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

Agriculture in EgyptImprovement in agriculture is essential to fighting poverty in developing countries. Agricultural growth leads to economic growth which results in employment opportunities and improves food security. Agriculture is a major component of the Egyptian economy. Agriculture in Egypt accounts for 11% of gross domestic product (GDP) and 23% of all jobs. In Upper Egypt, 55% of employment is related to agriculture. In addition, more than half of the population in Upper Egypt is living under the poverty line. Expansion of agriculture through technological innovations can help productivity and alleviate poverty in all areas of Egypt.

Water Conservation

The Nile River provides Egypt with 70% of its water supply. In a 2019 report, measurements determined that agriculture uses more than 85% of the country’s share of the Nile, according to the Egyptian Center for Strategic Studies. However, due to drought, Egypt is “water-poor” because it provides 570 cubic meters of water per person per year. A country is water-poor when people do not have access to a sufficient amount of water, which is less than 1,000 cubic meters a year.

In 2020, to combat the water shortages, a government project that the Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation and Cairo’s MSA University developed, launched a mobile app that receives data from a sensor buried in the soil to detect moisture levels. This technology allows farmers to tell whether or not their crops need water, preventing excessive watering of crops. This modern irrigation method will lead to reduced water consumption, lower production costs and increased crop productivity, which will improve agriculture in Egypt.

Digital Agriculture

In 2019, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Egyptian government launched a program to enhance agricultural productivity through digital technology. Implementation of digital technology helps farmers access information to better manage crops and livestock and thus help them make better agricultural decisions. Digital technology also helps to enhance food security by reducing production costs and waste. It also increases crop productivity with the availability of accurate data to calculate production activities like estimating the daily needs of irrigation and fertilization.

Information Communication Technology (ICT) applications facilitate the flow of information to farmers, provides services to farmers and expands access to markets. With the help of several research institutions of the Agricultural Research Center, the program converted technical content into digital content that one can access via mobile application. With the adoption of mobile applications, agriculture in Egypt will expand as a result of increased access to resources.

Agricultural Innovation Project

The Ministry of Agriculture and Land Reclamation (MALR)lead the 2020 to 2023 Agricultural Innovation Project (AIP). The initiative aims to promote innovations in technologies to improve several issues in agriculture. These issues include inefficient farming techniques that lower farm output and food production and other inhibitors of processing crops like poor post-harvest facilities and marketing infrastructure. The focus on creating innovative solutions will increase income for small-scale farmers in Upper Egypt.

The project supports digital access as a technological innovation so that farmers can better understand and access information surrounding the market and input supply. In addition, the project works closely to support small-scale farmers by improving market access for smallholders and improving institutional support.

Overall, food insecurity and poverty can reduce over time with the expansion of agriculture in Egypt by means of technological innovations.

Simone Riggins
Photo: Flickr

digital finance sourcesIt is no secret that cash is becoming more and more obsolete in developed nations. Venmo, Cash App, Square, PayPal, Zelle and Google Pay — none of these popular money transfer services require a physical transfer of cash. The onslaught of a global pandemic has only accelerated the shift to cashless transactions amid efforts to minimize physical contact. China is rapidly moving forward with central bank digital currency (CBDC) trial rollouts while the United States Federal Reserve is conducting ongoing research to potentially develop its own CBDC, a “Digital Dollar.” In lower-income nations, digital finance sources have the potential to transform economies.

Digital Finance in Developing Countries

In developed countries, the notion of an entirely cashless society is not far out of reach. However, the story is very different in developing nations. Many individuals are excluded from participating in even the most basic financial systems and instead rely primarily on physical cash. As of 2017, about 1.7 million adults globally were “unbanked.” This means they lacked any account with a financial institution or mobile money provider. This is nearly one-fourth of the world’s population.

Some of the most commonly cited barriers to account ownership include insufficient funds and inaccessible banking services. Virtually all unbanked adults live in developing economies, with women over-represented among this cohort. Digital finance services delivered via mobile phones, the internet or cards, function as a means of including these unbanked populations. The benefits of digital financial inclusion are prolific.

Digitizing Financial Inclusion

The strong link between financial inclusion and a wide array of global development goals is becoming increasingly clear. Significantly, seven of the 17 U.N. Sustainable Development Goals for 2030 explicitly mention financial inclusion as central to achieving these objectives.

Digital technologies offer financial services at lower costs, fostering opportunities for large-scale inclusion by enabling institutions to serve lower-income customers profitably. Such broadened financial access can sustainably transform emerging economies. A 2016 report by the McKinsey Global Institute estimated that digital finance alone could boost the annual GDP of all emerging economies by $3.7 trillion by 2025 due to productivity gains of businesses and governments.

