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

Smart Meter Systems in Kenya
In September 2021, Kenya’s largest telecommunications business, Safaricom, proposed a deal to Kenya Power to install “a $300 million smart meter system” at Kenya Power’s site. Furthermore, Safaricom will bear the cost of installing “330,000 consumer, transformer and feeder smart meters” in communities experiencing high power leakages or electricity theft. These leaks put an added economic burden on individuals and Kenya Power. Safaricom and Kenya Power’s partnership to install smart meter systems in Kenya will also lead to more job opportunities for Kenyans.

Power Leakages and Electricity Theft

Power leakages can occur when a current is not entirely insulated or the electrical equipment is not fully grounded, meaning there may be no safe way to discharge electricity in case of a malfunction. The energy needs somewhere to go and grounding sends electricity outside the building and into the ground through the insulated wiring. This lost energy costs Kenya Power revenue that often exceeds what the company earns. Safaricom anticipates that the new smart meter system will save Kenya Power more than $89 million of losses due to power leakages.

Kenya Power is the primary company in Kenya responsible for producing and distributing electricity to Kenyans across the country. Kenya Power holds the responsibility of delivering electricity to almost 70% of Kenyans with electricity access, however, this figure means more than 16 million Kenyans still lack electricity access.

Electricity theft is a common occurrence in Kenya. It happens when a person attempts to bypass the standard electrical meter on a power line in order to obtain electricity without payment. Thieves then bypass any electrical data tracking and effectively steal power from the company and the homes in the area. Annually, Kenya Power loses about $163 million due to electricity theft alone. Safaricom’s smart meter systems in Kenya will help prevent both leakages and electricity theft.

Smart Meter Systems Save Money

Smart meters involve real-time information of voltage usage and fault reports and detect theft and potential meter tampering. In the event of power theft, the meter sends alerts to the main computer in its system, and then, the company will have the option of shutting down the power line and sending the police to apprehend the thief.

The smart meters constantly monitor two wires, the neutral wire and the live wire and the current going through the wires. Smart meters continuously compare the two wires’ energy outputs. If the output of the live wire seems excessively high while the neutral is lower, then, there may be possible tampering or leakage.

The smart meter systems in Kenya will cost approximately $300 million to install. Safaricom and Kenya Power will split the revenue earned in the first eight years with the smart meters in place.

Creating Job Opportunities

Smart meters in Kenya seem to be a small addition to everyday lives, but their financial impact is significant. Kenya Power is a relatively small enterprise in the nation. The expected revenue to come in with the installation of the smart meters in Kenya is 71.7 billion KES ($651.23 million). This has the potential to increase earnings company-wide across all salary levels. Furthermore, the project will create job opportunities for Kenyans.

How Will the Initiative Help Kenyans?

In Kenya, the cost of electricity increased in September 2021. Those with access to electricity began paying 26.57 KES (0.25 USD) per electricity unit. The last monthly pricing was 2 KES less, making this spike in cost “the highest in five years.” This price hiking has continued as Kenya Power grapples with issues of power leakages and electricity theft.

The average annual salary after taxes in Kenya based on the average job is about 2,026,995 KES ($18,536). However, the more typical salary is 765,481 KES ($7,000). Furthermore, 26.3% of workers in Kenya survive on less than $2 of income per day. If the electricity prices continue increasing, many Kenyans will lose their ability to afford electricity and first-time users will struggle to gain access to electricity.

The introduction of smart meter systems will prevent severe revenue losses for Kenya Power. The smart meters in Kenya will benefit Kenya Power, Safaricom, workers and ordinary citizens. Preventing energy theft offers economic benefits for energy companies and workers, but it can also benefit energy consumers. Large-scale changes in security and energy efficiency could strengthen Kenya’s energy sector and infrastructure.

