Africa Wired

Simple invention brokers peace between humans and wildlife
From Africa Renewal: 
page 28
Richard Turere talks about his invention at the Technology, Entertainment, Design (TED) 2013 conference in California. TED/James Duncan Davidson

Five flashlight bulbs, an old car battery and a solar panel were the only tools 11-year-old Richard Turere used to put together a system of lights that keeps his family’s cattle safe from lions. His simple invention costs less than $10 and it’s easy to install and maintain. It also works to prevent elephants from trampling people’s crops.

The light bulbs are wired to a car battery charged with a solar panel. The lights flash in sequence, scaring off the hungry lions. The BBC quotes Dr. Charles Musyoki, senior scientist at the Kenya Wildlife Service, describing the system as “ingenious.” “Lions are not afraid of a steady light,” Dr. Musyoki remarks, “but flickering lights from multiple sources confuse them” and therefore discourage them from approaching.

Because his family lives right behind the Nairobi National Park, lions often lurk in Richard’s village to hunt prey. After the family bull was killed, he earnestly began looking for a way to outsmart them. Richard’s breakthrough came while he was herding cattle back to their shed. He saw a lion retreat in the dark when he shone his flashlight.

Conflicts between humans and wildlife in Kenya are frequent. It’s estimated that Kenya loses more than 100 lions every year, often to “mob justice” from locals angered by the loss of their livestock, according to The Economist. The Kenya Wildlife Service reports that such conflicts cost the government huge amounts of money as, for example, over $800,000 was paid in compensation fees for the affected people in 2011 alone. On the flip side, the state makes huge profits from wildlife tourism, leading the locals to believe the animals are more valued than they are.

Richard’s invention has earned him nicknames like “the solar lion tamer” or the “Maasai lion whisperer,” a reference to his descent from the Maasai of Kitengela savannah in Kenya. Cattle are important to the Maasai culture and their way of life. Cows are a form of currency for the seminomadic and mainly pastoral people of south Kenya and parts of Tanzania. 

Richard has installed the “lion lights” in his neighbourhood and the attacks are dwindling. His invention is a simple but innovative way to manage human-wildlife conflict. The invention helped him “make peace with lions,” he says. 

 

New technology helps small farmers attract ‘big’ business

By Geoffrey Kamadi  

Small-scale farmers in Kenya can now store and manage data on the pesticide content in their crops before exporting them, thanks to a cloud-based mobile platform that keeps track of pesticide residues in produce. Farmforce software, an initiative of the Swiss-based Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture, will phase out time-consuming manual farm record-keeping and replace it with an online version that can be accessed by farmers freely via a mobile phone, according to Business Daily Africa of Kenya. 

The Syngenta Foundation, backed by the Swiss government, developed the $2 million platform in 2011 with the help of a team based in Switzerland and a support team in Kenya.  

Furthermore, the technology is not restricted to horticulture; it can be used for all types of crops.

Already countries such as Ghana, Guatemala, Indonesia, Nigeria and Zimbabwe have expressed interest in the service. It’s particularly useful where quality standards and traceability requirements for formal markets are an issue.

With 5 million farmers, including small subsistence growers and large industrial agriculturalists, Kenya has been a hotbed of technological innovations for the agrarian community, according to the 2011 World Bank’s e-sourcebook ICT in Agriculture

Uganda is also using a cloud-based mobile platform to combine agricultural information and financial services designed for smallholder farmers, reports the Christian Science Monitor. For example, farmers can order and pay for seeds and fertilizers with their mobile phones, and also collect payment for their produce using the same service. 

 

Solutions to prevent and cure malaria exist but are out of reach for much of the population in Africa.  Check-in Films/Faso Soap

Technology meets health and spurs invention

By Pavithra Rao

Young African entrepreneurs are taking giant steps forward in addressing some of the continent’s most pressing health issues. Arthur Zang, a 24-year-old Cameroonian engineer, has developed a digital medical tablet, called Cardiopad, equipped with a touch screen that performs electrocardiogram (ECG) tests to determine the heart’s activity and diagnose ailments. 

The Cardiopad comes in handy, as the World Health Organization reports that heart diseases in Africa are increasing. With a population of more than 20 million, Cameroon has fewer than 40 cardiologists in the country, making the portable invention all the more useful, says Mr. Zang. Most of the cardiologists are based in urban centres, making access difficult for patients in rural areas.  

