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How can digital technology help transform Africa’s food system?

Simeon Ehui's picture
Also available in: Français 
Photo: Arne Hoel/World Bank
There’s no question that agriculture is critical to Africa’s biggest development goals. It is fundamental for poverty reduction, economic growth and environment sustainability. African food market continues to grow. It is estimated that African food markets will triple to US$1 trillion from its current US$300 billion value. Farming accounts for 60% of total employment in Sub-Saharan Africa—and food system jobs account for even more. In Ethiopia, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia, the food system is projected to add more jobs than the rest of the economy between 2010 and 2025.

And yet, Africa’s agriculture sector is facing serious challenges. Agricultural productivity in Africa lags behind other regions. One in four people in Sub-Saharan Africa are chronically undernourished. Africa’s food system is further strained by rapid population growth and climate change. The food security challenge will only grow as climate change intensifies, threatening crop and livestock production. If no adaptation occurs, production of maize—which is one of Africa’s staple crops—could decline by up to 40% by 2050. Clearly, business as usual approaches to agriculture in Africa aren’t fit for transforming the sector to meet its full potential.

Digital technology could be part of the solution. But how can digital technology help transform Africa’s food system?

It’s instructive to look at startups, which are an emerging force in Africa’s agriculture sector.

Digital innovation brings development and humanitarian work closer together

Priya Chopra's picture
Photo: UNMISS/Flickr
Humanitarian and development efforts serve two distinct and complementary objectives. Humanitarian work focuses on responding to emergency situations in the immediate aftermath of a crisis. Development, on the other hand, takes a longer-term approach that seeks to address the social and economic aspects of crises, especially as they become protracted.

Following milestones such as the World Humanitarian Summit, the momentum is strong for humanitarian and development communities to work together in complementary ways—not in sequence—to bridge the humanitarian-development divide. Development institutions are engaging much earlier than in the past, emphasizing the need to focus more on prevention and building resilience where they can play an active role.

Thanks to Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), we now have new ways of bridging the divide and integrating these two efforts. First, ICT platforms can bring development partners together to analyze, design, and track progress in a more unified and efficient way. They also offer an integrated system where multiple communication channels can operate at the same time. As a result, the notion of “continuous” development, whereby development experts pick up the work where humanitarian agencies left off, is progressively giving way to “contiguous” development, which offers humanitarian and development teams a chance to work more closely together.

Using ICTs to Map the Future of Humanitarian Aid (part 1)

Dana Rawls's picture
Haiti map after the 2010 earthquake. Over 450 OpenStreetMap volunteers from an estimated 29 countries digitized roads, landmarks and buildings to assist with disaster response and reconstruction. OpenStreetMap/ITO World

The word “disruption” is frequently used to describe technology’s impact on every facet of human existence, including how people travel, learn, and even speak.

Now a growing cadre of digital humanitarians and technology enthusiasts are applying this disruption to the way humanitarian aid and disaster response are administered and monitored.

Humanitarian, or crisis, mapping refers to the real-time gathering and analysis of data during a crisis. Mapping projects allows people directly affected by humanitarian crises or physically located on the other side of the world to contribute information utilizing ICTs as diverse as mobile and web-based applications, aggregated data from social media, aerial and satellite imagery, and geospatial platforms such as geographic information systems (GIS).

Electricity and the internet: two markets, one big opportunity

Anna Lerner's picture
The markets for rural energy access and internet connectivity are ripe for disruption – and increasingly, we’re seeing benefit from combining the offerings.
 
Traditionally, power and broadband industries have been dominated by large incumbent operators, often involving a state-owned enterprise. Today, new business models are emerging, breaking market barriers to jointly provide energy access and broadband connectivity to consumers.
 
As highlighted in the World Development Report 2016, access to internet has the potential to boost growth, expand economic opportunities, and improve service delivery. The digital economy is growing at 10% a year—significantly faster than the global economy as a whole. Growth in the digital economy is even higher in developing markets: 15 to 25% per year (Boston Consulting Group).
 
To make sure everyone benefits, coverage needs to be extended to the roughly four billion people that still lack access to the internet. In a testing phase, Facebook has experimented with flying drones and Google has released balloons to provide internet to remote populations.
 
But as cool as they might sound, these innovations do nothing for the one billion people who still live off the grid… and don’t have access to the electricity you need to use the internet in the first place! The findings of the Internet Inclusion Summit panel which the World Bank joined recently put this nicely: “without electricity, internet is only a black hole”.
 
