A new study from the Balkan Journal of Social Sciences suggests that software piracy can actually assist in relieving poverty. The implications of the study contribute to a broader conversation regarding barriers to access in tech-based fields. Specifically, for those who cannot afford to purchase expensive software, there are fewer opportunities to hone skills and find professional work.  On the other hand, access to software to help master coding or editing skills leads people to jobs or the ability to launch a business.

The Balkan Journal of Social Sciences Study

Co-authors, Mustafa Ünver and Jülide Yalçinkaya Koyuncu released the study, “Does Software Piracy Mitigate Poverty? “Evidence from Developing and Latin American Countries” earlier this year. The study examines Latin American and developing countries between the years 2003 and 2017. It compares rates of piracy with several poverty indicators. Additionally, Ünver and Yalçinkaya Koyuncu ultimately controlled for three possibly intervening variables. They took unemployment, health expenditure and human capital into account, and found that those variables do not affect the results of this study.

Significantly, in all their models for developing and Latin American countries, as piracy increased, poverty decreased. As Ünver and Yalçinkaya Koyuncu explain in their abstract, “usage of pirated software maintains its negative significant effect on poverty in all models for both developing and Latin America countries samples.”

Earlier Study in Africa

The Balkan Journal of Social Science’s study is not the only study to suggest this relationship. In a report published in 2012 in the SSRN Electronic Journal, Simplice Asongu finds a similar relationship in his study of African countries. Asongu’s study is the first to examine the effects of piracy on inequality in Africa. He finds that “software piracy is good for the poor as it has a positive income-redistributive effect.”

Interpretations of Findings

One explanation for these findings is that software piracy can act as a gateway to more profitable professional work. For those who cannot afford the often expensive fees to properly access much high-end software, pirated versions may provide an easy way for those in poverty to learn a new set of skills that they can then apply to the professional market.

Torrentfreak, a website dedicated to covering technological issues, suggests that there could be an alternative explanation to these findings. While Torrentfreak does recognize piracy as a career gateway as a viable theory, it also suggests that the relationship could also work in reverse. Essentially, as poverty decreases, people in the country have more access to pirated software and the technology needed to run it.

Ethical Considerations

How should ethics come into play with regard to the study findings? In reviewing the Balkan study results, Sovan Mandal points out in Good E Reader that while an increase in piracy may decrease poverty, promoting piracy, of course, may not be ethical.  or one thing, it hurts the original software providers by depriving them of legitimate earnings.  That, in turn, could lead to less innovation because developers would have less funding for research and development. Mandal postures that there will be an ongoing debate about the pros and cons of software piracy:  “…someone somewhere is downloading pirated versions of software or an e-book in an attempt to acquire the skills needed to break free from poverty. But how about those who use the same means to acquire skills meant for use in negative fields, like hacking, and such?”

Providing Access Without Using Pirated Software

A win-win scenario could be to provide greater access to software that is not pirated.  That is what a non-profit out of Atlanta, Georgia is doing.  The City of Refuge earned a $5.4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor to provide free tech training in two high-poverty Atlanta neighborhoods. City of Refuge plans to train 280 people in four years. Its training will instruct participants to work in web development and cybersecurity. The project additionally has several corporate sponsors such as Cox Enterprises, Elavon, EY and UPS.

The City of Refuge will place graduates as web designers or software engineers with a starting salary of $55,000. Alternatively, graduates can choose to take a $36,000 paid internship at one of the corporate sponsors. Further, City of Refuge promises to actively work on placement for any intern who doesn’t get a job at the end of the internship.

Using Software Piracy Studies to Eradicate Poverty

Both the study released this year and Asongu’s 2012 study conclusively underline that access to software piracy can have an inverse effect on the rate of poverty. The City of Refuge demonstrates the ways to mobilize the findings of the studies. The combination of corporate support and government funding allows training so more people can enter the workforce and leave poverty. And while the City of Refuge is in the United States, similar collaborations between governments, non-profits and tech corporations could run in low- and middle-income nations throughout the globe.

