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Agriculture in AfricaAfrica boasts one of the biggest farming industries in the world. Agriculture accounts for 60 percent of the continent’s paid employment and 30 percent of its overall GDP. However, due to a lack of market information, modern farming technologies and financial stability in smallholder farming, the continent suffers from low farming productivity. With so much of Africa’s development being dependent on agriculture and farming, low productivity rates pose an array of problems for the continent’s pursuit of advancement. These five tech start-ups are tackling these issues and transforming agriculture in Africa.

5 Tech Start-Ups Transforming Agriculture in Africa

  1. ZenvusZenvus is a Nigerian tech start-up centered around precision farming and is rapidly transforming agriculture in Africa. Farmers in Africa often don’t have access to information that could help improve their harvesting yields, and Zenvus is looking to change that with an innovative solution that uses propriety technology to collect data like soil nutrients and moisture, PH values and vegetative health. The information is collected and sent to a cloud server through GSM, satellite, or wifi networks, at which point the farmers receive advice from the program. This data arms them with the best information in seeking the proper fertilizer for their crops, optimizing their irrigation systems while encouraging data-driven farming for small-scale farmers. Zenvus also provides specialized cameras to track the growth of crops, as well as features like zCaptial that provides small-scale farmers with the opportunity raise capital by providing collected data from the program’s precision farming sensors to give banks an overall sense of profitability in farms registered with the service.
  2. M-FarmM-Farm is a tech service app based in Kenya that provides small-scale farmers with information on retail prices of products, prospective buyers in local markets and up-to-date information on agricultural trends. Information is gathered daily by independent collectors using geocodes and is then sent to subscribers phones via SMS messages. Collectors use geocoding to ensure that all pricing and market-related data is being collected from traders that are located in the users’ actual markets. The app, which now serves 7,000 users and tracks 42 different kinds of crops in five major markets throughout Kenya, aims to help small-scale farmers connect directly with suppliers, and even provides considerable discounts on fertilizers and seeds.
  3. EsokoEsoko is another striking example of a tech start-up transforming agriculture in Africa where, historically, many farmers had a limited understanding of market pricing and agricultural trade. Market middlemen often took advantage of this and persuaded unknowing farmers to sell products well below market price. In 2005, Esoko aimed to change that by providing farmers with real-time information on market prices, weather forecasts and agricultural techniques through SMS messaging. The start-up currently serves one million users across 19 African countries, gained $1.25 million in equity from two major venture capital companies, with a study finding that farmers who used the app were able to increase profits by 11 percent.
  4. Apollo Agriculture – Founded in Nairobi in 2014, this tech start-up has raised $1.6 million in the pursuit of helping small-scale farmers get maximum profits for their products and diminish credit risk. The start-up does this through machine learning, remote sensing and the utilization of mobile phone technologies. Apollo Agriculture not only assesses credit risk for farmers, but it also uses satellite data to provide personalized packages specific to farmer behavior, location, crop yields and even soil and vegetation health.
  5. Kilimo SalamaKilimo Salama (Safe Agriculture) founded in 2010, is a Kenyan tech start-up that provides small-scale farmers a more informed approach to weather index/micro-insurance for their land. The start-up uses an app to send users SMS messages regarding weather patterns and up-to-date climate data. This ensures that users can more readily prepare for weather that might be detrimental to their crops. The app also includes a feature that allows users to receive confirmation of insurance payouts through SMS messaging. Users also receive educational messages with tips and techniques on how to increase productivity, food security and crop protection.

Africa suffers from low farm productivity due to an array of issues like financial instability, limited access to modern farming technologies and lack of information. However, countless tech start-ups across the continent are actively combating these issues with innovative tech solutions for transforming agriculture in Africa.

Ashlyn Jensen
Photo: Flickr

Apps That Feed the Hungry

Nowadays people can do almost anything with a smartphone: order groceries, plan a vacation or pay for mass transit. There are even apps that feed the hungry around the world. About one in nine people do not have enough to eat, but the following smartphone apps are changing that, one meal at a time.

