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

Ukrainian InventionsUkraine is the second poorest country in Europe, with a per capita GDP of less than $3000. Ukraine had a difficult time rebuilding its economy after the collapse of the USSR in 1991 and was left with a crumbling economy due to corruption, poor infrastructure and many other factors. Despite the shortcomings of Ukraine’s economy, it has shown incredible potential for innovation and ingenuity because of the high-tech inventions that have come out of the Ukrainian workforce. Increased investment in Ukrainian inventions would drive it to success and improve the economy by creating stable work conditions. Improving infrastructure and creating sustainable job opportunities would help the economy grow and help Ukraine continue making world-renowned inventions.

5 High-Tech Ukrainian Inventions

  1. Grammarly: Grammarly was founded in Ukraine by Alex Shevchenko and Max Lytvyn in 2009. Grammarly uses AI software to proofread text on sites like Google, LinkedIn, various social media sites and more, while offering grammatical corrections. It is now a U.S.-based company and a widely popular tool for producing academic papers, professional documents and other bodies of text.
  2. Snapchat Filters: Snapchat filters and lenses first came about when Snapchat acquired Ukrainian startup, Looksery. Looksery is a facial recognition software that allows users to put filters on themselves while video chatting. Looksery was bought in 2015, started by a Ukrainian team with Victor Shaburov as the CEO. Snapchat uses the technology to create its filters, one of the many successful and important updates to the social media app. Instagram, another social media app, followed in the footsteps of Snapchat and introduced a version of Instagram photo filters in 2018.
  3. Apps for Deaf People: BeWarned, a Ukrainian-based startup co-founded by Vitaliy Potapchuck, is an application that people who are deaf can download on their phones to help them communicate with others. Potapchuck is also deaf and designed the app to pick up possible dangerous sounds and call for emergency help. BeWarned also makes other software for those who are deaf and hard of hearing.
  4. Virtual Reality Gloves: In 2016, a Ukrainian team of engineers created a prototype virtual reality glove that allows users to “feel” virtual reality items as if they were real. The glove mimics real-life hand motions and is used for a variety of things besides virtual reality gaming. Healthcare professionals can use the glove to study mobility and disease treatments. Co-founder, Denis Pankrushev, wanted the technology to “open new horizons for mankind.” This opened doors for virtual reality innovation and put Ukrainian technology startups in the spotlight.
  5. Uber for Yachts: The company CharterClick was started by three Ukrainian immigrants in Dubai to provide an easy way to rent a boat or luxury yacht for events. The team created CharterClick to show that complicated tasks like renting an expensive cruise with a full crew, can be completed in a short amount of time with just a few clicks. The service operates in more than 40 countries and is dubbed “the world’s most convenient vessel booking service.”

Ukrainian Inventions: Potential for the Economy

Ukraine ranked second place in the Top Three Innovation Economies by lower-middle-income group according to the Global Innovation Index. It is also ranked 45th in the world by the Global Innovation Index. There is massive potential for Ukrainian technology to continue its path of innovation and unlock itself to the European market. International investment can help improve the poor infrastructure that drives creative minds and job opportunities out of the country.

Google Ukraine’s CEO recognizes the brilliant minds of the country, but notes that many of them choose to work in the U.S. because of more “favorable conditions.” Favorable conditions include better infrastructure, better pay and a market that attracts investors. Ukraine is closed off to the international market because of its poor societal conditions, which is detrimental to its working-class and the overall economy.

How Supportive Infrastructure Will Improve the Economy

Ukrainian infrastructure is one of the main reasons that working in the country is difficult. The majority of the roads in Ukraine are too poor to carry cargo and passengers, limiting trades in the country and making it difficult to get to work. Ukraine has set an infrastructure plan for 2030 that includes improvement of all transportation systems with a high price tag. Over the next 10 years, Ukraine requires up to $25 billion of investment to complete the plan as it can only fund $.1.5 billion per year on its own.

Transforming Ukraine: Inventions and Infrastructure

Putting technological growth in the spotlight will attract more investors that want to see the Ukrainian technology sector thrive. Much-needed funding can come from international attention to the infrastructure problem. Improvement will create construction job opportunities and motivate the government to tend to the sectors that are struggling.

Ukrainian inventors should be able to work in their own country without having to migrate to another. Not to mention that infrastructure improvement will help many other citizens easily find work and improve the economy. Ukrainian inventions have the potential to kickstart the country’s economy and help with its development.

– Julia Ditmar
Photo: Flickr

Electrifying Transportation
The World Health Organization (WHO) has recorded seven million premature deaths globally as a result of elevated levels of air pollution. In 2016, the WHO reported that 91% of the world’s population reside in areas that did not meet the threshold for acceptable air quality. Such conditions escalate the effects of and increase mortality from strokes, cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease and infections, cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. In 2010, the World Bank along with the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation reported that over 180,000 deaths and 4,100,000 disability life adjusted years of healthy life lost were directly attributable to road transport air pollution. Also, when declaring the ‘best practice group’ for policy handling of air pollution, the list consisted mainly of high-income countries that can afford preventative measures like electrifying transportation.