– Eleanor Corbin
Photo: Flickr

techlit-africas-mission-to-lift-africans-out-of-poverty
In what the World Bank refers to as a “connectivity gap,” Africa, especially its more rural regions, has yet to recognize the benefits that come with internet connectivity— such as the creation of jobs, economic growth via digital economies, increased access to basic services, as well as quality education and more. With only 22% of the African continent having reliable access to the internet, however, this might not come as much of a surprise. A non-profit known as TechLit Africa, however, plans to change this.

Teaching Technological Literacy

Also known simply as TechLit Africa, the non-profit is working to supply rural African schools with computer labs in order to teach kids the “technological literacy” and “self-efficacy” they have largely missed out on. Through computer classes, a digital curriculum and the learning of digital skills, TechLit Africa is striving to bring Africans into the digital world and out of poverty.

The Mission

Speaking to Software Engineering Daily in 2021, Nelly Cheboi, executive director and co-founder of TechLit Africa, gave a simple answer to the story behind the non-profit’s mission: “Starting TechLit Africa came from my own experience growing up in Kenya. I grew up in poverty and I’ve always been motivated to tackle poverty. I drew most of my experiences from watching my mom really struggle to put us through school… I saw education as the easiest way out of poverty.”

Thus, with this principle in mind, TechLit Africa grew and developed with the goal of teaching young Africans technology-based skills that have the potential to close the technological gap between themselves and the rest of the world.

Through the donation and refurbishment of old computers, TechLit Africa is partnering with schools and working to build computer labs within them. The non-profit then teaches various computer-based classes such as design, typing or coding (among other things) via a digital curriculum and the assistance of on-site TechLit educators.

In a recent interview with CNN, Cheboi gave a powerful vision for the non-profit’s goal. “My hope is that when the first TechLit kids graduate high school, they’re able to get a job online because they will know how to code, they will know how to do graphic design, they know how to do marketing… The world is your oyster when you are educated. By bringing the resources, by bringing these skills, we are opening up the world to them.”

TechLit Africa is currently running 10 computer labs in schools in rural Kenya, which is working to serve roughly 4,000 students. However, the organization does not plan to stop there by any means.

High Hopes for the Future

As TechLit Africa’s website spells out, the non-profit’s hopes for the future are ambitious and strongly emphasize rapid growth with even greater reach. As such, over the next several years it is their mission to begin putting down roots in even more schools.

“Last year, we partnered with 10 schools and taught over 4,000 kids. Our next milestone, 100 schools and 40,000 kids. We hope to hit by Q1 2023″

Simply put, for the future, the non-profit hopes to reach as many kids as possible; and in increasingly larger numbers; in order to equip them for the technological landscape of the future.

Indeed, teaching these skills and equipping young Africans for this future is incredibly important. As TechLit Africa’s website further highlights, Africans in rural communities simply lack many of the tools and skills necessary to take advantage of the digital economy like so much of the rest of the world has.

According to TechLit, many African talents don’t fit in the technological world, despite being well-educated. TechLit Africa “teaches digital skills using donated used computers that could end up in landfills… With these skills, [students] could be working remotely for tech companies all over the world straight from the village.”

By teaching these crucial technological skills, TechLit Africa is enabling young Africans to look forward to a brighter, self-sustainable and more secure future.

– Riley Wooldridge
Photo: Flickr

3D-printed Housing in ZimbabweThe World Bank’s Zimbabwe 2021 Economic Update reports that extreme poverty in Zimbabwe climbed to almost 50% in 2020. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic itself pushed 1.3 million people into extreme poverty due to soaring unemployment rates and income cuts. Poverty rates coupled with highly inflated housing prices make it extremely challenging for hundreds of thousands of families to afford a house, pushing many into slum living situations. However, 3D-printed housing in Zimbabwe may provide a potential solution.

Zimbabwe’s Housing Shortage

In 2005, Zimbabwe’s government cleared slum areas nationwide, leaving 700,000 people homeless. This effort to combat slum living launched the country into a housing crisis that would persist for decades. With a government housing waitlist of 1.25 million households in 2015, Zimbabwe’s history of housing shortages continues to worsen as more of the population falls below the poverty line.