Here are three apps that feed the hungry:

  1. Chowberry
    Nigerian entrepreneur Oscar Ekponimo developed this mobile app to put discounted, expiring food in the hands of people who desperately need it. The organization currently operates in four locations in recession-stricken Nigeria, with the help of 20 supermarket partners. Here is how it works: Families on tight budgets sign up for a free account; they search for products set to expire in as little as a week to more than a few months. Users choose whatever cereals, grains, drinks, cans and packaged goods they want. Then they pay online and pick up their goods at participating stores. Some products are as much as 70 percent off original prices, which makes it easier for impoverished people to feed themselves and their families.Exact numbers of the app’s impact are unavailable at this point, as the site has yet to go public. But, in a three-month pilot, the company had 3,000 daily hits.
  2. Pocket Rice
    With this free mobile app, users earn virtual grains of rice each time they answer a trivia question correctly. The virtual rice accumulates like a point system. But unlike regular trivia games, Pocket Rice’s points become a valuable food source for people in need. When users “donate” their earned rice, co-founder James Downing buys real rice. In-app advertising pays for the rice, so users can play trivia while helping solve world hunger — all for free.The rice goes to targeted areas through the company’s partners, agencies like the United Nations World Food Programme, World Vision and now The Lasallian Foundation. According to in-app text, Pocket Rice’s current project focuses on children in Sri Lanka. The goal is to reduce child mortality and increase babies’ birth weights.Trivia users have earned more than 324 million grains of rice and fed 16,000 people since Pocket Rice’s start in 2013. Users of the app allowed Downing to purchase around 3,500 pounds of rice in 2016 alone.
  3. Share the Meal
    The World Food Programme spearheaded Share the Meal, which lets any smartphone owner feed a child with spare change. People all over the world can download the app for free and start saving lives with donations as small as 50 cents. More than just throwing money at a cause, the app has a tool that lets people track their donations. Users can choose where they want to share a meal, learn about the children the Programme helps and follow their donation’s impact.Users have provided for more than 14 million meals since Share the Meal’s launch in 2015. The meals feed school children and refugees in places such as Haiti, Yemen and Lebanon.

Whether it is the invention of the telegram or the use of cell phone apps, technology has always made the world seem smaller. Today, three apps that feed the hungry are continuing that tradition. Chowberry is bridging the gap between Nigerians in need and retailers willing to help, Pocket Rice is turning phone users’ love of trivia into life-saving food and Share the Meal is making it easy for charitable people to feed children around the world.

Kristen Reesor

Photo: Flickr

Quality of Life in Africa
The mobile phone continues to be one of the best weapons in the fight against global poverty. According to Global Mobile Suppliers Association (GSMA), currently six in ten individuals worldwide have cell phone access, and most of those people reside in developing countries where basic living necessities such as clean water are scarce. In Africa, up to 93 percent of the population has access to cell phones. This access provides opportunities for organizations to design anti-poverty programs, and as a result, their cutting-edge apps improve the quality of life.

Earlier this month, the Red Cross Society of Côte d’Ivoire (RCSCI) debuted its RCSCI mobile app with a threefold purpose: to improve living conditions, bolster healthcare programs and assist authorities with enforcing international humanitarian law compliance. It boasts features including regular updates on volunteer projects and educational posts on how and where to donate blood. It also provides 24-hour emergency alert notifications, ensuring that response time is quicker than ever after a natural disaster.

“We are thrilled with the launch of our new app, and the opportunity to provide aid to those in need and improve humanitarian efforts throughout the region,” RCSCI secretary general Emmanuel Kouadio stated.

The RCSCI provides one of many examples of how groundbreaking apps improve the quality of life in Africa. Last month Nigeria began a new program called “SMS for Life 2.0.” Designed as one part of a comprehensive information communications technology (ICT) development initiative, the program focuses on improving healthcare for Nigerian citizens by monitoring the availability of medicine and improving the safe delivery of drugs. The program is being implemented in each of the 36 Nigerian states and is already in use at more than 250 facilities.

In addition to SMS for Life 2.0, app designer Vodacom has created a school management program using mobile technology to provide reliable, quality meals for students and is planned for use in 4,000 schools across Nigeria’s Kaduna State. Chief Officer of Vodacom Business Vuyani Jarana recently told IT News Africa, “Vodacom is taking the lead in leveraging mobile technology to address healthcare, education and agricultural challenges in Africa.”

