Maria Rodriguez |
Dakar (EFE).- Digital technologies have become in recent years in Africa a tool to fight against food insecurity and can help the continent to fight hunger that affects some 249 million people.
In Africa, mobile applications are used to report market or harvest prices, satellite images to monitor pastures, and geometric morphometry to detect severe acute malnutrition in children, among other technologies.
“New technologies have a lot to contribute to food security,” Amador Gómez, director of Innovation, Research and Development at Action Against Hunger (ACH), explains to EFE.
“Making the Internet of Things provide useful information to small producers and peasants is incorporating technology to be able to move towards smart agriculture in the face of climate change, in the face of the challenges of continuing to increase food production,” adds Gómez.
ACH has been using satellite images since 1998, which, when crossed with the information obtained in the field, allow herders from Senegal, Mali, Niger and Mauritania to know the reality of the soil and the availability of vegetables.
“This is key information for pastoralists because, depending on the availability of pastures, pastoralist populations move and it is also key to avoiding conflicts between pastoralist and farming communities,” says Gómez.
It is also information that is placed in the hands of the main decision makers and allows them to anticipate and predict “how the cattle may evolve and, therefore, what degree of resistance the populations may have.”
Geometric morphometry to diagnose malnutrition
This organization recently began to use another technology against malnutrition: geometric morphometry, used for years in forensic medicine or security issues.
Through an application on an Android mobile phone, called “SAM Photo”, ACH diagnoses severe acute malnutrition in children without the need to use stadiometers or scales.
Gómez affirms that “the diagnosis with ‘SAM Photo’ is just as reliable as if we weighed the child.”
“This technology has already been published in double-reviewed scientific journals and, therefore, it is no longer an opinion of ACH, it is scientific evidence that exists,” says the director of Innovation of the NGO.
The application was developed in Senegal, its use has been extended to Guatemala and by mid-year it will begin to be applied in India.
Digitization to improve production
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) is also applying digital technologies to improve production and market access for African farmers.
FAO Director-General Qu Dongyu stressed last April the importance of digitization as a “pathway to the new way of life and the new agricultural economy” to transform agri-food systems, eliminate hunger and reduce poverty.
A few years ago, FAO launched one of its flagship projects “1,000 Digital Villages Initiative” in Senegal, a country where, for the moment, it has been developed based on three tools: a mobile application and two online platforms.
“The rains are coming, remember to buy your seeds, preferably certified seeds or your best seeds from the past harvest,” the FAO mobile app tells a farmer in Senegal in the local language.
Called SAIDA (Agricultural Services and Digital Inclusion in Africa), the app sends some 300,000 Senegalese farmers information on production, weather, best agricultural practices, market price developments, and food processing and preservation to prevent losses, among other things. explains to EFE Amadou Fall, digitization expert for the subregional office of West Africa of the FAO.
In addition, an online commerce platform (Senlouma), developed during the covid-19 pandemic to deal with restrictions on the movement of people, allows a hundred farmers’ associations to sell their products online and advertise them on social networks.
Another locally developed platform (e-Tolbi), in which, for now, only about twenty farmers participate, allows satellite images of the fields and an artificial intelligence interpretation of information related to fertilization, the amount of water needed in crops and the diseases that can attack their productions.
With e-Tolbi, “producers receive audio via an automated phone call that allows them to have this information on their phone,” Fall says.
“The farming communities are perfectly familiar with their land, their cultivation methods, but today we are facing new challenges such as climate change,” Gómez emphasizes.
“By adding their traditional knowledge to that information that we provide them through the Internet of Things, they can make better informed decisions (…) in a more intelligent way and, therefore, more for the future,” concludes the ACH expert.