In Zimbabwe, corrupt officials sell housing permits to housing cooperatives at extremely low rates. The cooperatives then construct the houses and sell them to homeless Zimbabweans for outrageously inflated prices. Buyers pay off homes for a minimum of 14 years before even receiving the title deed of ownership. These corrupt officials partnering with housing cooperatives often swindle homeless civilians out of desperation for basic shelter. As the 23rd most corrupt country in the world, without a third party to intervene in this crisis, officials may continue to exploit impoverished Zimbabwean populations.

Lafarge Cement’s 3D Housing Project

Lafarge Cement Zimbabwe is a subsidiary of LafargeHolcim, a Swiss construction material manufacturer. The company hopes to change the future of affordable housing in Zimbabwe. By using 3D printing technology, Lafarge Cement’s initial project plans to print the first 10 3D houses in Zimbabwe “under the affordable housing project” in 2022. A joint venture between LafargeHolcim and the CDC Group in the United Kingdom, 14Trees, created the concrete 3D printing technology for the project.

With this new building technology, constructing homes and schools in Zimbabwe will take a fraction of the time in comparison to traditional construction efforts. While traditional construction methods require a minimum of four days to complete a house, Lafarge can print these 3D houses in as little as 12 hours, with a school taking a little longer at 18 hours. The technology can also reduce construction costs by 10-20%.

This housing solution is particularly exciting as it offers a much more affordable option in comparison to homes in the existing housing market. Starting at around $30,000 for a home “in a medium-density area”and skyrocketing up to $80,000, for many low-income families, conventional homeownership is out of reach. However, 3D-printed housing in Zimbabwe offers lower-income communities an affordable housing option starting at $10,000.

The Future is 3D Printing

Following the successful printing of houses and schools in Malawi, the introduction of 3D-printed housing in Zimbabwe has the potential to transform the property landscape in the nation. Lafarge Cement Zimbabwe has no plans of halting the manufacturing of affordable 3D housing in Zimbabwe and across Africa until housing shortages remain an issue of the past.

In April 2021, the company launched a new dry mortars factory in Zimbabwe worth $2.8 million, which is expected to increase manufacturing capabilities significantly. This type of investment in Zimbabwean society suggests Lafarge’s legacy will continue to grow, aiding low-income communities with affordable 3D-printed housing in Zimbabwe and bringing a much-needed housing solution to Zimbabwe’s housing markets.

– Hannah Eliason
Photo: Flickr

Tikkun Olam Makers
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 15% of people worldwide, roughly 1 billion, live with a disability. An estimated 80% of those living with disabilities reside in developing countries where lack of accessibility serves as a barrier for getting through everyday life. Moreover, these physical obstacles can lead to both social and cultural hardships. Luckily, Tikkun Olam Makers (TOM) is attempting to provide aid to disabled and low-income people.

Multidimensional Disabilities

While having a disability in itself can pose a challenge to individuals, there are other adversities as well. In developing countries, 90% of children with disabilities are not in school. In addition, women with disabilities often experience much higher rates of violence and abuse than women without impediments.

A 2004 study focused on girls and women with disabilities in India and showed that almost all had experienced physical abuse in their homes. Furthermore, 25% had experienced rape and 6% had undergone sterilization against their will. The fact that a mere 45 countries, primarily developed ones, have anti-discrimination and disability-specific laws has only made this reality worse. However, growing global movements have set out to change this status quo directed at the needs of minority communities.

Bringing New Technology to Age-Old Challenges

Tikkun Olam Makers (TOM) is a global movement based out of Israel dedicated to seeking affordable solutions for individuals living with disabilities in lower-income communities. TOM recognizes the power of technology and views it as a tool to help all people achieve access to affordable solutions for their disabilities. Tikkun Olam Makers has instituted 605 projects and delivered more than 213,000 products since its start in 2014. Tikkun Olam Makers addresses the needs of minority communities through a multi-step process:

  1. Establish or Join a Community: The first stage is joining a community or establishing one if none exist in one’s surrounding area.
  2. Challenge: Once a community has undergone creation, individuals work to identify what TOM terms ‘Neglected Challenges’– specific needs of minority communities for which affordable market solutions do not yet exist. In tandem with identifying these challenges, communities pair up with ‘Need-Knowers’– people with specific understandings of these challenges.
  3. Prototyping: The next step is creating a prototype solution to the posed challenge. The ‘Makers’ of these issues can include anyone involved in collaborating on the solution design.
  4. Productizing: Once a prototype receives approval, groups proceed to productizing — the process of turning the digital prototype into a physical product. This step also includes the digital documentation and product transfer to the Tikkun Olam Makers website.
  5. Disseminating: Products undergo distribution to final end-users once completed. This distribution takes place via local ‘maker spaces’ that exist in a variety of academic institutions, community centers, large companies and more.

Tikkun Olam Makers Captures Global Attention

TOM’s work has reached thousands of people in need. In November 2021, the organization took part in its first Global Innovation Challenge in Dubai. The organization presented its disability solutions alongside 50 others from more than 15 countries. Three teams from Tikkun Olam Makers received grand prizes for their innovations. One of these included the Talker Mount, a mechanism for individuals with cerebral palsy to communicate independently via a tablet. In addition, one other group from TOM also received an honorable mention.

As another year approaches, Tikkun Olam Makers intends to continue creating solutions for those with disabilities. Through support from people across the globe and strong investments in a better future, Tikkun Olam Makers is paving the way for such inventions to become normalized necessities.

Chloé D’Hers
Photo: Flickr

Energy Security in Armenia
Energy security in Armenia is a serious problem; the country experienced harshly cold and dark years in the early 1990s. It was a time when the newly independent Republic of Armenia experienced an incredibly severe energy shortage. The population only had access to electricity two hours a day, and even hospitals went without heat. The lack of internal energy sources, regional conflict in the Caucuses and the collapse of the Soviet Union contributed to the crisis. Though the country recovered, it has never forgotten the importance of energy security in Armenia.

Post-Energy Crisis Armenia

Today, Armenia depends on the external energy sources it imports from other nations. Having no known internal oil or natural gas sources of its own, these imports satisfy 75% of the country’s energy demand. In 2019, Armenia had a total natural gas energy supply of 89,423 terajoules, a nuclear energy supply of 26,967 TJ and a hydroelectric supply of 8,535 TJ.

Armenia sources its oil from Iran, Georgia, Europe and Russia. The natural gas largely comes from Russia via Georgia. The company Gazprom Armenia holds a monopoly on the imports and distribution of natural gas in Armenia. Gazprom Armenia is a subsidiary of the state-owned Russian gas giant Gazprom, the largest natural gas company in the world.

Because of its heavy dependence on imports and Gazprom Armenia’s monopoly, Armenia experiences price shocks that drive up the cost of energy for its population of nearly 3 million people. This dependence also puts Armenia in a weak position during price negotiations with Gazprom. When the government and the company cannot come to an agreement, it is the people who go without heat and power. The government-owned Metsamor nuclear power plant generates electricity within Armenia. However, Russia is also the country’s main supplier of nuclear fuel, so Armenia is still dependent on Russia.

Lighting the Way to Energy Security

Armenia is focusing on building and improving renewable energy infrastructure to achieve greater energy efficiency and energy security in Armenia. In January 2021, the government implemented the 20-year Energy Sector Development Program intended to boost energy efficiency and diversify the fossil-fuel-dominated power grid.

Additionally, in 2022, the government plans to implement amendments associated with the 2017 Law on Energy. This should liberalize the energy market, which in turn will increase competition between electrical suppliers. Ideally, it will break the monopoly held by Electric Networks of Armenia. The company currently has full control over the nation’s electrical distribution driving up prices for consumers.

With a solar energy flow of 1,720 kilowatt-hours per square meter, Armenia has a higher solar energy potential than most countries. To optimize this, the Armenian government wants to focus on the construction of new solar plants. By 2030, the goal is for solar power generation to have a minimum 15% share of the country’s capacity, at 1.8 billion kilowatt-hours. To achieve its desired level of energy security in Armenia, however, the government also recognizes the need to improve its use of geothermal energy. The country has a 150-megawatt potential regarding geothermal energy, only a fraction of which it is tapping into.

