to getting the most out of an irrigation system. While practical experience can help some of the world’s most impoverished farmers improve their yields, there is considerable room to improve from the uncertainty of relying on intuition. SupPlant was built on recognizing the potential of making these improvements with the accuracy that only sophisticated data retrieval equipment can provide.

Efforts to improve agricultural income with innovative new techniques have been successful under the startup model of installing small sensors to relay data like climate conditions or plant health. SupPlant’s customers are mainly from farms in South Africa and Venezuela, with additional demand from Australia and Mexico.

Farmers Review Africa reports a successful curve on implementing this system, with a 1,200% increase in demand for SupPlant’s solutions in 2020. However, when it comes to accessing the 450 million farmers that subsist on two hectares or less of productive soil, SupPlant encountered a problem.

Financial Barriers

Until recently, SupPlant has struggled with the cost of serving rural communities. Installing hardware is very expensive for farmers, so wealth is necessary to benefit from this system. Low-income farmers with small parcels of land have “no ability to afford knowledge and technology that is super expensive and very high-end,” says SupPlant CEO Ori Ben Ner in an interview with The Media Line.

If the data from these physical sensors is a fundamental aspect of SupPlant’s agricultural assistance, then providing affordable irrigation technology must preserve this data while eliminating the very hardware that provides it. After $19 million in fundraising from an array of venture capitalists, SupPlant is providing exactly that.

How Does it Work?

Rolling out affordable irrigation technology is a balancing act that requires finding ways to increase efficiency without compromising the benefits of full implementation. The new system adapts its older iteration as the foundation for its improvements. The steps to accomplishing this are as follows:

  1. Cloud computing forms the backbone of this endeavor. Thousands of small farms can grow the same crops under similar conditions. Thus, the data gathered from sensors in a single farm can benefit other farmers after it is uploaded to an easily accessible database.
  2. Collecting this data is only part of the process. Vast amounts of data have limited utility if farmers lack the training to interpret it well enough to make informed decisions. SupPlant employs algorithms based on artificial intelligence to read a constantly updating sensor feed to provide legible recommendations on how to manage irrigation for specific crops and environments.
  3. Once the data is ready, it is up to farmers to do what the algorithm suggests. Many of these directives may be as simple as adjusting water levels based on how much one of the 32 crops in the database requires to stay healthy and resilient. Climatic data may also factor in, reducing water use if there is a high probability of rain.

The net result is not entirely accurate because the data cannot reasonably account for minor variations between different farms. Broad utility at an affordable price nonetheless offsets these considerations in light of what affordable irrigation technology can still accomplish.

Results on the Ground

Even though prohibitive cost leaves only 2% of the world’s farmers able to install sensors on their land, these sensors accumulate enough data to meet the needs of affordable irrigation technology for the other 98%. “We increase yields starting at day one by 20-30% while saving 30-40% water use,” says Ben Ner on the impact of widespread implementation.

Earlier cases of SupPlant’s success in 2020 provide a definitive outline for the potential of making its agricultural assistance available to low-income brackets. South African farmers who could afford these services leveraged superior knowledge to squeeze an extra 41% out of their lemon harvest, while Mexican farmers transformed a 15% reduction in water usage to a 20% increase in their mango yield.

What is Next for SupPlant?

With affordable irrigation technology now a reality through sensorless data, SupPlant aims to breach the poverty line that stopped so many farmers from reaping its benefits. Short-term goals for 2021 deal with expanding services to Kenya, and the company expects 500,000 new farmers by September 2021. More ambitious goals for 2022 anticipate two million new users of sensorless irrigation, counting many African countries and India as the next beneficiaries.

– Samuel Katz
Photo: Flickr

gmos in AfricaScientists created the first genetically modified organism or GMO in 1973, and the FDA approved a GMO product for the first time in 1982. GMOs are crops that have undergone genetic alternation for a specific purpose, such as weather, pest or weed resistance. Such traits can produce larger quantities of crops and make them resilient in different climates.

However, GMOs raise concern for many people, countries and organizations. While they are commonplace in the U.S., Europe largely avoids GMOs. Proponents of GMOs claim that they can help end global hunger, but opponents claim that they will damage both the planet and human health.

In Africa, GMOs are beginning to become a part of modern agriculture, but as of now, only in small ways. As of 2019, just five of Africa’s 47 countries allowed GMO crops to be grown: South Africa, Burkina Faso, Sudan, Egypt and Nigeria. Larger GMO initiatives in Africa could help feed the continent, but resistance to GMOs is large enough that Africa is beginning to use them only slowly and cautiously.