That’s why efforts to expand electricity and broadband access should go hand in hand: close coordination between the energy and ICT sectors is probably one of the most efficient and sensible ways of making sure rural populations in low-income countries can reap the benefits of digital development. This thinking is also reflected in a new generation of disruptive telecom infrastructure projects.

From Gigabytes to Megawatts: Open Energy Data Assessments for Accra and Nairobi

Anna Lerner's picture
Doing homework at night using power generated by human movement during recess earlier in the day.
This play-powered light is offered by Empower Playgrounds.  (http://www.empowerplaygrounds.org/

A new assessment of energy use in  Nairobi and Accra shows that measuring and sharing data would improve life for people in both capitals by increasing energy access and  efficiency. 
 
The key is access to information. Releasing energy information such as data on power networks, energy usage and on the potential to switch to renewables could mean more efficient development and improved services for consumers.  Access to data could bring many positive changes. It could speed up private sector and civil society engagements in the energy sector. For example, wind power companies could benefit from digital power network and wind resource data to find new markets. Or NGOs providing solar lamps for students could better target their operations by getting access to maps of off-grid communities and schools. 
 
When I started working on energy access and biomass in Mozambique in 2007, the concept of “open data” wasn’t even  on my radar.  But the  practical implications of not having that information was an everyday frustration.  My colleagues in the Ministry of New and Renewable Energies and  I would spent days searching for numbers we needed on basic trends, like key information on charcoal prices,  with little success. For urgent needs,  we would spend considerable amounts of time visiting line-ministries and other partners to see if we could pool our talents to come up with somewhat accurate data.  And this was for truly basic information, for a picture, say, of  biomass consumption in Sofala province, or a number for improved cookstoves in use across Mozambique. Back then, we couldn’t even imagine a national online portal that would publish all our missing data points in an easily accessible format. But the high cost of data gaps were apparent even then.
 

Can we shift waste to value through 3D printing in Tanzania?

Cecilia Paradi-Guilford's picture
A waste collection site in Dar es Salaam, 
Tanzania. Photo: Cecilia Paradi-Guilford
Plastic waste, in particular PET, which is typically found in soda bottles, is becoming abundant in African cities. In Dar es Salaam, one of the most rapidly urbanizing cities in Africa, BORDA found that about 400 tons of plastic waste per day remains uncollected or unrecycled.  Although about 98 percent of the solid waste generated per day can be recycled or composted, 90 percent is disposed in dumpsites.
 
At the same time, the recycling industry has started to grow because of new initiatives, community organizations and private companies. There are a few organizations that repurpose waste into arts and crafts, tools or apply it as a source of energy – such as WasteDar. However, the majority collect or purchase plastic waste from collectors, primarily with a view to export, rather than recycle or reuse locally.
 
Socially and environmentally, waste management is one of the biggest challenges for an increasingly urbanized world. Waste pickers can earn as little as US$1-2 a day in dangerous conditions with little opportunity for advancement. They make up some of the most disadvantaged communities living in deep poverty.

Through a new market for sorted waste materials, these communities may access higher income generation opportunities in a sustainable manner. This presents an opportunity to explore turning this waste into value more close to home.

Flexibility, opportunity and inclusion through online outsourcing jobs

Cecilia Paradi-Guilford's picture
What is online outsourcing, and how could countries leverage it to create new jobs for youth and women? Those are questions we will help answer as part of an upcoming report and toolkit.

The World Bank, in collaboration with our partners at the Rockefeller Foundation, recently met with government agencies and other key stakeholders, as well as the online work community in Kenya and Nigeria, to discuss these issues. Online workers from these countries also presented their stories, including the highly inspirational story of Elizabeth, a retiree who was able to take in an orphan and provide for her schooling, as well as afford a lifestyle upgrade because of her online outsourcing work.
 
Elizabeth supports her
family through online work.

Elizabeth, 55, originally worked as a stenographer. Her husband died in 2003, and she is the sole breadwinner for three of her own children and one other orphan who she has informally adopted. She works online on writing platforms, and is currently being on- boarded to start work with CloudFactory. At the moment, she earns between US$50–80 per week working online; this is her the sole source of income, from which she pays her family’s rent, living expenses and short-term loans.