Other Players

The government is not the only one taking action to strengthen energy security in Armenia. In 2017, Shen NGO and the Geghamasar cooperative constructed a greenhouse and a biogas facility. These have been producing food and heat respectively for the community of Geghamasar during each winter since. They manufacture the biogas from manure, and when they are not heating the greenhouse, the biogas facility generates electricity. Both it and the greenhouse created jobs in Geghamasar in addition to inspiring other communities to build similar installations.

Power to the People

As of 2019, 12.3% of Armenians lived on less than $5.50 a day. Many cannot afford the current cost of energy, much less the rises in prices imposed by monopolies. Those who cannot pay go without heat and power because there is no alternative source of energy they can rely on. Energy security in Armenia is a necessity to consistently meet the needs of the people. However, thankfully, the country is working on becoming less dependent on external energy resources and diversifying its energy grid.

– Nate Ritchie
Photo: Flickr

Programming Industry in BelarusThe growth of the programming industry in Belarus, dubbed as the IT sector, took the country’s economy by storm. It helped the country reduce its “brain drain,” a phenomenon defined by the emigration of professionals from their home country to a nation that provides better pay and opportunities. Belarus’ IT sector exports grew from $218 million in 2010 to over $700 million in 2015. This amazing turnaround raises some key questions. Namely, why did the programming industry in Belarus blossom, and how has it benefited the country?

Origin of the Programming Industry

The growth of the programming industry is built on the Soviet Union’s strong educational focus on science and technology. Under the Soviet Union in the late 20th century, schools often focused on teaching students science and technology because they lack ideological barriers. These fields needed no censoring to fit the ideas promoted by the Soviet Union. This prioritization remains, and students in Belarus tend to choose technical specializations over those in the social sciences. For example, nearly 4,000 young Belarusians graduate each year with IT-related degrees. The size of the local tech talent can be explained by state policies supporting the IT industry’s growth.

The combination of direct subsidies and tax cuts allows 1,000 tech companies to have their offices in Belarus. Of these, the 50 largest employ between 100 and 7,000 employees each. In 2005, the Belarus government sponsored the construction of the High Tech Park, a tax and legal regime designed to develop the IT sector. Since then, it’s become an incubator for various tech companies due to its preferential tax regime and the resulting lower operational costs that companies incur. The government’s investment in the sector and fiscal benefits helped it grow tremendously in the past decade.

Benefits of the IT sector

While the IT sector only represented a 1% share in the gross value added to the economy in 2014, its benefits span beyond the industry itself. With Belarus’ 2015 average salary stagnating at $350 per month, the IT sector’s average salary of $1,600 attracted many people to the industry. This incentivized many individuals to remain in Belarus rather than moving abroad. As a result, the IT sector reduces brain drain as educated professionals stay in the country and help grow its industry.

Furthermore, the increased salaries not only enabled workers in the IT sector to better support their own families but also increased investment in research and development and Belarus’ education system. Of the 460 organizations orchestrating research and development activities, 74 resulted in university laboratories. Tech companies began providing direct investment in the Belarusian education system, accounting for 10.4% of total research and development staff in the country. Their contribution ensures that there is an ample supply of computer science graduates.

An Exciting Future

The growth of the Belarusian programming industry in the last decade brought about significant economic growth. This dramatically increased the population’s opportunities for pursuing computer science and unlocked the possibility of a larger salary. Now, IT workers better support their families and make a greater contribution to the economy by staying in Belarus. With the education system’s continued investment in turning out graduates with science and technology degrees, the booming programming industry in Belarus promises amazing results.

– Max Sidorovitch
Photo: Flickr

Digital AgricultureDigital agriculture is a movement to digitize aspects of farming and food distribution. This has the potential to create a more sustainable, cost-effective and socially inclusive agricultural sector. Digital agriculture reduces poverty when smallholder farms use technology to increase efficiency, thereby becoming more competitive on the market. The World Bank estimates that by 2030, more than 100 million people could end up in extreme poverty due to the impact of environmental challenges on the agricultural sector. Although technology is not the only solution to ending global poverty, it is one promising way to improve the livelihoods of small-scale rural farmers. Using digital tools can improve crop monitoring, relationships between buyers and sellers, access to information and help develop more precise farming practices.