Air Quality and Poverty

The WHO reports that low-and middle-income countries suffer the highest effects from elevated exposure to harmful air pollutants. In fact, the majority of the world’s cities with the highest Air Quality Indices (AQI) are found in developing nations. These countries typically do not have adequate laws or enforcement to protect against air pollution. They tend to contain a higher prevalence of coal power stations, and less stringent restrictions on vehicle emissions.

Further, developing nations experience great disparity in the effects of air pollution and the burden typically falls on the countries’ poorest populations.  The reason being, the poor usually reside in highly concentrated areas with dense harmful emissions. This is due to their exclusion from suburban areas where there are fewer pollutant generating spaces.

Despite air pollution challenges, clean air has been deemed a human right and is covered under the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals. In order to improve air quality, amongst others, one of the UN’s main suggestions has been to adopt clean and renewable energy and technologies.

Electrifying Transportation

The emission from our current fuel and diesel-powered traditional transportation systems consisting of fossil fuel-powered cars, trucks and buses have been found to generate pollutants that have adverse effects on every organ in the human body. It is also responsible for approximately half of all the nitrogen oxides in our air and is amongst one of the greatest sources of green-house gases. Given the large contribution or main-stream fuel and diesel vehicles make to air pollution, electrifying transportation systems is anticipated to be one of the most effective, shorter-term solutions to air pollution, and thus lifting some of the burdens on poor and vulnerable populations.

One of the main advancements in renewable technology has been the use of electric vehicles. One estimate finds that with the widespread accelerated adoption of clean transportation through the electrification of vehicles and fuel, an approximated 25 million aggregate years of life would be saved by 2030. Included in this figure is at least 210,000 reduction in premature deaths in 2030 alone. These gains would primarily occur in China, India, the Middle East, Africa and developing Asia, all locations with amongst the highest rates of poverty.

So far, there are three classes of electric vehicles:

1.       E4W – Electric four wheelers

2.       E2W – Electric two-wheelers

3.       HEV – Hybrid electric vehicles.

Access in Developing Countries

One of the main barriers to electrifying transportation in developing nations is the fact that Electric Vehicles (EVs) are typically more expensive than traditional fuel and diesel-powered vehicles. However, switching to EVs can prompt savings. Developing nations exist on a spectrum of development. For those with public transportation systems, working police and emergency health care fleets, the governmental investment in the transition towards electric vehicles and trucks would not only help to improve the air quality in the respective nations but would also prove to be cheaper and more sustainable in the long run. Of the available classes of electric transport options, the E2Ws would be most beneficial in developing nations. This is because E2Ws have the lowest energy consumption rating. Unlike E4Ws, the E2W class’ of EV ability to be charged via regular home outlet means that there are no substantial charging infrastructure investment requirements.

In terms of operational costs, all classes of EVs were found to have lower operational costs than their corresponding fuel vehicles. However, the E2W class was found to have benefits ranging from 24% less, up to eight times less of an operating cost than their corresponding fuel-based transportation. Many developing nations might not yet be in a position to invest in and benefit from the E4W or HEV EV classes due to its high initial investment and required charging infrastructure investments. The E2W class by contrast has been found to be a feasible investment for electrifying transportation for poverty reduction. Not only will this contribute to a significant reduction in air pollution, lightening its burden on the poorer populations, but it will also prompt savings for governments and stimulate economic growth. Additionally, as investments in EVs continue to rise, the initial purchase prices will fall and so developing countries might be able to afford higher classes.

Rebecca Harris

Photo: Flickr

Mobile Technology in KenyaAround 75% of working Kenyans make their living through agriculture. Being the largest industry in the country, the ability of Kenyan farmers to produce crops is essential for both economic and food security reasons. Agriculture provides food and money to the many farmers and their communities. This vital sector is in danger, with unpredictable climate conditions and the emergence of pests that can decimate entire crops. Artificial intelligence (AI) and mobile smartphones are new resources being used to save the produce of these farmers and the livelihoods of millions of Kenyans. Mobile technology in Kenya has great potential to increase the production of the valuable agricultural sector, keeping millions above the poverty line.

Cellphone and Internet Acess in Kenya

The mobile phone industry has been steadily growing in Kenya. According to a survey of 577 farming households, 98% of respondents own a mobile phone. The increasing affordability of cellphones and internet access in the country has opened the door to bring new forms of aid to the farmers who produce more than a third of the country’s GDP.

Project FARM

Mobile apps that machine learning powers have emerged to help farmers all over the world make as much from their crops as they can. In Kenya, which has been experiencing unpredictable levels of rainfall each season, a mobile app is working to consolidate data to help determine the best course of action for the farmers during changing weather conditions. Project FARM (Financial and Agricultural Recommendation Models) is a program that can take into account weather, temperature, strains of crops and success rates from other farms in order to determine what actions will produce the largest yield. FARM sends notifications to farmers via text so that they can be readily alerted of any danger as heavy rain can occur suddenly and damage entire fields. Farmers can operate the program from their cellphones so they can easily access and implement the resources. After just one year using FARM, on average, a single farmer increased their yield from six 90kg bags of maize to nine bags.