– Clara Mulvihill
Photo: Flickr

AgTech Programs
In certain developing countries, such as India, more than half of the population depends on agriculture, giving farmers living in poverty very few options for other means of income. Those in poverty live on less than $2 per day, resulting in them being less likely to be able to eat. Additionally, many of these people are farmers. In fact, according to the World Bank, two-thirds of all working people living in poverty globally have employment in the agricultural sector. Agtech programs are emerging to help raise farmers out of poverty.

The Plan

With 2030 approaching fast, the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are implementing action across the globe. The U.N. created 17 SDGs for countries to reach by 2030. The U.N. adopted these goals with multilateral cooperation during the Sustainable Development Summit in New York in 2015.

The second SDG’s focus is to end hunger, create food security, better nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture. A huge focus of this goal is sustainable agriculture and rural development. Many international agencies, including the U.N., USAID, IFC and the World Bank believe that improving agricultural prosperity through agricultural innovations which provide better means to clean water and electricity is one of the most effective ways to reduce global poverty and hunger. Although the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted both issues, the SDGs that the U.N. has set is still achievable by 2030.

The Path Forward

Programs such as Powering Agriculture, an international initiative that USAID, the government of Sweden, Germany and private sectors founded, focused on creating, funding and implementing Agtech programs to help farmers out of poverty. Started in 2012 and completed in 2019, the Powering Agriculture project worked with specifically selected agricultural technology (Agtech) solutions companies including Claro Energy in India, Evakuula in Uganda and Futurepump in Kenya providing sustainable solutions to farmers in rural areas where access to clean water and electricity affected their agricultural production, both harvest and post-harvest.

Claro Energy and Futurepump both produce solar-powered water pumps that help make irrigating more efficient, increasing crop yields and reducing labor. Claro Energy is taking it one step further and also produces mobile solar power grids in the form of small, operable trolly and portal roll-out solar panel packs that anyone can carry. These create mobile energy grids in remote rural areas where access to electricity was virtually impossible, allowing farmers in India to use other ag-tech solutions such as pumps, monitoring systems and data services to further increase their crop yields. The grids and pumps implemented in the initiative currently produce over 2,500 kilowatts of energy a day in India.

After the Powering Agriculture initiative, another joint international program emerged with the cooperation of the governments of Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, the European Union and USAID. The Water and Energy for food (WE4F) initiative is a direct relation of the Powering Agriculture program, following where it left off in 2019 with goals of creating sustainable agriculture innovations focused on improving the access of water and energy to farmers in developing rural countries.

The initiative aims to fund innovators and create action through grants and subsidies so that Agtech programs can help farmers out of poverty by increasing crop yield, post-crop management, crop sales and more. There are currently 40 innovators with Agtech-based solutions partnered with the WE4F program, all aiming to help poor struggling farmers in rural developing countries. Here is a list of the first five.

5 Innovators Partnering with the WE4F Program

  1. AbuErdan: Originating in Jordan, Egypt and Morocco, AbuErdan provides tech solutions for efficient and sustainable poultry farming.
  2. Adaptive Symbiotic Technologies: This company began in India, the United States, Argentina and Australia. It provides bioensure fungal seed and plant treatment for water-stress resilience.
  3. Agrosolar: Beginning in Myanmar, Agrosolar provides integrated solar-powered irrigation technology and services to smallholder farmers.
  4. Alva Tech Limited: Alva Tech Limited functions in several countries including Botswana, India, Jordan, Kenya and more. It offers solar-powered treatment for water-scarce and saline areas.
  5. aQysta Nepal Pvt. Ltd.: This innovator functions in India, Indonesia, Nepal, Colombia and Malawi. It enables farmers to access sustainable irrigation with a pay-per-harvest model.

Other Agtech Programs

Not only do Agtech programs help farmers out of poverty but they are helping open the doors to sustainable business and larger economic growth by opening business markets in artificial intelligence (AI), mainly in the form of apps. The International Finance Corporation (IFC), a World Bank Group, reported in May 2020 that AI in Agriculture can “help meet rising global demand for food and support a more inclusive and sustainable food system.”