Smallholder Farms

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) states that smallholder farms, farms of two hectares or less, utilize 12% of the world’s agricultural land and family-run farms utilize 75% of global agricultural land. In sub-Saharan Africa, smallholder farms are responsible for 80% of the food produced. These small farms face many challenges. Soil erosion, drought and other environmental issues can completely wipe out crops and leave families with no income. In recent years, environmental catastrophes left 13 million people from Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia with no choice but to rely on humanitarian assistance. In addition to high susceptibility to weather extremes, rural areas have less access to information and affordable internet services. Digital agriculture reduces poverty by alleviating some of these stressors.

E-commerce in Asia

Digital agriculture reduces poverty through already established concepts like e-commerce. Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce company, started a project in 2014 called Rural Taobao. The project aims to increase efficiency and lower costs of agricultural distribution, similar to how Airbnb and other service apps optimize supply and demand by digitally matching buyer and seller.

Rural Taobao is an online marketplace where farmers can buy products from manufacturers, have those products delivered, and then, distribute their crop yields using the same transportation that delivered the factory items. Essentially, this online platform ensures that trucks going into rural areas do not go back to the cities empty, but instead, go back full of agricultural products to sell.

Central Asia has 10.7 million farmers and a land per capita endowment that is five times higher than China’s. As a result, Central Asia has the potential to be a major exporter of high-quality agricultural goods. A program like Rural Taobao, and E-commerce in general, are ways that digital agriculture in Central Asia can optimize distribution, fulfill its potential as a competitive agricultural market and bring more financial capital into rural areas.

Access to Information in Niger

NOVATECH, a startup in Niger, developed an Interactive Voice Response Platform (IVR) in 2017 called E-KOKARI. The E-KOKARI platform lets agricultural workers use their cell phones to access information about crops, weather forecasts, market prices and other information relevant to farming or agriculture. It is as simple as dialing a number on a cellphone that will take the individual to a navigatable menu. The platform provides advice and information in all of Niger’s primary languages — French, Hausa and Zarma. The information is also available in voice format. About 70% of the adult population is illiterate so access to spoken information is extremely helpful. The number of people with cell phones has grown over the years. In 2016, more than seven million cellphone users existed in a population of 20 million.

E-KOKARI is still in the prototype phase but has a promising future. Developers of the technology interviewed farmers to find out exactly what problems needed addressing and worked to make the technology sustainable. Moreover, the developers ensured that the technology was reproducible for communities in other countries.

Digital Agriculture Reduces Poverty

Digital agriculture reduces poverty because it makes farmers’ lives easier. Similar to other sectors of society, technology can save time, increase productivity, lower costs and increase access to key information. As digital agriculture evolves and becomes more widespread, it is vital that creators pay attention to who the user is and what the user needs. Historically, marginalized groups such as women, differently-abled people and the elderly have greatly benefited from technology but frequently were not part of the production process. It is imperative that creators and producers of digital agriculture incorporate the voices of all potential users.

Caitlin Harjes
Photo: Flickr

Vertical FarmingThe new AI-run vertical farming plantation brings new possibilities to agriculture and efficient production, as Plenty, an ag-tech company, co-founded by Nate Storey, proves there is now more benefit than cost to vertical farming. By utilizing robots and artificial intelligence systems to regulate LED sunlight panels, watering systems and pest control, this futuristic method has surpassed its previous form of being too expensive and complex.

Vertical Farming

Through the current transitions made toward maximizing agricultural use of AI, farming today has already begun employing drones and smart robots to remove weeds or spread herbicides efficiently. Greenfield Robotics had already released different functional fleets active in certain farms. Now, Plenty utilizes similar technologies with robots harvesting and organizing plants in the vertical farming stations. Fundamentals such as water, temperature and light are systematically calculated and regulated through smart systems that prioritize a greater, faster and better crop turnout.

