Equal Food Distribution
One of the leading causes of malnutrition is the lack of equal food distribution. According to the World Economic Forum, Americans spend 6.4 percent of their income on food. Meanwhile, households in impoverished countries can spend up to 80 percent of their income on food. These numbers show a clear uneven trend in distributing food to people in need. Equal food distribution is also at risk from another influencer on poverty: population growth. Even in developed countries, the current rate of food distribution will eventually be unable to keep up with population growth. Distributing food to people in need will soon become an issue for not just underdeveloped countries, but for developed countries as well. 

One way of solving the growing issue of food distribution is through the utilization of new technologies. A combination of developing technologies, new economic models and support from global leaders could lead to curbing the problems behind food distribution for both the developing and underdeveloped world.

Text Message-based Farmer Assistance

In Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia, farmers have access to a service that functions through text messages. Provided by CGIAR, an organization focused on water, land and ecosystems, farmers can send a message through SMS (short message service) to request updates on the best way to grow their crops. People know this service as ICT, or Information and Communication Technology. According to CGIAR, farmers send one message code when they want to see an update on their crop growth and water-use efficiency compared to other farmers using the service. Based on this data, experts monitoring the farming data can identify irregularities and alert the farmer. One issue that CGIAR sees going forward is funding. Maintaining its database would require more funding than what farmers or smallholders have already offered. However, this service would be able to help farmers, in areas of need, increase the amount their farms produce.

Using ICTs to help feed people in need has shown promising results. An ICT service will help improve irrigation and water drainage in Egypt. This service has seen a 25 percent increase in crop yields during its first phase of implementation. Magrabi Farms has also implemented ICT to allow the proper irrigation of over 8,000 acres of land.

Farming and Machine Learning

Increasing farm production is a common method of tackling the issue of distributing food to people in need. Sciforce says that almost every step of farm production uses machine learning. Machine learning, according to Sciforce, is “the scientific field that gives machines the ability to learn without being strictly programmed.” Farmers can use machine learning to:

  • Find which genes would help a crop survive in adverse weather conditions.

  • Manage the soil and help farmers understand the ecosystem they are growing in.

  • Manage water and allow farmers to be more efficient with their irrigation systems.

  • Improve the prediction of crop yield.

  • Fight disease and weeds by using a calculated distribution of agrochemicals that only target specific plants.

Machine learning accomplishes all of this by analyzing decades of farming records. It uses a combination of algorithms and scientific models to best apply the trends from decades of farming data.

NBC News reported that Carnegie Mellon University roboticist George Kantor claimed that machine learning could increase the variety of grain sorghum from 100 different variants to 1,000. Machine learning could do this by examining the crop’s genetic code.

Weather Forecasts

Another way to ensure that countries are able to distribute food to people in need is by improving distribution itself. The Weather Company’s Agricultural Head, Carrie Gillespie, stated that “A lot of food waste happens during distribution…” Suppliers often use weather forecasts when distributing food to people in need. Due to distribution including the harvesting process, these weather reports can help farmers know when the soil is at its best for harvesting.

3D Printing

While this may seem like an idea from a sci-fi movie, 3D printing is a technology that may soon allow food printing. Jordan French, CEO at a 3D food printing startup called BeeHex, explains that 3D food printing could allow for customization of food products based on the certain wants and needs of the consumer. This could include developing food with certain nutrients that an impoverished community may be lacking, much like the recently FDA-approved golden rice, which emerged to treat a global vitamin A deficiency.

Jordan French also theorizes that 3D printing food could eliminate the need for distribution altogether, as it would create a bridge between the producer and the consumer.

The market for 3D-printed food is rising in profits by 46 percent each year until 2023. Mark Crawford of alludes that this is due to how the technology could provide a solution to distributing food to people in need.

These technologies aim to tackle the challenges of distributing food to the impoverished for the sake of equal food distribution. Improving farming quality through databases and machine learning, watching the weather to allow for better distribution and even bypassing the need for food production are just some developing technologies that have the potential to assist the world’s hungry.

