This was emphasised by various speakers during an awards function for various winners of the 2021 UFAAS Hackathon recently. The competition involved tens of teams that were tasked to develop ICT-based innovations that can improve agriculture extension services.
“We cannot hide away from the changing face of technology but rather we have to adopt them and use them to improve our operations as farmers,” Silim Nahday, the Uganda Forum for Agricultural Advisory Services (UFAAS) executive director, said. He explained that ICT can easily improve access to farming information. The winning teams were awarded with sh2m while the runners-up bagged sh1m each.
At the country level, UFAAS represents African Forum for Agricultural Advisory Services (AFAAS) in Uganda. The AFAAS Continental Hackathon 2021 has 10 countries participating with each conducting her own National-level Hackathon.
The 10 countries are Uganda, Kenya, Malawi, Madagascar, Ethiopia, South Africa, Nigeria, Ghana, Cameroon and Mali. Hackathon winners in each country get a chance to further compete at a continental level and a possibility of having their IT solutions adapted by 10 African countries.
In Uganda, according to Beatrice Luzobe, the UFAAS chief executive officer, the national-level Hackathon called “UFAAS Hackathon 2021” was organised by UFAAS, together with Dostrim Limited – an ICT firm, that provided the technical support in facilitating a virtual hackathon event from October 04 to October 11, with a core goal of “Digitalizing Agricultural Extension and Advisory Services for Effective Service Delivery”.
“For purposes of covering a broader perspective of AEAS, three categories were formed and participants were given the option to select only one category under which to compete or pitch their ICT solutions,” Samuel Grace Muyinda from Dostrim Limited said.
These included; management of AEAS actors’ database and activities; database of CSA techniques, approaches and knowledge; and meteorological and weather information systems coupled with crop calendar. AFAAS also promoted open source concepts among developers in the agriculture sector as a way to speed up growth of the ecosystem of ICT innovations in Africa for improved uptake of climate-smart agricultural technologies and practices.
Muyinda said 40 participants registered to compose a total of 18 teams; 11 teams fully participated on Day 1 and 2 of the Hackathon; 8 teams (comprising of 29 participants) submitted at least a concept note of their solutions/projects; and 5 teams emerged as finalists.
FarmSoko by Team Butterscotch
Muyinda said FarmSoko is a digital platform that enables farmers to conveniently find and book services of agricultural extension and advisory services (AEAS) providers in their common locality. The platform leverages existing USSD mobile telephony technologies and registered AEAS workers’ database to create a network that works together to improve accessibility for farmers to specialised AEA services.
Farmer Graphical Directory Services (FGD)
Price ignorance, inaccessibility to market as farmers only focus on markets close to them and yet this could be affected by surplus in supply, ignorance or inadequate information about climate and soil types which support particular agricultural activities.
FGD Services have designed a graphical directory for farmer and farm services, where farmers represented on the map may have their hands raised; a hand raised implies a farmer has a produce to supply. The farmer details including the type of produce and animal the farmer has is present on the map, as one hovers over a farmer.
AgroAid App and System has been designed in a way to enable users choose language of preference as they navigate through. Languages so far deployed are English, Luganda, Swahili French and Portuguese. For the first time interacting with the system, the user is required to Register with just a phone number and Password. This is to ease usability, especially with rural farmers who may not have an e-mail.
Users are also tasked with choosing the line of agriculture they operate, either crops or animals, and then specify the crops and or animals they deal in. For each animal or crop selected, a farmer is required to feed in how old the crops or animals are. Using the period entered, the AgroAid system is able to provide information on the recommended farming practices, likely diseases and pests. A farmer is able to read in detail about each disease, its causes, how to treat and prevent them. He or she is able to read more farming practices and farming systems.
Auto-Farm Irrigation System focuses on improving water usage through monitored sensor readings used to specific quantities of water needed and supporting produce related decision-making using an online data reporting system for the sensor-captured field data.
The project is focused towards a smart irrigation system for a sustainable practice of agriculture. It relies on three modules as described below;
Smart Crop Calendar
In developing countries, the agricultural sectors lag behind in regard to leveraging technology as an enabler to foster smarter farming and bumper harvests.
This is largely because farmers do not have access to information and also there is a lack of important infrastructure to effect better decision making in the agricultural sector that is based on available evidence aggregated by collected data. Thus making it harder for stakeholders within the sector to make informed decisions. The majority of the people in developing countries are small scale farmers and they lack information about climatic changes, crop calendar, when to irrigate and so on.
Whereas at the national level, there is a lack of accurate data about climatic changes. The agricultural practices by farmers to some extent influence the climatic changes, therefore there is need for continuous collection and monitoring of data from the fields.
Therefore, this project aims primarily to improve data collection by use of various sensors like soil moisture sensors, soil water content and threshold, heat sensors, reduce on-farm resource wastage, to save money, and improve yields using IOT wireless precision irrigation. Secondly, to reduce labour and to increase participation in agriculture.
Andrew Mamawi from Team Butter Scotch, one of the winners, pointed out that such competitions will spur ICT innovations that will help digitise the agricultural sector.