Benefits of AI-Run Vertical Farming

Through artificial intelligence, farmers are now able to adopt a more eco-friendly methodology. Robots and machine learning promote certain technologies such as tracking soil composition, moisture content, crop humidity and optimal crop temperatures. Despite the previous vertical farming history and cost-benefit analysis, modern-day AI-run vertical farming allows certain resources to be recycled, controlled and reused. This can be seen in AI-run water filtration systems that catch evaporated water from the farms or indoor energy renewal systems.

Alleviating Agricultural Issues

These innovations alleviate many issues that arise in agriculture and distribution. The most notable feat is the space that vertical farming saves in comparison to traditional farmland regions. Plenty’s vertical farm covers two acres and yields similar, if not better, harvest and product quality to that of a 750-acre flat farm. Plenty’s website expresses its greatest feat yet: “Imagine a 1,500-acre farm. Now imagine that fitting inside your favorite grocery store, growing up to 350 times more.”

Plenty also points out the freedom AI-run vertical farming brings to agriculture today. By being independent and self-sufficient with consistent sunlight, recycled water and a controlled environment, farming is no longer restricted to natural inconsistencies. Climate change and weather patterns do not determine the outcome of the produce, due to this new ability to control the necessary components to production. In light of COVID-19 and wildfires that breakdown supply chains, this factor prevents unprecedented shutdowns of essential services in agriculture.

AI-run vertical farming allows farms to exist within metropolitan sectors instead of weather-dependent regions. By having a closer source, distribution is more efficient leading to less CO2 emissions and dependency on preservatives. This method also allows cost reduction, since transportation, product cost and labor are reduced, which allows impoverished communities access to better produce.

The Future of AI-Run Vertical Farming

All things considered, this new innovative alternative brings a cleaner and more sustainable future for agriculture, whether it be in produce quality or carbon footprint. With Plenty’s ongoing environmental adjustments and technological updates, the organization continues to expand its service, with a $400 million investment capital from Softbank, Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos and former Google chairman, Eric Schmidt. Plenty has also partnered with Albertsons to supply 430 stores in California.

– Linda Chong
Photo: Flickr

Lab-Grown MeatIn the effort to reduce poverty around the world, scientific innovations and technological solutions are welcomed. Developments in technological capabilities provide new potential approaches to reducing poverty. One such development that has received increased attention is the emergence of lab-grown meat as an alternative source of food for populations in developing countries. Lab-grown meat has only emerged as a potential solution quite recently, and even at this young stage of development, there are many who argue both for and against its potential effectiveness and applicability in the effort to reduce poverty.

Lab-Grown Meat

Lab-grown meat, known alternatively as cultured meat, is an alternative application of stem cell technology typically used in medicine. Stem cells are extracted from an animal and converted to muscle cells. The cells are then cultured on a scaffold with nutrients and essential vitamins. From this point, they grow and can eventually be shaped into any desired form, such as sausages, hamburgers, steaks or mince. Lab-grown meat is being considered as a potential solution to food insecurity in impoverished countries as it takes much less time to grow, uses fewer of the planet’s resources and no animals need to be farmed or slaughtered.

The Arguments Against Cultured Meat

Those against the implementation of cultured meat as a tool in the struggle against world poverty point firstly to the impracticality of current production. The world’s first cultured burger, cooked on live TV in 2013, cost $330,000 to produce and more of its kind might not be commercially available for decades.

In addition to the practicality issue, critics also argue that providing meat grown in foreign labs to developing countries is not ultimately constructive. It creates a dependence on exports for food when most developing countries have the capabilities to produce their own food.

Most African and Asian countries used to be self-sufficient with regard to food production but this has changed over the last 30 years. Subsidized western-grown crops have been pushed on developing countries and barriers to markets have been lowered, allowing U.S. and European firms to export crops to developing countries.