Digital services include those such as M-PESA, a mobile phone-based transfer, payment and micro-financing service. Mobile money has lifted an estimated 196,000 Kenyan households out of extreme poverty from 2008 to 2016.

The Benefits of Digital Finance Sources

  • Increased Security: Digital footprints provide greater transparency and hold individuals and institutions accountable, reducing vulnerability to fraud and corruption.
  • Time and Cost Savings: Digital services are quicker and more efficient, lowering costs for both providers and consumers.
  • Financial Inclusion: The lower costs and convenience of mobile services make them accessible to more people, including those living in remote or rural areas.
  • Women’s Empowerment: Women with access to financial services like loans, savings accounts and mobile payments can achieve independence. It has been found that women with digital savings accounts also spend more on development endeavors like education.
  • Higher Tax Revenues: Digital finance has been proven to increase tax-paying compliance, and in turn, government revenues.

Given the wide-ranging benefits of digital finance sources, it is clear why many organizations are attempting to accelerate the transition from cash-based to digitized economies in the developing world. A growing number of groups such as the U.N.-based Better Than Cash Alliance are working to extend the reach of financial services by using digital technologies to go where physical banks cannot, bringing access to mobile money, savings accounts, credit and insurance to the under and unbanked. Digital finance is more than a trend of modern societies. It is a vital tool for achieving inclusive and sustainable development in emerging economies that are still far from being cashless.

Margot Seidel
Photo: Flickr

traditionally excludedOne of the gravest mistakes made when discussing development initiatives is presuming to know what communities’ most relevant problems are without involving those experiencing them. The members of traditionally excluded communities have the necessary knowledge to not only identify the best solutions to the challenges they face but to articulate and call attention to these challenges in the first place. Including traditionally excluded communities in the innovation process is a key ingredient in tackling some of the biggest development challenges of today. IDB Lab is an innovation lab born out of the Inter-American Development Bank Group that aims to do just this, promoting solutions that have been developed with and for excluded communities.

Incubating Innovation

IDB Lab mobilizes financing, knowledge and connections to support creators of inclusive solutions geared to improve lives in Latin America and the Caribbean. These innovative projects target people who are usually excluded from traditional markets. The projects also target populations made vulnerable by economic, social or environmental factors. Such people often do not get to participate in the decision-making process that influences public and private services designed in their favor. IDB Lab prioritizes the involvement of beneficiaries to ensure that relevant solutions are proposed and implemented.

Since 1993, IDB Lab has deployed more than 2,300 operations across 26 Latin American and Caribbean countries, amounting to more than $2 billion put toward development projects. These have included 161 loans, 144 equity investments and more than 2,000 technical cooperation projects. The creative thinkers who champion these ideas come from universities, non-governmental organizations, private firms, and importantly, excluded populations.

The Process

IDB Lab relies on crowdsourcing so that excluded individuals can voice their challenges as well as their preference and knowledge of solutions. Crowdsourcing is essentially gathering and applying the wisdom of a group, a practice that has become increasingly popular and feasible with the emergence of smartphones and social media.

Crowdsourcing fills knowledge gaps and the people in need of the solutions are engaged in it. IDB Lab follows a seven-step process when crowdsourcing data.

7-Step Crowdsourcing Process

  1. Excluded individuals voice their challenges
  2. The group of excluded individuals ranks these challenges
  3. Creative thinkers supply innovative ideas as solutions
  4. These ideas compete with one another and become solutions
  5. IDB Lab and partners fund the winning solutions
  6. Impactful innovations are generated
  7. The innovations developed ideally solve the problems

Informed Decisions, Effective Solutions

IDB Lab favors interdisciplinary collaboration as opposed to a single-sector approach, recognizing the complexities and varying perspectives present among the challenges faced by traditionally excluded communities. Technology facilitates inclusive communication, thus, the group has a strong tech basis. These technologies also ensure democratic and demand-driven development. Technology also offers efficient tools to tackle international development in inventive ways.

Successful social innovation requires sourcing and employing the knowledge of traditionally excluded populations. The more accurate the understanding of a community’s hardships, the more effective the proposed solutions are going to be. IDB Lab recognizes this. IDB Lab finds those who are experiencing hardship and offers them a voice. Crowdsourcing techniques enable IDB Lab to identify and support the development initiatives that are most relevant, inclusive and impactful.

Margot Seidel
Photo: Flickr

accessibility in IndiaAs of 2020, 50% of people in India had access to the internet, a figure growing most quickly in rural regions. In 2019, there were 264 million internet users in rural India compared to the 310 million internet users in urban India. The rapid growth of internet adoption outside of Indian cities can be accredited in part to the initiatives of the Digital India campaign, including efforts to integrate the country’s cloud infrastructure, promote open data platforms, fill connectivity gaps and offer affordable data plans. Overall, internet penetration rates across the country have more than doubled over the last five years. Through the use of technology and the internet, platforms have been created to increase resource, service and opportunity accessibility in India.