“I lost my husband in 2003, so I am the mother and the father," Elizabeth says. "I am self-sufficient. Online work does not confine me to an 8-5 time frame. I can work at my convenience, and I can manage my own home while I work.”

Online outsourcing (OO) is providing this kind of flexibilty and earning potential to millions of people around the world. OO generally refers to the contracting of third-party workers and providers (often overseas) to supply services or perform tasks via Internet-based marketplaces or platforms. Popular platforms include Elance-oDesk (now known as Upwork), Freelancer.com, CrowdFlower and Amazon Mechnical Turk. The industry’s global market size is projected to grow to US$15-25 billion by the year 2020, and could employ at least 30 million active workers from all over the world.

Online outsourcing is creating opportunities for job seekers and job creators

Toks Fayomi's picture
Meet  Joan, a 24-year-old online outsourcing entrepreneur in Kenya. Joan started working online when she was 21 and still in university. Today, she has her own business, employs five people and earns approximately US$800 per month after paying her staff.
 
Joan and many others are profiled in a new study on online outsourcing (OO), entitled “Leveraging the Global Opportunity in Online Outsourcing,” which will be published in late March 2015.

The study, developed by the World Bank in partnership with the Rockefeller Foundation’s Digital Jobs Africa Initiative, is the first publication to summarize and analyze global experiences in OO. It provides a better understanding of OO’s potential impact on human capital and employment, as well as explores possible ways that governments can improve their competitiveness in the OO market. The study includes case studies from Nigeria and Kenya, and an online toolkit to assess country competitiveness.

Negawatt Challenge tackles urban energy efficiency

Anna Lerner's picture
The challenge gets underway at Nairobi's
iHub. Photo: Anna Lerner/World Bank
The Negawatt Challenge is is an open-innovation competition that will leverage a variety of cities’ rich ecosystems of innovative entrepreneurs and technology hubs to surface software, hardware and new business solutions. Together, these components – and the innovators themselves – are capable of transforming these cities into more sustainable places.
 
Nairobi (Kenya), Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), Accra (Ghana), and Dar es Salaam (Tanzania) are participating in this year’s competition.
 
Cities are the engines of growth
People congregate in cities to share ideas, create businesses and build better lives. Urban centers have always been the hearts of economies, driving growth and creating jobs. But cities also strain under the burden, their transport and utility arteries often overloaded with the pressure of supporting rapid urbanization and development. While only around 30 percent of Kenyans have access to electricity, around 60 percent of all electricity is consumed in the country’s capital, Nairobi.
 
As a result, access to energy can be both costly and unreliable. In many fast-growing cities, the demand for energy outstrips both total supply and the capacity of the grid to deliver that energy to businesses and households. Blackouts are a typical result and they are costly and dangerous. Energy generation is also often very inefficient. As such, energy efficiency holds a big opportunity for reducing wasted energy resources, freeing up financial resources for private and public actors, and reducing the carbon footprints of the mentioned cities.

Can urban innovation ecosystems be developed with little broadband infrastructure?

Victor Mulas's picture
We are witnesses to the surge of tech startup ecosystems in cities around the world, in both developed and developing countries.

In my previous blog post, I showed this trend and the studies that confirm it. Among the questions we are researching to map urban innovation ecosystems is whether there is a minimum set of requirements for these ecosystems to emerge — for example, in relation to infrastructure or the population's technical skills. What we are encountering is that, although you need a minimum level of infrastructure (e.g., at least some broadband connectivity and mobile phone networks), this level is much lower than many people expect. 

A city does not need to have 4G mobile broadband or widespread fiber-optic fixed broadband widespread. It is enough to have broadband connection in some key points (particularly hubs and collaboration spaces) and basic mobile phone coverage and use (such as 2G mobile phone service). A similar conclusion is applicable to the skill level of the population. The results of the study of New York tech ecosystem shows that almost half of the employment created by the ecosystem does not require a bachelor’s degree.

In this blog post, I present the case of Nairobi and the tech start-up ecosystems emerging in Africa. I'll also explore how these ecosystems can not only surge, but also compete internationally despite having limited broadband connectivity (both mobile and fixed). 
 
Map of Accelerators and Collaboration Spaces in Nairobi. Source: Manske, Julia. 2014. Innovations Out of Africa. The Emergence, Challenges and Potential of the Kenyan Tech Ecosystem.

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