Friday, December 9, 2011

Farmerline wins third prize in the West Africa Climate Challenge!

This year's Apps4Africa Challenge focuses on climate change. Across 15 countries in West, East, Central and Southern Africa, the challenge is being organised as an avenue for local innovators, entrepreneurs, NGOs, and government officials to brainstorm, identify and discuss approaches to solving climate problems in Africa. There will then be the regional competitions where innovators are to come up with innovative apps that can help tackle climate change. All these discussion points are intended to coincide with the ongoing debates by world leaders at the 17th United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP17) confer­ence in Durban, South Africa.

I attended the brainstorming session in Accra and it could not have happened at a better time in Ghana, when the capital had just witnessed devastating floods which had left about nine people dead, destroyed property worth millions of Cedis, and caused a cholera outbreak. Addressing the participants, the Accra Mayor bemoaned the lack of responsibility of people on waste disposal. He cited instances where people heap piles of domestic waste in containers and polythene bags and wait for rains so they can throw them in. Others have turned open gutters into waste disposal sites. 

At the session, there were a lot of interesting ideas and suggestions that came up - from traffic control apps, own a tree campaign, flood alert apps, to on-the-spot reporting of violators of environmental laws. 

Announced recently at COP17, the West African challenge was won by HospitalManager (Nigeria), a web-based application that helps hospitals and health organizations prepare for disasters such as floods and storms. The second prize went to Eco-fund Forum (Senegal), a web-based community organizer and geo-localized data exchange tool to help individuals and communities working on sustainable resource management throughout Africa to share their own experiences on best practices. 

The third price of $3000 went to Farmerline (Ghana), a mobile and web-based system that furnishes farmers and investors with relevant agricultural information to improve productivity and increase income. According to Alloysius Attah and Emmanuel Owusu Addai, the brains behind Farmerline, lack of information about weather patterns and about which crops grow best in a changing climate hurts rural farmers’ yields. Cell phone use is growing rapidly throughout Ghana, including in rural areas. This mobile tool can help farmers in Ghana to get information about agricultural best practices down to the farm level, including choosing crops best suited for their specific location, and how to prepare for changes in weather patterns (including dry spells, changes in seasonal onset, and extreme events).

Having being in the agric industry for a while now, I know how this is going to be a challenging task and I am happy there is going to be business and technical support for the winners. 

But come to think of this, whenever "something" is advancing we drift towards that in search of solutions for anything. It was the post, telephone, radio, TV, escalated to web and now we are looking for mobile solutions to anything. I definitely root for using modern approaches to solving current problems and I am all for it and will do anything for it. But while we do that there is a fundamental constant, especially for this climate issue: our attitudes. Men in tie drink water and drop the sachets on the streets, governments implement policies that do not take the environment into consideration. If our attitudes do not change, we have a long way to go.

So I say the first solution to climate change is attitude change at all levels. What's your take?