Pros of GMOs in Africa

Pests called stem borers are responsible for a loss of 400,000 tons of maize in Kenya yearly, or about 14% of total maize. Genetically modified maize called Bt maize can make maize crops more resilient to stem borers. Researcher Hugo de Groote says Bt maize will help small farmers in particular because pests affect them the most.

“The major surprise was that, contrary to the usual claims, Bt maize is very likely to benefit poor farmers and small seed companies,” De Groote reported to the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center.

As of 2020, Kenya is near accepting domestic production of Bt maize. The country is also seriously considering allowing GMO imports, which would aid the nearly 1.5 million Kenyans facing acute hunger. However, experts say that in order for Kenyans to benefit from GMO crops long term, they need to start growing them on their own soil.

Many African countries struggle with drought, crop diseases and pests that cause low crop yields. Some GMOs exist to help with these problems, and they could become a part of Africa’s agricultural future. For example, following in Nigeria’s footsteps, Ghana is considering approving the commercialization of some pest-resistant GMO crops including Bt cotton.

Cons of GMOs in Africa

Hesitation to adopt GMOs in Africa stems from concerns for food safety, ethics, environmental risks, loss of biodiversity and lack of regulations. Furthermore, Africa exports a large number of agricultural goods to European nations, and many European consumers prefer to avoid GMOs. Because of this, the majority of African trading partners stick to traditional crop varieties.

GMOs are still a relatively new concept. They may create a risk of long-term environmental damage such as infertile land, biodiversity loss and new GMO-resistant pests. Furthermore, there is some evidence that GMOs can cause cancer and allergies. The American Cancer Society has not found convincing evidence of GMO-caused cancer, but it cautions that more research is necessary.

There are reasons both to support and to suspect GMOs in Africa and across the globe. More research will continue to unveil their benefits and consequences in Africa.

Sarah Eichstadt
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Period Poverty in KenyaPeriod poverty in Kenya, or poor access to menstrual hygiene facilities, products and education, marginalizes women. In the year 2016, “a report funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation” noted that about half of Kenyan girls could not openly talk about menstruation due to a negative societal response to the topic. However, organizations and initiatives aim to combat menstrual stigma and fight period poverty in Kenya.

5 Solutions to Fight Period Poverty in Kenya

  1. Increasing Access to Sanitary Products. To fight period poverty in Kenya, it is important to ensure free or affordable access to sanitary products for all young girls. Access to menstrual products can keep girls in school, which will reduce the disproportionate dropout rates between boys and girls when transitioning into high school. In May 2021, a Kenyan citizen filed a petition to have the Kenyan government provide sanitary products in schools for free.
  2. Proper Policy Implementation. The government must properly implement policies that aim to combat period poverty. In 2017, the government of Kenya passed a law that would have seen all girls receive sanitary products for free while enrolled in school, but this law was not properly implemented. In addition, the government, where possible, must allocate more state funds to ensure more girls can access sanitary products regardless of economic status.
  3. Private Sector Involvement. Procter & Gamble, the company that produces the Always menstrual brand, created the Always Keeping Girls in School program to address period poverty in African countries. Since 2008, this program has donated more than 13 million pads to more than 200,000 girls in Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa. Similarly, Bayer employees have shown initiative by providing free menstrual cups to girls in Kenya. Involving the private sector in the fight against period poverty would also help the Kenyan government implement its policies better.
  4. More Education Initiatives. Innovative programs focused on key populations have emerged to fight period poverty in Kenya. For example, the United Nations Population Fund partnered with a grassroots organization called This-Ability Trust, which has been providing menstrual education to those with disabilities. Puberty education is also crucial. Currently, only about 50% of girls are willing to openly discuss menstrual health matters in family settings. Breaking the silence by educating pubescent teens and adolescents on the importance of menstrual health will encourage them to approach their teachers, parents and guardians for further guidance.
  5. Support During the COVID-19 Pandemic. Lastly, aid is needed to help Kenya recover from the socioeconomic impacts of the pandemic, which had indirect effects on period poverty. Quarantine measures in Kenya meant that women and girls could not access health services that provide sanitary products for free. Economic stresses also meant girls and women could not afford sanitary products. Organizations like Plan International have been able to lend a helping hand to girls who live in slums. Plan International distributed almost 3,000 sanitary products to women in Kenya’s Kibera slum in partnership with the Kenyan organization ZanaAfrica. Since 65% of women and girls in Kenya are unable to access sanitary products due to economic reasons, these humanitarian efforts help fight period poverty in Kenya.

Looking to the Future

By focusing on such solutions to fight period poverty in Kenya, the Kenyan government and nonprofit organizations can empower and uplift impoverished Kenyan women. Reducing period poverty in Kenya ensures that the lives of girls and women are not disrupted simply due to the inability to afford menstrual products.

– Frank Odhiambo
Photo: Wikimedia Commons