Poverty Reduction Applicability

Kanayo Nwanze former president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), presented an argument in 2013 which has maintained support today. The argument is that the decline of agriculture in developing countries has been an effect of underinvestment as a result of structural adjustment programs pushed by the World Bank. The World Bank has funded numerous investment programs in recent years that aim to provide developing nations with western food as a means of poverty alleviation. Some argue that this is not a sustainable solution and will only lead developing nations to be dependent in the future. Instead of investing in big science, those looking to reduce global poverty should focus on supporting rural regions and small farmers.

Eat Just: Cultured Meat

Despite the existing criticism of cultured meat, supporters of this developing technology have reason to be optimistic. In December 2020, U.S. startup, Eat Just, became the first in the world to gain government approval to sell its product to the public. This approval came from the government of Singapore, which means cultured chicken will soon be available at an unnamed restaurant in Singapore. This is a landmark development for the cultured meat business. Following this gain of approval, more governments around the world may follow suit. According to Eat Just, cultured chicken nuggets will be available at “price parity for premium chicken you’d enjoy at a restaurant.”

The Potential of Lab-Grown Meat

The debate around the effectiveness of cultured meat as a tool in poverty reduction is justified and indeed necessary. Only after serious consideration and scrutiny does any new idea earn approval and the right to be implemented. Though right now it may seem that there are more arguments against its implementation than for, this is largely due to the novelty surrounding the idea. The technology and industry with regards to lab-grown meat as a whole are still in the early stages of development. The idea of lab-grown meat as a potential solution to hunger and poverty is being followed eagerly by supporters and skeptically by critics. Only time will tell whether this novel idea succeeds or falls short.

– Haroun Siddiqui
Photo: Flickr

NanoseenIn Sopot, Poland, co-founders Bartosz Kruzska and Mikolaj Granuszewski are leading innovations that could change access to clean, drinkable water forever. Startup firm, Nanoseen, is developing the NanoseenX, a water filter made of recycled metal wafers that can desalinate water. The startup, which was ranked as one of the top “15 Chemical Engineering Startups Positioned to Make it Big in 2021” by the Welp Magazine, aims to revolutionize the use and development of nanotechnology to build the most modern products. “Nanoseen is a team of nanotechnology engineers and scientists who prove remarkable properties of NanoseenX nanomaterials as a core component of the company’s products that will help solve many problems related to climate change such as water shortage and plastic pollution,” Kruszka told THEfirstNEWS. The company plans to begin mass production of its water desalination devices in 2021, making it one of the most highly anticipated startups of the upcoming year.

NanoseenX Water Filter

The filter can desalinate both brackish and seawater, giving it the potential to become essential to both disaster relief and combating global poverty. Worldwide, 780 million people do not have access to an improved water source and one in three people do not have access to safe drinking water, making clean water one of the chief obstacles of under-developed nations. Countries like Papua New Guinea, Mozambique, Tanzania and Somalia struggle with clean water but border the oceans so they can benefit greatly from the filter. The provision of clean water will not only improve sanitation but consequently improve health and infant survival rates, which is fundamental to fighting poverty. The product could also aid natural relief teams in tropical countries that are prone to hurricanes and typhoons. For example, crises like the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, which cut off access to clean water in Puerto Rico for months, can be resolved. Removing clean water as a pressing concern will also give destitute communities a better opportunity to develop and escape poverty.

Other Innovative Initiatives by Nanoseen

In addition to the water filter, Kruzska elaborates that Nanoseen is tackling research on a method of damaging micro and nano-plastics in water, with the use of NanopowderX. Such development could help clear pollution in oceans, which contain 25-50 trillion macro and microplastics. Being able to filter such microplastics from the water will be the most effective way to curb this new atmospheric pollutant. The team is also pioneering unique paints that will remove pollutants from the air to fight atmospheric pollution, a phenomenon that disproportionately affects impoverished people.

Innovatively Addressing Global Issues

Nanoseen’s ingenious filter is paradigmatic of innovations in STEM creating solutions to global poverty. The startup also offers other eco-friendly and problem-solving materials. The startup’s website offers viewers more in-depth descriptions and applications of its products and states its goals of creating innovative nanomaterials to build modern products that solve the main problems of today’s world.

– Christine Chang
Photo: Flickr