Kenya's Kimani beats Uganda to Shs230m Africa innovation prize

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Kenya's Kimani beats Uganda to Shs230m Africa innovation prize
Esther Kimani topped the Africa Prize for Innovation

Ms Kimani became the third woman and second Kenyan - after Norah Magero - to win the coveted prize for innovation at its 10th award where the Royal Academy of Engineering gave out its biggest prize yet.

INNOVATION | Esther Kimani was named winner of Africa’s biggest engineering prize, the Royal Academy of Engineering’s Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation, after beating Uganda's Martin Tumusiime and two others to the £50,000 (about Shs235 million) prize.

But Mr Tumusiime, of Yo-Waste - app that allows people to schedule a domestic waste pickup in Kampala at the tap of their smartphone - left the June 13 award ceremony in Nairobi Shs70 million richer after the three runners-up were each awarded KShs2.5 million.

Ms Kimani became the third woman and second Kenyan - after Norah Magero - to win the coveted prize for innovation at its 10th award where the Royal Academy of Engineering gave out its biggest prize yet.

Her early crop pest and disease detection device was selected as the winning innovation for its ability to swiftly detect and identify agricultural pests and diseases, reducing crop losses for smallholder farmers by up to 30 percent while increasing yields by as much as 40 percent.

Ms Kimani said her parents would lose up to 40 percent of their crops each farming season, which affected our standard of living.

"We are empowering smallholder farmers, many of whom are women, to increase their income. We aim to scale to one million farmers in the next five years,” she said.

Five million smallholder farmers in Kenya lose on average 33 percent of their crops to pests and diseases.

Ms Kimani's innovation not only provides real-time alerts within five seconds of an infestation, offering tailored intervention suggestions, but also alerts government agricultural officers to the presence of diseases or pests, contributing to broader agricultural management efforts.

The solar-powered tool uses computer vision algorithms and advanced machine learning to detect and identify crop pests, pathogens or diseases, as well as the nature of the infection or infestation.

The device then notifies the farmer via SMS. This affordable alternative to traditional detection methods leases for just $3 per month, significantly cheaper than hiring drones or agricultural inspectors.

Chair of judges Malcolm Brinded said the awards form part of the Royal Academy of Engineering’s investment of over £1 million to African innovators through grants, prizes and accelerator programmes during the tenth anniversary year of the Africa Prize.

The annual Africa Prize was founded by the Royal Academy of Engineering in 2014 to support innovators developing sustainable and scalable engineering solutions to local challenges in Africa.

This year has seen the Africa Prize alumni community grow to almost 150 entrepreneurs from 23 countries , who together have generated more than 28,000 jobs and benefitted more than 10 million people through their innovative products and services.

To celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Prize, the Royal Academy of Engineering hosted the Africa Prize Alumni Reunion, bringing together 100 innovators from the past decade for a three-day programme ahead of the final ceremony.

The occasion showcased the strength of the community united by the Prize.

Mr Tumusiime was hoping to become the third Ugandan to cash in and grow their innovative ideas to communities they serve.

The other two finists were Kenyan Kevin Maina and Rory Assandey from Ivory Coast.

The Royal Academy of Engineering said the innovations directly address the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, including zero hunger, good health and wellbeing, sustainable cities and communities, reduced inequalities and climate action.

2024 Finalists:

Early Crop Pest and Disease Detection Device, Esther Kimani, Kenya (Winner):

• A solar-powered tool utilising AI and machine learning-enabled cameras to swiftly detect and identify agricultural pests and diseases, reducing crop losses for smallholder farmers by up to 30% while increasing yields by as much as 40%.

• Kimani's innovation not only provides real-time alerts within five seconds of an infestation, offering tailored intervention suggestions, but also alerts government agricultural officers to the presence of diseases or pests, contributing to broader agricultural management efforts.

• This affordable alternative to traditional detection methods leases for just $3 per month, significantly cheaper than hiring drones or agricultural inspectors, and also provides valuable data for policymakers through an agricultural live-tracking data dashboard.

Yo-Waste, Martin Tumusiime, Uganda:

• Addressing Uganda's mounting waste crisis, Yo-Waste is a location-based mobile application that connects homes and businesses to independent agents for efficient on-demand rubbish collection and disposal.

• The technology uses routing and scheduling algorithms to optimise waste collection routes, which reduces costs and improves efficiency. It has GPS location technology to pinpoint collection points, which overcomes the challenge of people not having official addresses in informal residential areas.

• Yo-Waste currently serves over 1,500 customers including homes, businesses, and waste collection agents, with a goal to reach 20,000 users by 2026.

• With only 40 percent of waste disposed of properly in Africa, Yo-Waste's innovative approach tackles environmental pollution and health hazards caused by open dumpsites.

Eco Tiles, Kevin Maina, Kenya:

• An environmentally friendly roofing material made from recycled plastic. Stronger and lighter than clay or concrete tiles, the innovation is a dual solution to plastic pollution and high building costs.

• Kevin and his team work with 500 informal waste collectors who provide plastics, including high-density polymers and lighter polyethene.

• The innovative manufacturing process involves a custom-made extrusion machine that blends different plastics at varying temperatures, eliminating the need for energy-intensive processes like kiln-burning and reducing carbon emissions. The tiles are enhanced with UV stabilisation chemicals and construction sand to improve durability and sturdiness.

• With a production rate of 1,500 tiles daily, each tile is pressed in a minute. Half a million Eco Tiles have been used to date in the construction of 348 houses.

La Ruche Health, Rory Assandey, Côte d'Ivoire:

• La Ruche Health connects communities to vital health information, advice, and services through “Kiko”, an AI chatbot tool available on WhatsApp and mobile apps, and a digital backend solution to streamline documentation, billing, and data sharing for practitioners.

• Recognising the fragmented healthcare network in Côte d'Ivoire, La Ruche Health addresses accessibility barriers for the 43 percent of the population with limited literacy skills.

• Kiko serves as the patient’s initial point of contact, offering personalised screening and facilitating appointments with qualified healthcare professionals.

• By May 2024, the AI has facilitated over 150,000 user interactions and 189 in-home and teleconsultation appointments, processing over $18,000 in medical billings, illustrating its effectiveness and scalability.

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