In India, the app CropIn makes it easy for farmers to upload pictures of their crops, allowing AI to create suggestions on “risk management, sales, warehousing, and sustainable farm practices.” Another AI-based app is based in Cameroon. The company Agrix Tech has created an app that farmers with minimal education can use easily. It does not require an internet connection and uses the same idea as CropIn but focuses on plant disease and pest control.

Thirdly, Hello Tractor is an app that works in Nigeria, Kenya, Mozambique, Bangladesh and Pakistan which is essentially Uber for tractors. It allows farmers who own tractors to rent out their equipment to other farmers in need of it. This allows both farmers to either earn extra income off assets or save money in crop production.

With so many international programs and initiatives underway, the world could soon win the fight against global hunger. Additionally, the war against global poverty could result in its most significant class of members, farmers, growing closer to economic stability.

– Ali Benzerara
Photo: Flickr

Workforce Training for Kenyan Refugees
Many people have to uproot their entire lives and flee their homelands due to poverty, lack of opportunities, conflict and violence. Even after relocating to a potentially better country, many refugees struggle to assimilate into society because they are unable to obtain stable job opportunities due to a lack of education or skill inadequacy. To help alleviate this issue, the U.N. Refugees Agency (UNHCR) and the computer technology company Oracle are partnering on an information technology workforce training program for Kenyan refugees to upskill and look toward a potential career in the IT sector.

The Refugee Situation in Kenya

With an estimated total of nearly 530,000 refugees currently situated in Kenya, the country is the second-largest refugee-hosting country in Africa after Ethiopia. Somalian refugees comprise 54% of the total refugees in Kenya, followed by Sudanese refugees at 24.6% and Congolese refugees at 9%. South Sudan, the “world’s youngest country,” broke into conflict again in 2013, forcing millions to flee the only home they ever knew because of war, economic distress, disease and hunger. Children comprise nearly 63% of Sudanese refugees.

Civil war has affected Somalia for roughly 30 years, with the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbating the situation in the country. Floods and locust infestations bombarded the country, which has led to poor and unsanitary living conditions, food insecurity, disease and increased crime.

The political situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as well as violence and disease, caused millions to flee the country in search of a better place to live. The country has seen the second-worst Ebola epidemic ever recorded in history, worsening the living conditions for many in the country and forcing citizens to flee their homes. There are several UNHCR camps in Kenya: Dadaab, Kakuma and a diaspora of camps in the capital, Nairobi. Nearly 44% of all refugees live in Dadaab, 40% reside in Kakuma and 16% reside in Nairobi.

Oracle’s IT Certification Program

With successful completion of the IT workforce training program, refugees gain IT skills on Oracle’s cloud-based technology and a course completion certificate from Oracle University. This qualification will help refugees gain employment within Africa’s growing IT sector.

“As digital transformation gathers pace across Africa, programming skills continue to be in high demand. This training program is designed to help prepare young learners to kickstart a rewarding career in the IT industry, directly empowering the youth in refugee camps to sustain their livelihood,” said Oracle Kenya Country Leader David Bunei.

Amid Africa’s “digital transformation, anyone with programming skills will be extremely vital to the Information and Communications Technology Industry.” IT skills can pave the way to a better future for many Kenyan refugees by helping them secure higher-paying, skilled employment to earn an income and rise out of poverty.

The workforce training program will deliver professional learning courses to the refugee diaspora in Kenya primarily focusing on Oracle Cloud technologies. This will help them develop a solid background in information technology. This program is vital because refugees in Kenya lack professional certification and industry-driven skills. In collaboration with the UNHCR, Zinger Solutions Limited, Oracle’s workforce development partner and a member of Oracle PartnerNetwork will specifically train the refugees on Oracle Cloud technologies.