Both RCSCI and Vodacom are continuing to broaden their programs in efforts to eliminate poverty, with a focus on the future of agriculture as the next phase of development. Eventually, it is hoped that near-universal access to mobile technology will alleviate the lack of access to other vital resources in Africa.

Dan Krajewski

Photo: Flickr

Farmerline
Africa has a large amount of untapped potential in the agricultural market. If resources were utilized correctly, it could feed itself as well as parts of other continents.

Today, Africa still relies on food imports from abroad to feed its rising population. The UN has warned that if African farming continues at its current rate, by 2050 the continent will only be fulfilling 13 percent of its food needs.

Farmers continuously fail to take advantage of the land’s natural advantages due to their lack of access to information on finance and marketing.

In Ghana, there is only one agricultural extension officer for 2,000 farmers. These officers provide farmers with training and information, but are unable to communicate with each of them enough to help farmers improve due to lack of time and resources.

Alloysius Attah, a 26 year old Ghanaian entrepreneur, has invented an innovative solution to farmers’ lack of access to information that will increase yields and profits of local farmers.

In 2013, he founded the company Farmerline, a phone app that provides smallholder farmers with information in the form of voicemails and text messages.

“Farmers receive important updates on market prices, weather forecasts, financing, input dealers, and farming tips. It also links them to agribusinesses and organisations who have previously struggled to access them” explains How We Made it In Africa.

Farmerline has been successful— in only two years, it is helping 200,000 farmers across Ghana, Malawi, Sierra Leone, Cameroon and Nigeria. The company plans to expand across Eastern Africa at the end of 2015.

When Attah initially started his application, he discovered that many of the farmers are illiterate. They could not read text message notifications. “So we moved to voice messages. Now our application sends information to farmers in any language – such as Swahili or any of the local languages in Ghana,” said Attah to African business publication How we Made it in Africa.

The application is engineered specifically to individual farmers. Weather forecasts are reported based on the GPS coordinates of where a farmer’s farm is located. Agronomic this are based around the season of the year as well as the type of crop the farmer is growing.

Attah’s passion for agricultural improvement in Africa began when he was five. He lived with his aunt who was a small-scale, rural farmer in Ghana. He witnessed the problems she and so many others like her faced daily.

In college, Attah stumbled upon an agricultural class. “I actually thought the course was going to be about oil, gas and all that. But I soon realized it was about wildlife, forestry and agriculture. It is like fate somehow placed me in the path of agriculture” he told How We Made It in Africa.

“Coming from a normal rural Ghanaian background of limited resources, to becoming someone who can overcome challenges and use those limited resources to solve problems in society, makes my family and community proud,” said Attah.

The Organization has also received various international awards. Attah won the World Bank and InfoDev mAgri Challenge and World Summit Youth Award, and was a 2014 Global Echoing Green Fellow.

Margaret Anderson

Sources: Farmer Line, How We Made It In Africa
Photo: Techmoran

mobile_education
Eneza is the Kiswahili word for “to reach” or “to spread.” The new education platform by the same name acts as a virtual tutor and teacher’s assistant for thousands of students living in rural Kenya.

Eneza’s mission is to reach 50 million children across rural Africa to help them gain access to information, allowing them to reach their full potential through the most common form of technology in Africa: the cell phone.

In its pilot program, students are provided with cell phones in school in order to be exposed to content that is aligned with its local context, ranging from textbook materials to unlimited quizzes and tutorials.

In addition, schools and parents are also given access to data and tips for helping these children, allowing Eneza to serve as a simple platform that still provides the same quality educational materials found in high-tech institutions.

The mobile software has found its way into 5,000 public schools and plans to expand to Ghana and Tanzania in the near future.

This year, Eneza Education was declared a winner of the 2014 ICT Innovation Awards at the Connected Kenya Summit, an event that celebrates Kenyans who have developed ICT solutions that drive economic and social growth.

Economic development and social growth are exactly what Eneza spurs with its SMS-based system that sends practice exams to students who can subscribe for the equivalent of 10 cents per week, narrowing the gap between those who can afford education and those who can’t.

Since its launch two years ago, this tiny Nairobi-based social enterprise has given children living in rural areas who can’t afford extra fees and courses the opportunity to reach high and broaden their knowledge base.