Jacob Creswell
Photo: United Nations

maternal_healthEvery year, almost 289,000 women die during childbirth or shortly thereafter. Ninety-nine percent of maternal mortality cases occur in the developing world. This number is quickly falling due to, among other things, the rise in mobile phone access around the globe. It may seem a bit surprising that increased cell phone access correlates to lower death rates, but millions who were unreachable now have access to information regarding health and pregnancy.

One-half of all deaths associated with childbirth, whether it be the infant or the mother, occurs in Sub-Saharan Africa. Health workers in the area cite old habits as one of the major roadblocks to alleviating childbirth deaths. In Cameroon, a service called GiftedMom sends SMS alerts to mothers, notifying them when to receive antenatal care and also keeping them updated on when to get their infants vaccinated. The simple and free messages help build a solid schedule to break old habits and come to a climate of proper healthcare. GiftedMom works with local hospitals and clinics throughout Cameroon to collect phone numbers of mothers and encourage them to use the service.

Rwanda has also seen a steep decline in maternal health complications and deaths due to the use of mobile technology. The system is called RapidSMS, and rural health providers and clinics use the service to communicate with the greater connected health system. RapidSMS has defined certain common complications involving childbirth, maternity and infancy. Each is designated with a code. A local health worker sends the code to the system and receives near-instant feedback as to what to do. RapidSMS significantly cuts treatment delay times.

Like GiftedMom, RapidSMS also helps break old habits. Health providers are the ones using the service and thus are encouraged to accompany mothers and infants if outside treatment is needed. Communities are made stronger and healthier as a result.

Joe Kitaj

Sources: BBC, Huffington Post, Voice of America
Photo: Northeastern University Political Review

U-ReportOn July 16th, UNICEF’s U-Report, a groundbreaking text-message based innovation that amplifies the voices and views of young people in developing countries, reached over one million active users.

This has allowed many young people in developing countries, who would otherwise not have a voice, to share opinions on everything from skills they think would be the most beneficial in the working world to the best way to deal with country policy.

This information is recorded as documentation of the real-time insights of people living with the current problems of the world. Local governments of these developing countries can view U-Report statistics and information to ascertain the perspective of future generations.

Once a person joins U-Report, they can receive weekly SMS messages and polls to and from a growing community of U-Reporters, regular radio programs that will broadcast relevant stories, and newspaper articles that will publish news from the local community.

“U-Report is an entirely new model for engaging young people, empowering communities, and holding governments more accountable,” said Jean Gough, UNICEF Representative in Nigeria, where the platform is helping UNICEF workers share critical information about Ebola, polio, and newborn care with families living in remote areas that health workers cannot easily reach.

U-Report has become so popular and influential within Africa that Airtel Nigeria, a telecommunications company, has partnered with UNICEF to make U-Report more accessible. Through this improved connectivity, more Nigerians will have free access to the mobile applications and services developed by UNICEF. The partnership increases the information and provides more opportunities for participation by allowing UNICEF to tap into Airtel’s mobile services to make health, education, child protection and community-focused content readily available to all Airtel Nigeria customers.

These strides by UNICEF to make global awareness readily accessible to young people have improved the chances in the future for a better, more connected global society.

Alysha Biemolt

Sources: UNICEF, Ureport, Telecom Paper, Airtel
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

mobile_educationEneza 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

In late August, Senegal’s first case of Ebola was confirmed in a man who had previous direct contact with a patient in Guinea and then traveled to Dakar, the capital city of Senegal. In collaboration with the World Health Organization, the Government of Senegal took immediate measures to stop the virus dead in its tracks.

Nearly 5,000 people have died from the Ebola virus and over 10,000 people have been infected. To prevent the spread of Ebola within Senegal, the Ministry of Health sent out over 4 million SMS messages to the general population warning of the new Ebola case and ways to individually prevent the contraction of the virus. The messages, based off a social campaign previously used for diabetes, were sent to citizens in Dakar and Saint-Louis, another heavily populated region in the country. The SMS campaign entailed multiple partnerships with local mobile phone companies and urged people to contact health authorities with news of anyone showing signs of fever and bleeding by calling the number provided. The messages received were then broadcast in large public events, such as sports games and rallies.