The Digital Revolution Increases Accessibility

In a country where 80% of the impoverished live in rural areas, widespread internet availability is vital. More than just a source of entertainment, the internet increases accessibility of products and services that otherwise might not be affordable or available. Recognizing the potential for digital technologies to cut across geographic and economic barriers, numerous private and public organizations have developed platforms designed to increase accessibility in India. Whether connecting buyers to faraway sellers or simply helping individuals locate public toilets, these innovative tech platforms champion access and promote inclusion in India.

Google Toilet Locator

In 2012, more Indian households had a cellphone than a toilet. A lack of access to toilets leads to rampant open defecation with consequences ranging from water pollution to the spread of infectious diseases such as cholera. In a country where technology has grown faster than public services, the government turned to tech for assistance in its campaign to eradicate open defecation and improve waste management. In December 2016, India’s Ministry of Urban Development (MoUD) partnered with Google to introduce a Google Maps toilet finder tool as part of the Swachh Bharat (Clean India) Mission. As the government works to construct millions of toilets around the country, the Google Toilet Locator helps Indians to more easily find them. The app even allows users to leave ratings and reviews for public restrooms.

Tractors-as-a-Service

In September 2018, Aeris Communications partnered with Hello Tractor to launch “Tractors-as-a-Service” in India, The service provides on-demand tractor rentals to Indian farmers. In India, agriculture is an essential source of export earnings, employment and food. Tractors play a crucial role in increasing agricultural productivity but less than 30% of farmers utilize such expensive, high-capacity equipment. Hello Tractor’s software, which can be accessed through mobile and web applications, offers a “pay-as-you-use” model based on time in the field and area covered. The app enables small farmers to reap the benefits of commercial model tractors at lower costs while increasing the profits of tractor owners by allowing them to rent out their machines during idle times.

IndiaMART

IndiaMART is India’s largest online business-to-business marketplace, connecting buyers with suppliers of products and services ranging from pharmaceuticals to industrial machinery to wholesale foods. IndiaMART offers more than 67 million products and services to more than 100 million buyers. Importantly, the platform gives small and medium-sized enterprises in India a place to promote their business. There are about 60 million small and medium-sized businesses in India but only around 10 million of them have any web presence, according to the most recent data. IndiaMART allows these companies to expand their market reach and sell through the platform for a subscription fee.

A thriving e-commerce economy allows for goods and services to reach a consumer base that is less affluent and lives outside of traditional urban markets, thereby increasing market accessibility and enhancing the welfare of rural and lower-income populations.

Unified Payments Interface

In the financial sector, the National Payments Corporation of India developed the Unified Payments Interface (UPI), an instant real-time payment system regulated by the Reserve Bank of India. The platform allows users to access multiple bank accounts from even the most remote locations, routing funds and making payments under one seamless application. Digital finance platforms such as UPI are crucial in promoting financial inclusion and empowering individuals with tools such as loans and savings accounts.

Both private and public digital platforms have been deployed to increase accessibility in India and reach those who may otherwise be excluded from resources, services and opportunities.

Margot Seidel
Photo: Flickr

Cure BionicsCure Bionics, a startup company based in Tunisia, is finalizing its design for a prosthetic hand using 3D-printed components. Priced at $2,000, the model will cost significantly less than the bionic limbs typically imported from Europe. Cure Bionics could transform the lives of many Tunisians in need of prosthetic limbs to improve their quality of life.

Disabilities in Tunisia

Although not much data is available for limb differences in Africa, the 2002-2004 World Health Survey declared that 16.3 of Tunisia’s population possessed some sort of disability.

Although the country has passed groundbreaking legislation prohibiting discrimination against people with disabilities, prejudice still hinders Tunisians with disabilities from fully participating in social settings. Moreover, people with disabilities often find voting difficult due to a lack of appropriate accommodations and many struggle to find good employment. Past research indicated that nearly 60% of Tunisians with disabilities did not earn any individual income, and the 40% who did work, earned 40% less than people without disabilities.

Social, political and economic exclusion means, broadly speaking, that Tunisians with disabilities are more acutely impacted by multidimensional poverty than Tunisians without disabilities. In turn, this has led to disparities in education, health and employment. The social exclusion of people with disabilities has a considerable cost in terms of quality of life with a life expectancy reduction of approximately 18 years.

Cure Bionics

Cure Bionics hopes to improve the lives of disabled people in Tunisia by making high-tech bionic limbs more accessible and affordable for the people who need them.