Empowering Refugees with Skills and Education

Kenyan refugees residing in the diaspora of the Nairobi camps and the Kakuma camp have received training on Java SE8 programming and Java SE8 fundamentals. Java skills can aid in creating apps, building games, coding websites and much more. Overall, Oracle and UNHCR are uniting to address the issue of inadequate skills and education, helping refugees secure job opportunities for a better and brighter future.

Matthew Port Louis
Photo: Flickr

affordable satellite imagingSatellite imaging is an amazing technology that allows humans on Earth to see pictures of space without having to leave the surface of the planet. More than that, satellite data can give vital information that will help solve problems and make changes to better society and the planet. Since this technology is expensive, organizations are trying to prioritize affordable satellite imaging.

Affordable Satellite Imaging

Satellite imaging is more complicated than it appears. Satellites are extremely expensive to create and put into use because they need to survive in space. As of April 2021, more than 6,000 satellites are orbiting Earth. About 3,000 of those are inactive, and more than 700 are imaging satellites. However, only the most wealthy and educated experts have access to the images that these satellites create and can interpret them correctly.

With an expansion of access to the information that satellite imaging collects, there could be more solutions for problems in society, including poverty. A group of researchers at the University of California, Berkeley may have made that possibility a reality.

The Creation of MOSAIKS

On July 20, 2021, Nature Communications published a study by the researchers stating that “combining satellite imagery with machine learning (SIML) has the potential to address global challenges by remotely estimating socioeconomic and environmental conditions in data-poor regions.” However, SIML has limited accessibility and use because of the resources it requires. The Berkeley team aims to lower the computational cost with a new system that rivals competitors. 

The team creating the machinery consists of the Global Policy Lab directed by Solomon Hsiang and Benjamin Recht’s research team in UC Berkeley’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences.

After a great deal of hard work, the team created a system called Multi-Task Observation using Satellite Imagery & Kitchen Sinks (MOSAIKS). The system has the power to analyze hundreds of data variables that satellite imaging picks up while making it affordable and easy to use.

Co-author and Ph.D. student Esther Rolf said that “We designed our [satellite images] system for accessibility so that one person should be able to run it on a laptop, without specialized training, to address their local problems.”

How MOSAIKS Affects Global Poverty

If developing countries implement MOSAIKS, it could help decide something like where is best to build a road. This knowledge would help under-served communities that currently have low access to infrastructure.  

MOSAIKS can find the best freshwater source, farmlands, highest human populations and more. MOSAIKS does all of this at a low cost and in a user-friendly way. For developing countries, affordable satellite imaging could be the key to growing further out of poverty.

Both Rolf and Hsiang are hopeful for the further development of MOSAIKS and what it can do for the future. With affordable satellite imaging technology on the horizon, the eradication of global poverty could become more of a reality.

– Riley Prillwitz
Photo: Flickr

Space Technology Combats PovertySpace technology is a multifaceted tool that can help preserve the environment and improve agricultural success. Space technology combats poverty in communities by tracking global poverty, monitoring natural disasters, measuring pollution, protecting wildlife and managing resources.

Tracking and Predicting Poverty

Space technology is an emerging method for pinpointing and combating poverty. Data from satellites and algorithms can help countries accurately determine the most impoverished communities in need of resources in order to best assist the communities.

For example, nighttime images from satellites can reveal the areas that can afford electricity and the areas that cannot. Nighttime electricity use can have greater implications for economic activity and performance, which governments can study to better understand the distribution of wealth.

Once governments understand the geography of poverty in their countries, governments can distribute resources effectively. Satellites can also capture images of crops to help farmers estimate their harvest sizes. At large, countries can use crop data to understand local economies, assist farmers with crop insurance and warn them about potential crop failure.

Monitoring Natural Disasters

Space technology also combats poverty by monitoring natural disasters around the world. Satellites track a wide range of natural disasters, including wildfires, earthquakes, tsunamis, storms and floods. Satellites can also locate human-prompted events such as industrial accidents and oil spills.