According to its co-founder Kago Kagichiri, the app has already processed more than 34,000 exams in September and holds a record of 2.5 million users. It has also proven to increase results within the country’s educational system.

“We’ve seen—from our impact study in 2012—that students increased five percent in their scores,” Kagichiri said. “We tested it out in 2013, last year, with teachers being the driving ends of the platform and working with students. That improvement went up to 11 percent.”

Eneza Education joins one of the many mobile innovations in Kenya that continue to boost the country’s economy and revolutionize the meaning of mobile education.

– Chelsee Yee

Sources: Eneza, Take Part, AFK Insider, All Africa
Photo: Flickr

world_hunger
World hunger is a terrible thing, but in 2014 there seems to be more good news than bad.

The good news is that world hunger and chronic malnourishment have been decreasing in Latin American and Asian countries. It has, however, increased in some of the poorest African nations, but the increase in malnourished peoples was the lowest it has been in several years.

What advocacy groups and volunteers are doing is working; world hunger is completely solvable with just a little effort and a push in the right direction.

Advocacy for world hunger and global poverty began making good headway in reducing chronic malnutrition in the 1980s and the 1990s, but progress began to slow down between 2000 and 2010. Some of the more complicated and impoverished areas have seen growth in malnutrition since 2010, but overall things have either stayed the same or have slowly improved in the past four years.

More good news in world hunger is that the number of hungry people in the world has slowly trickled down from one billion to 870 million from 2009-2012, but has since gone back up to more than one billion.

There have been many advances on the war with hunger, however. There is a smaller percentage of the population in some areas (namely Latin America, Europe, the United States and Asia) of people who go without food.

As populations climb, the number of hungry people climbs with it, but through volunteer work and advocacy a larger percentage of the population has made it out of poverty.

Society has seen more technological advances to deal with world hunger and global poverty, but in recent years man power and monetary aid has declined, leaving the advancements instead of the people to take care of the problems.

According to UNICEF, world hunger will see more good news because in recent years global poverty and chronic malnutrition has become more manageable. It is now easier to donate than it ever has been through cell phone applications like the Spare Change Application or rounding up on purchases to help someone in need.

World hunger is seeing fewer donations, but it is also seeing a decline in the percentage of people living in poverty and with malnutrition. It has also become more manageable and less of an undertaking and many people can now donate and help without even a second thought.

Advocacy and aid is becoming easier in the digital age and because of that, world hunger is considered to be in decline in some countries.

– Cara Morgan

Sources: Grist, Lake Tahoe News, WFP, Yahoo
Photo: Working Abroad

infographic

We’re all busy. Hectic schedules and technology practically run our lives, so here are nine easy ways to make them work in your favor and become more globally aware.

1. Twitter
It’s not all celebrities and witty screenwriters. Worldwide news organizations like CNN, BBC, and the Financial Times host Twitter accounts. Follow them or have their updates sent directly to your phone. Keeping an eye on worldwide trending topics can also help alert you if news is breaking.

2. Google Alerts
More along the lines of a “target acquired” approach, Google Alerts allows you to plug any phrase, country, word, or person into the endless Google engine and have the new results delivered to your inbox whenever you’d like.

3. RSS Feeds
Most sites these days will have an RSS Feed option. Signing up for it allows you to have the most important news right on your tablet or computer without having to search the internet.

4. Global News Sites
Go directly to the source. Sites like BBC News and CNN allow you to see the most important articles around the globe and then divide them by continent and country.

5. Magazines
Political magazines tend to take the occasionally dull topic of foreign affairs and make them digestible for larger audiences. However, because they tend to be monthly issues, you only get the greatest hits.

6. Council on Foreign Relations Daily Briefs
Delivered to your inbox every morning, the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) gives you a summary of the most important events around the globe, analyzes them, and explains why what they’re giving you is important. CFR tends to be nonpartisan, gathering analysis from both sides of the aisle.

7. News Television/Radio Channels
Turn that remote to your favorite news channel of choice and have it serenade you with factual goodies while working the evening away. Not a morning person? Turn on the news while making coffee or getting ready to help get the juices flowing.