When the company’s founder, Mohamed Dhaouafi, was studying engineering at university, he began to research prosthetics after learning that one of his peers had a relative who was born without upper limbs and could not afford prosthetics. Dhaouafi quickly discovered that this is not uncommon: Of the approximately 30 million people in developing countries who have amputated limbs, only 1.5 million can obtain prosthetics.

After graduating from university, Dhaouafi continued to work on the prosthetic device he had begun designing in school. Today, Cure Bionics’ 3D-printed bionic hands have rotating wrists, a mechanical thumb and fingers that bend at the joints in response to the electronic impulses. The bionic hand can be adjusted to accommodate a child’s physical growth. It can also be solar-powered for use in regions without a reliable electricity supply. Since young people with limb differences require multiple prostheses as they age, Cure Bionics’ cost-effective approach could help to ensure that more children benefit from prosthetic limbs earlier in life.

Moreover, Dhaouafi hopes to offer a virtual-reality headset for physical therapy sessions. Geared especially toward children, the headset will allow recipients of bionic limbs to become familiar with their prosthetics and to practice moving and flexing their fingers in the fun and exciting context of a video game.

Looking to the Future

While Cure Bionics continues to finalize and test its bionic hand before making it available for purchase in Tunisia, Dhaouafi has already set himself another goal. He wants to offer high-tech, low-cost prosthetic limbs to people with limb differences throughout Africa, the Middle East and beyond.

Selected by the Obama Foundation Leaders: Africa program in 2019, Dhaouafi is helping to increase access to bionic prosthetics for people who could not otherwise have afforded the expense. In this way, he is also helping Tunisians with limb disabilities to overcome the formidable challenges of exclusion and escape multidimensional poverty,  improving their quality of life overall.

Angie Grigsby
Photo: Flickr

Viamo’s ServicesOver the last two decades, cellphone ownership has steadily increased, with 73% of the world having mobile broadband connections in 2020. In response to this trend, a group of Canadian and Ghanaian engineers founded Viamo in 2012. Viamo is a social enterprise that uses mobile technology to distribute educational materials and compile data. Operating in more than 20 African and Asian countries, Viamo reaches millions of people a year. Over its eight-year existence, Viamo’s services have diversified thanks to partnerships with more than 500 organizations.

The 3-2-1 Service

This toll-free service offers educational content and interactive training through interactive voice response (IVR). IVR is an automated system that communicates with the listener through prerecorded or synthetic speech, thus removing the need for literacy. Furthermore, Viamo translates all content into local languages so it can reach the largest number of people.

Many of the partner projects that Viamo undertakes end up on the 3-2-1 Service once completed. For example, Viamo’s partnership with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) to create Link It, a mobile service meant to connect farmers to markets in Nepal, saw the finished product integrated into the 3-2-1 Service platform.

Another example comes from Mozambique, where Viamo partnered with a coalition of groups including Chemonics and USAID to create a storm warning system. This system has been a part of Mozambique’s 3-2-1 Service since its creation in 2016.

Besides these, Viamo’s services through 3-2-1 include audio dramas, news and children’s educational programs.

The diversity of the 3-2-1 Service has garnered it more users than Facebook in some countries, with thousands of people utilizing it at any point in the day.

Wanji Games

With the help of Viamo, Peripheral Vision International established Wanji Games. These edutainment games feature branching path narratives, where listeners role play scenarios ranging from navigating gender-based violence (GBV) to managing money. By exploring a scenario’s different endings, the player can gain a deeper understanding of the subject matter to apply it to their lives. Since these are accessible via the 3-2-1 Service, these games are free to play.

Engagement Campaigns

Viamo helps its partner organizations transmit information to the general population through its comprehensive mass messaging system combining IVR, chatbots, SMS, mobile apps and social media. For example, in the past, Viamo had remotely trained Rwandan healthcare workers on mental health using IVR.

Surveys, Polls and Call Centers

Viamo’s relationship with network operators grants it the benefit of having access to customers’ demographic information. As such, Viamo can distribute surveys and polls to achieve a sample representative of the general population. Furthermore, since network operators disclose a customer’s geographical location to Viamo, it can map the results.

Due to the conflict in South Sudan, the government has prohibited journalists from reporting in the country. To bypass this issue, Viamo and Forced Out created a phone survey to measure the displaced population in South Sudan. The survey found that the war had displaced more than 40% of the nation’s population. This provided the international community with statistics to properly gauge the scope of the refugee crisis.

Viamo also has a variety of call centers integrated into the 3-2-1 Service. One instance of this is Legal Aid Forum Rwanda. Victims can call the call center to get legal advice and possibly get connected to a lawyer who could represent them for free.

Viamo’s Reach and Future Impact

Viamo’s services have reached more than 10 million people. With plans to expand into new areas, such as Latin America, Viamo will continue to have an impact in the foreseeable future.

– Riley Behlke
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