The Cardiopad eliminates the need to travel long distances to see a cardiologist, as the device can work without electricity. It uses a battery that can last for about seven hours, Mr. Zang explains, which is crucial, since most of rural Cameroon has no access to electricity.  

Currently the Cardiopad sells for between $2,000 and $3,000, less than most conventional electrocardiograph machines. With a reliability rate of 97.5%, according to the inventor, it might just be a lifesaving device for heart patients in Cameroon.

Meanwhile, two U.S.-based African students, Moctar Dembélé from Burkina Faso and Gérard Niyondiko from Burundi, have won an award worth $25,000 from the University of California at Berkeley for inventing a soap capable of repelling mosquitoes, which can spread malaria. They are the first Africans to win the Global Social Venture Competition held by the university, and hope to invest the money in producing the soap, which they have named Faso. 

Faso Soap is made completely out of natural ingredients that are available in Africa, including karate citronella, essential oil of lemongrass, shea butter and a “secret ingredient” that the inventors claim helps to kill mosquito larvae. 

According to the World Health Organization, more than 600,000 deaths in 2010 were caused by malaria, with over 90% of them occurring in Africa. Mr. Dembélé, who is also the general manager for Faso Soap, says, “We want a simple solution, because everyone uses soaps, even in the very poor communities.” His partner, Mr. Niyondiko, anticipates selling the soap for $0.59 a bar.

 

Erica Kochi and Christopher Fabian, creators of RapidSMS, at UNICEF headquarters in New York. UNICEF/ Susan Markisz

UNICEF’s RapidSMS transforms lives

When in 2009 Christopher Fabian and Erica Kochi, two employees of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), developed RapidSMS, a platform for data gathering and group communication using the short messaging system (SMS) on mobile phones, their aim was simply to tackle the problem of slow data transmission within the food security surveillance system in Malawi. Four years later, RapidSMS is touching the lives of millions in many African countries, helping to record births and monitor distribution of mosquito nets in Nigeria, monitor neonatal health in Zambia and track food distribution in the Horn of Africa, among other uses. 

Mr. Fabian and Ms. Kochi are now global celebrities. U.S.-based Time magazine included them on its list of 100 most influential people in the world in 2013. “I am proud to be their colleague. This is a great recognition of how the 21st century ideas and tools can transform ordinary people’s lives in an extraordinary way,” says UNICEF’s executive director Anthony Lake. 

RapidSMS is a simple tool that helps frontline workers send data through SMS texts to a secure website. Decision-makers—and the public—can monitor such data in real time and determine progress in projects even in remote communities. Where necessary, they can also intervene promptly. 

Nigeria, where RapidSMS was deployed in January 2011, registered about 7 million new births by the end of 2012. Birth registrars in 686 local government areas in 33 of its 36 states delivered data through SMS texts to a Internet-based dashboard.  Before 2011, Nigeria could record only half of the country’s 6 million births per year, says UNICEF on its website, adding, “Without a birth certificate, a child is much less likely to get educated, be vaccinated or receive health services.” 

RapidSMS’s built-in feedback loop, which provides quick feedback to health workers, for example, on “the nutritional diagnosis of each child based on the data sent in,” makes it an important tool. It helps workers to respond to the needs of each child. Pregnant women in Rwanda and children living with HIV in Zambia consider such quick information about their medical needs a great help. 

Not long ago, health workers in Nigeria used to manually record birth information such as weight, upper-arm circumference and height, which they then passed on to their headquarters. There the information was entered manually into a database before it was analyzed. RapidSMS has changed all that, as it provides “access to accurate, timely and actionable information,” says UNICEF.

To reach millions, project managers in the coming years are likely to rely increasingly on mobile phones’ SMS texts. This is because Africa currently has more than 650 million mobile phone users, according to the World Bank. In 1998 the figure was about 2 million. Most public workers have a mobile phone today, notes UNICEF. 

Although RapidSMS provides useful real-time information, Merick Schaefer, a World Bank innovation specialist, says that “technology is only one element of innovation. The question is, can institutional practices keep pace?” Mr. Schaefer wants people to adjust the way they work to take advantage of real-time data. An innovation such as RapidSMS, combined with technology-focused practices, can make a huge impact on people’s lives.