By tracking global environmental disasters, space agencies allow the international community to pinpoint at-risk areas and distribute aid accordingly. Countries can use satellite data to better prepare for environmental disasters and identify the regions that will experience the most damage, and therefore, require the most aid. Additionally, when satellites predict an impoverished community will experience a natural disaster, the community can more effectively prepare for it in order to mitigate damage and destruction.

Protecting the Environment

Satellites can also be used to measure pollution and protect wildlife. By measuring water, air and soil pollution, satellites can distinguish between natural resources that are safe to consume and natural resources that are best used for agricultural purposes. Satellites can also locate areas contaminated by oil spills and mining activities.

With this knowledge, governments can work more efficiently to contain and address pollution. Additionally, satellites protect wildlife by tracking changes in ecosystems. The use of satellites helps the global community understand and preserve biodiversity by monitoring various habitats and species.

Countries can use information from satellites to make more constructive efforts at maintaining wildlife, natural resources, and ultimately, agricultural success. Space technology combats poverty by protecting the environment and improving agriculture in impoverished areas.

Managing Resources

Space technology can also locate and manage natural resources in impoverished areas. According to the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs, space-based innovations are promising solutions to environmental and natural resource-related conflicts in developing countries. Remotely collected data from satellites can inform areas of study such as agriculture, geology, surveying, inventory and land use.

Experts in these fields can use knowledge from satellite data to help impoverished communities maximize land use and natural resources. As a tool for collecting expansive global data, space technology combats poverty by helping developing countries gather and monitor data to make the most informed decisions.

With the help of satellites, governments can locate vulnerable areas and direct aid to the people most in need. Space technology ensures decision-making targets those who will benefit the most.

– Cleo Hudson
Photo: Unsplash

Africa's Digital solutionsThe COVID-19 pandemic presents a chance for Africa to modernize by going digital, even after the socioeconomic consequences COVID-19 has wrought. Policies and economies have to be rebuilt and Africa has taken the steps to restore its nation with digitalization at the forefront. Through Africa’s digital solutions and technology innovations, the nation will become more sustainable, competitive and creative.

The Aftermath of COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has helped increase the spread of new technology across Africa. The pandemic has spurred incredible creativity when it comes to technological innovations. According to a study conducted by the World Health Organization, Africans are responsible for 13% of all new or improved COVID-19 technology created. Two countries that have specially crafted technologies specific to the pandemic are Ghana and Tunisia.

Ghana created a COVID-19 tracking app and drones that deliver at-home COVID-19 tests as well as handwashing stations that are solar-powered. In Tunisia, a government ministry invented a robot to assist in enforcing lockdowns. Africa has made striking technological enhancements in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, COVID-19 has also highlighted the digital divide between the wealthy and impoverished, online and offline.

The Digital Divide

The unequal access to information and communication technologies, or the digital divide, shines a light on the technological gap in developing countries. Due to the general delayed adoption of internet technology, Africa experiences difficulties overcoming barriers to long-term growth. Civil society and the commercial sectors cannot produce transformational progress alone. The digital divide in Africa is fueled by the continent’s socio-economic disparity. In order to transition to a digital society, governments must accelerate the use of digital technologies in all sectors.

Throughout the pandemic, digital media and technology have been critical, allowing for the continuance of work, communication and instruction. According to research by the International Telecommunication Union, only 28% of the African population has access to the internet. It is crucial to consider the many obstacles Africa has to overcome when it comes to digital technology. Not only is there a lack of internet access in Africa but the country also lacks electric power, access to education, social inclusion and more.

Africa cannot regress to pre-pandemic conditions as it recovers from COVID-19. Instead, Africa must create a brighter future that acknowledges the importance of digital transformation, particularly modern technology. Africa’s digital solutions can help overcome the continent’s complex challenges, including poverty, healthcare, industrialization, environmental degradation and government administration.