8. Books
Transport the written word to your iPad or tablet and take it with you on the morning commute, or take a mental health break while waiting for a meeting. If non-fiction books aren’t your thing, try historical fiction like Khaled Hosseini’s novel, “The Kite Runner.”

9. Newspapers
They’re still alive! Subscribe to a newspaper and have it on your phone or tablet whenever you have time.

– Hilary Koss

Sources: CFR, Amazon, Financial Times, BBC News

1. Charity Miles

Often the biggest obstacles in overcoming the challenge of getting off the couch and going for a run is the question “why now and not later?” We all know the importance of exercise, but the inability to find motivation to work out is what keeps us on that couch. Similarly, we all know the importance of giving and helping those in most need of help. The issue we often face regarding charity is the fact that we are often without extra cash.

Charity Miles has the answer to both of these problems. Founded in April 2012, the folks at Charity Miles developed a charity app where, with each mile you bike, run, or walk, a percentage of a dollar will be donated to the charity of your choice. And the best part is that the app is entirely free.

With a limit of one million dollars, each user can garner 10 cents per mile and walkers and runners will earn 25 cents per mile. With this app, users can get themselves into shape and put food on another person’s table. Charity Miles provides users with more motivated than ever to hit the road and feeling great about about themselves in mind, body, and soul.

2. Donate a Photo

It doesn’t get much easier than this. The developers at Johnson & Johnson have unraveled an excellent app that allows users to fight for the world’s underprivileged. For each original photo donated to Johnson & Johnson (up to one a day), they will donate $1 to a service of your choice. The beauty of the app is that users can donate a photo every single day and raise $365 a year for their cause without any cost to them. So far, Johnson and Johnson have declared 25,730 photos donated.

3. Volunteer Match

Volunteer Match is a free service that allows users to connect with volunteer opportunities both in their area and beyond. Users just need to download the app, decide what area they want volunteer in and hit connect! The service provides users with reviews of different organizations and allows them to build a repertoire to share with friends.

4. One Today

Google has entered the charitable arena with their new One Today app. The idea behind the app is to allow users to “Do a little. Change a lot.” The app allows users to donate $1 at a time to a cause of their choice, whether it be saving cheetahs or providing clean water to a village. This app has no fee for nonprofits so 98.9% of all donations go to their intended cause. For the users, the app tracks each and every dollar donated and provides updates on how that dollar was spent and the impact it causes.

5. TabForACause.org

While this is a website and not an app, the premise is very effective at fundraising. This Google Chrome and Firefox extension signals the nonprofit’s sponsors to donate a fraction of a penny to a charity for each tab a user opens. Through conducting daily business, useres, with no cost to them, can help fund Water.org and provide developing countries with clean drinking water.

– Thomas van der List

Sources: Donate A Photo, Volunteer Match, Android Police, Tab For A Cause, Charity Miles
Photo: The Guardian

International-Womens-Hackathon

Last month at the International Women’s Hackathon, female university students from around the world in countries such as Brazil, Australia,  Pakistan, and Kenya participated in a focused competition to develop applications that would help combat human trafficking. With technology acting a huge catalyst in carrying out kidnappings and sex trafficking, a new trend has emerged that brings together technology, business, and humanitarian efforts.

At the University of Washington, one of the dozen or so schools participating in the event, students are working on the blueprint of an application called ‘Blossom’. While it is disguised as a lifestyle and pop culture based app, featuring celebrity gossip and fashion tips, the app will actually allow young girls who are being trafficked to access a chat room and receive help through a hotline number, among other resources.

Some may become skeptical when realizing apps require mobile smart phone access. However, based on presentations and research from the hackathon, the audience these apps are designed for usually have smart phones. Now whether we would like to digest this information with a grain of salt, keep in mind that sex trafficking doesn’t just happen in developing countries. In fact, in 40% of sex trafficking cases undergoing investigation by the Department of Justice from 2008-2010, 83% of the victims were U.S. citizens.

Reverting back to the hackathon, which was sponsored by Microsoft, the event gives females studying computers, technology, and engineering an opportunity to gain a sense of empowerment by coming to understand the profound effect they can have on changing the world. Although they may not be able to go out and capture traffickers directly, their energy, creativity, and knowledge is no doubt going to save lives as these applications are put to the test and developed.

– Deena Dulgerian
Source: npr