New digital tools to support African farmers created at INSPIRE Hackathons

By Karel Charvat, WirelessInfo and Hana Kubickova, Plan4all

Since 2016, the INSPIRE Hackathon organized by Plan4all has served as a collaborative event for developers, researchers, designers and others interested in open data, volunteered geographic information and citizen observatories. The event brings together specialists from across disciplinary backgrounds to form teams around a problem or idea, and collaboratively co-create unique solutions to key challenges facing Europe and Africa.

Nairobi INSPIRE Hackathon 2019 and Kampala INSPIRE Hackathon 2020, organized in the frame of the IST Africa Conference, addressed some of the key topics identified by the IST-Africa conference, such as agriculture, environmental sustainability, collaborative open innovation and ICT-enabled entrepreneurship. While defining the challenges for both hackathons, challenges associated with the climate were not forgotten either.

At the Nairobi INSPIRE hackathon, the team formed around the topic ‘Climatic services for Africa’ aimed to demonstrate several options of meteorological data exploitation for the needs of African farmers. As there are many options for exploitation, the team focused on two use cases. The first evaluates the suitability of a region for a particular crop type based on climatic data. Kenya as the conference hosting country was selected as the area of interest and maize was selected as the crop.

The second use case leverages weather forecast data to predict the probability of insect pest threat to crops. The idea lies in a calculation of cumulative effective temperatures needed for development of “armyworms” (Spodoptera exempta and Spodoptera frugiperda) to grow. As the effective temperatures are calculated from the forecast data, a risk ratio can be calculated in advance and alerts can be sent to farmers via cell phones when needed.

In 2020, Plan4all followed up on the work done during the Nairobi INSPIRE hackathon, but this time with the INSPIRE hackathon placed in Kampala, the IST Africa 2020 conference venue.

During previous INSPIRE Hackathons, participants worked in addition to Climatic Services for Africa on an Agroclimatic map of a selected region, or on a tool alerting farmers about forecasted severe weather conditions. The team has developed a concept service returning:

  • Growth plan – a time interval for when to start planting to maximize yield
  • Nitrogen plan – a time interval for when to insert nitrogen fertilization to maximize its effect
  • Insect pests alert – alert when a risk of insect pest attack is high
    (Source: https://www.plan4all.eu/2019/04/team-2-progress-report-i/)

The goal of Kampala INSPIRE hackathon climate related challenge was to search for trends in climatic data because future climatic conditions can be inspected and potentially forecasted based on temporal trends in climatic data. The team provided a proof-of-concept scenario in which a user enters coordinates for a location and receives information about several climatic variables (e. g. first fall frost date, annual/seasonal evapotranspiration and precipitation, soil temperature, solar radiation, etc.) and their evolvement over time.

Average number of days with optimal temperatures for C4 crops from 2010-2019.
Average number of days with optimal temperatures for C3 crops from 2010-2019.

At the end of the Kampala INSPIRE Hackathon, the jury members Suchith Anand, Chief Scientist, GODAN; Lydia Mazzi Keyondo, Head of Department, University of Makerere; and Ian Jarvis, Agriculture and GEOGLAM, GEO The challenge that was awarded 3rd place. In addition to exclusively African hackathons, Plan4all organizes at least 2 INSPIRE hackathons every year, while in each hackathon there is at least one challenge dedicated to Africa. In the COVID-19 INSPIRE Hackathon (Autumn 2020) the hackathon participants worked on a challenge dedicated to Blockchain technology or digitation of indigenous knowledge for fostering food security. In the Open Spring INSPIRE hackathon 2021  we continued building the African Community to support SmartFarming in Africa through the SmartAfriHub challenge that deserved 3rd place.

SmartAfriHub Digital Innovation Hub was developed and launched at the Nairobi and Kampala INSPIRE Hackathons. Visit SmartAfriHub and support the knowledge transfer and innovation between the ICT, farming communities and public bodies in Africa.

This blog is part of the GFAR Partners in Action series, celebrating the achievements of our diverse network of partners who are working together to shape a new, sustainable future for agriculture and food. Each month we will be showcasing stories related to a key theme in agri-food research and innovation. The theme for June is ‘Climate change’.  

Join the conversation in the comments below or share this article on social media using #GFARinAction.


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