AI Apps as an Educational Resource

Programs like this also work in conjunction with resources that seek to educate farmers about ways to sell their products as well as how to maximize efficiency and yield. These resources are free and greatly help those who could not afford to hire an agronomist to inspect their farm. This combination helps farmers produce more and know how to manage more products so that they can sell them in the most efficient way possible.

Apps for Crop Pest Control

AI also helps farmers by giving them valuable information about crop-decimating pests. Pests pose a grave threat to African farms and estimates have determined that Africa loses around 50% of all crops each year due to pests and diseases. The Fall Armyworm (FAW) is a type of caterpillar that has recently plagued East Africa and is capable of ruining huge amounts of produce. The Farmers Companion App is a program that AI powers which is capable of determining which crops are infested and the stage of the lifecycle of the pest. This will allow farmers to take the best possible steps to contain the spread. Another app, PlantVillage Nuru, is capable of diagnosing crop diseases without an internet connection.

Mobile Technology in Kenya Helps Agriculture

Mobile technology in Kenya is an important step to help farmers deal with the evolving problems of the 21st century. With agriculture being such an important industry in Kenya and with so much of the produce at risk each year, it is vital for the economy and wellbeing of the country that crops are protected and that yields are produced at an effective rate. These types of developments in AI and mobile technologies have the potential to significantly help the livelihoods of millions of farmers in Kenya and other countries too.

– Jackson Bramhall
Photo: Flickr

The Safe Delivery AppAcross the globe, thousands of women die every year as a result of complications during birth. A variety of organizations have been developing to combat these preventable deaths. The Safe Delivery app, a maternal healthcare app, provides one of these solutions. Below are four facts outlining the app’s purpose as well as its successes since its release in 2012.

4 Facts about the Safe Delivery App

  1. Maternal mortality is an issue around the world. Every year, more than 300,000 women die from causes related to pregnancy. Women typically die in pregnancy and childbirth for five main reasons: “severe bleeding, infections, unsafe abortion, hypertensive disorders, and medical complications like cardiac disease, diabetes, or HIV/AIDS.” There is also a greater chance of death for pregnant women who lack proper assistance. Unfortunately, in sub-Saharan Africa, less than 50% of women during birth have a trained midwife, nurse or doctor to help them through the process. Many instances of maternal mortality are 100% preventable when access to quality maternal care is provided.
  2. The Safe Delivery App educates. The University of Copenhagen, the University of Southern Denmark and the Maternity Foundation launched the app to provide skills and to assess knowledge of those assisting with births in remote areas of developing nations. The app consists of 12 modules that address numerous childbirth emergencies and the appropriate preventative procedures for each. It uses “animated instruction videos, action cards, drug lists, practical procedures, and an individualized e-learning component, MyLearning,” to guide healthcare workers. The Safe Delivery app also works offline so healthcare workers can access the modules in any place, at any time.
  3. The app’s creators collaborate. Some key partners include The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Jhpiego, the Danish Emergency Relief Fund and MSD for Mothers. The app’s creators have teamed up to prep for launching the app in even more countries. For instance, Merck for Mothers is working with the Maternity Foundation to incorporate user feedback into the app’s design. They are also collecting user data through case studies and stories to help improve the app’s adoption in other countries. Additionally, the creators of the Safe Delivery App partnered with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) to study the effectiveness of the app; for the study, the app trained 58 birth attendants across four different regions. After collecting feedback, the UNFPA found there was an “association between high user engagement and improvements in the health workers knowledge and competencies when handling childbirth emergencies.”
  4. The Safe Delivery app is succeeding and improving. The Safe Delivery app boasts over 17,000 downloads in 44 low- and middle-income countries. In 2019, the top five countries were Ethiopia, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Somalia and Togo. Also in 2019, a total of 10,418 users actively used the quiz functions. According to research conducted by Merck for Mothers, “Workers’ skills in handling complications increased by more than 100%” after using the app for 12 months. In 2017, a Hindi version of the app launched for users in India; this drastically increased healthcare workers’ skill sets in the region. The Maternity Foundation has also released multiple case studies that show the positive impact of the Safe Delivery app. For example, the Maternity Foundation tracked the app usage of 62 health workers across eight facilities in Congo. According to the Maternity Foundation, “The study showed a significant increase in the healthcare workers’ knowledge and confidence when handling post-partum hemorrhage and neonatal resuscitation.”

Since the launch of this maternal healthcare app, researchers have seen great improvements in healthcare knowledge. While maternal mortality is still an issue around the world, innovations like the Safe Delivery app can eradicate the dangers of childbirth.

Sara Holm
Photo: Flickr