The Missing Piece: Policy

The majority of studies indicate that digital technologies are critical for solving global issues. However, technologies implemented without laws and policies that support new technological infrastructures rarely succeed long-term. With Africa’s digital solutions, the continent will be able to accelerate its transition to a sustainable and equitable economy.

For example, Rwanda, a country in Africa, is an excellent example of how the development of sustainable legislation can provide benefits to its citizens. Rwanda’s government has made significant investments in digital technology facilities, which resulted in 90% of the population having internet access and 75% of the population having mobile phones.

Enabling policies that provide digital technologies and promote their use will enhance Africa’s recovery during the COVID-19 pandemic. Overall, it is essential to realize the importance of innovations through digital technologies and put action behind policies that support socioeconomic equality in Africa.

– Anna Lovelace
Photo: Unsplash

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

Drones and Precision AgricultureIn Africa, farming provides more than 30% of the continent’s gross domestic product and employs more than 60% of the working class. Unfortunately, Africa’s agriculture sector is hurting because environmental challenges have affected the continent’s weather patterns and temperatures, making farming extremely difficult. Outdated practices also hold Africa back, such as planting based on the moon phases, which further affects productivity. These issues bring new challenges to a struggling market trying to provide for a growing population but drones and precision agriculture may be able to help.

A Growing Population

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), in three decades, Africa’s population will rise to about 2 billion people, requiring the farming sector to grow exponentially to sustain Africa. Luckily, a new relationship has formed between technology and agriculture. Drones and precision agriculture are helping farmers increase food production, protect their crops and protect themselves from poverty.

4 Ways Drones and Precision Agriculture Benefit Africa

  1. Drones and UAV’s can speed up the land registration process. Just 10% of Africa’s rural land is mapped and registered, leaving people insecure about land ownership and affecting rural farmers more than others. People involved in trades besides farming would benefit because they could use the land as a backup plan if a period of economic instability occurs instead of falling into poverty.
  2. Drones also provide farmers with an aerial view of their crops, allowing them to manage them better and notice changes. UAV’s with specialized sensors can alert farmers to changes like normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI), leaf area index and photochemical reflectance index. This allows farmers to notice developments the human eye would not. Using NDVI, a person receives information about water pressure, infestations, crop diseases and nutrient problems that may affect crop production. Around 7,000 African farmers in Uganda have used these drone techniques to better manage their crops.
  3. Drones and precision agriculture provide data that helps farmers take inventory of their crops and estimate crop yields faster. Drone use also lets a farmer know the location of livestock and helps to monitor fencing. Additionally, if farmers have detailed layouts of their land, including size, crop health and location, it will improve their ability to get credit, which will provide more economic advantages.
  4. Drone technology is also changing the schema of crop insurance. Crop insurance helps small farmers recover when natural disasters destroy their crops but poor reporting delays payouts. The use of UAVs makes it easier to quickly assess disaster damage and compensate farmers that disasters affect. Some larger reinsurers, such as Munich Re, have partnered with UAV service providers to improve response times and reporting accuracy after natural disasters strike. This use of technology to better assess farm damages keeps farmers from falling into poverty and allows them to protect their livelihood.

Drone Regulations

Over the past couple of years, Africa’s food exports have increased. This rise increases farmers’ productivity, especially those who can grow staple crops, allowing them to sell their produce for more money. Drones and precision agriculture help low-income farmers learn new techniques to keep up with the demand.

While multiple countries have proven the benefit of using drones, African farmers still face a problem. About 26% of African countries have laws about drone usage. Regulations restrict drone use in certain areas, which thus restricts farmers’ productivity. In Mozambique and Tanzania, drones undergo deployment at random to assist small farmers but most drones in Africa monitor wildlife. Increasing beneficial regulations for drone and UAV usage is integral to transforming Africa’s agriculture sector.

Drones and precision agriculture have the potential to revolutionize agriculture in Africa, presenting a way to lift Africans out of poverty.

Solomon Simpson
Photo: Flickr