Dr. Mbayange Ndiaye Niang, a project leader at the Ministry of Health, says the “SMS campaign was part of a much larger national project in Senegal focused on awareness, prevention and care for people with Ebola.” Other awareness methods included flyers, radio announcements and messages posted on government websites. Washing hands regularly and avoiding contact with infected persons and animals was heavily reinforced.

The SMS campaign was extremely successful and, to date, there has only been one Ebola case in Senegal. The efficient and quick reaction by the Ministry of Health was possible due to the existing platform designed to help people manage their diabetes, called mDiabetes. The campaign began during the holy month of Ramadan, where fasting elevated risks associated with having diabetes. By registering with the program, persons with diabetes could receive free tips and advice via text messages on how to control problems associated with fasting. Thus, when Ebola reached Senegal, the government already had mechanisms in place to send text messages on a large scale.

The SMS campaign in Senegal proves that the technology platform can present an opportunity to target awareness on any disease, ranging from HIV/AIDS to the flu. In a world where phones and mobile devices have taken over all forms of paper, governments should invest in more technology-based initiatives.

– Leeda Jewayni

Sources: World Health Organization, UN Multimedia

Photo: Text Magic


The SMS revolution seems to have been a product of the earlier decades of the mobile phone industry. In many developing countries however, its use has gone far beyond sending a simple text message or smiley face. M-Farm is a company that offers Kenyan farmers quick and cheap access to real time prices for different crops.

Why M-Farm is so revolutionary is because it eliminates the middlemen whose selective naming of prices usually leaves the farmers shorthanded. M-Farm uses the prices put out by the Ministry of Agriculture as well as the going rates in five different markets throughout Kenya to create a collective list of prices. By texting their name, location, and crop name to 3555, farmers first see the going rates and can then select to sell their own crops on the M-Farm market. Not only can farmers see the prices for crops but also gain access to a competitive market for farming supplies.

The company also publishes graphs that illustrate trends for different crops, blogs, and articles regarding different farming techniques and practices, and creates an online and mobile community for farmers to communicate with one another to share ideas and experiences.

It may come as a surprise to many but cell phone use even in a developing country such as Kenya is widespread. Although one may not see Apple iPhones or Android phones in the hands of an average Kenyan, software and apps such as M-Farm are so successful because they do not require internet access. Communication is established through text messaging and this free service will expand Kenya’s agricultural market and economy.

– Deena Dulgerian

Source: M-Farm

The You Choose campaign ideals reflects the ONE group’s slogan, “Where you are born shouldn’t dictate whether you live or die.”

The You Choose campaign was launched in Johannesburg recently. According to a Nigerian musician named D’banj, who spoke at the event, the path to the eradication of poverty starts in your head, or in your mind. This idea is the driving force behind the new campaign. The next portion of the MDGs, or the UN Millennium Development Goals, is set to take place in 2015. These goals are decided upon by 189 delegates from different countries, and the program itself was adopted by the UN in the year 2000. The “goals” are solutions to global issues such as disease, health, and of course, poverty.

The You Choose campaign sets out to allow those in poverty to help influence the decision-making of which issues to focus on through the new ONE campaign. ONE, co-founded by Bono, is a 3-million member strong grassroots organization that works internationally to help fight poverty.

The You Choose campaign will make available a free SMS, or text messaging, service to all Africans who will be able to send in what they believe should be the UN Millennium Development Goals’ top priorities for the upcoming years. This will allow the UN to know what the people actually want, and not just what the UN thinks they want. This eliminates much of the guesswork in international aid for Africans.

With this initiative, Africans have the opportunity to embrace the positive side of their continent, and to unite as one people, as D’Banj noted in his speech. Other better-known figures supporting the You Choose campaign are Benni McCarthy, HHP, Lira, and Asamoah Gyan.

This project is much anticipated as, for a long time coming, Africans have been given the chance to make their voices heard.

– Corina Balsamo

Source: Sowetan Live
Photo: ONE