There's no app for that...
Everyone knows the old story about how if you give someone a fish, you feed them for a day, while if you teach them to fish, they feed themselves over a lifetime. But there's a new wrinkle to the story. Develop an app for fishing, and you give people the power to make fishing a ladder out of poverty and food insecurity.
That was the idea behind Youth-enabled Fish Farming AgriHack (YEFFA), an agri-hackathon that brought together young people from various backgrounds – engineering, marketing, agriculture, public administration, and health – across four west African cities in an intensive few days of constructive ferment.
A second project winner also proposed a hackathon, but while YEFFA focussed on aquaculture, AgriHack Talent–Togo was pushing youth to come up with apps to advance agriculture generally in Togo.
AgriHacks are a slightly sneaky way of getting young people interested in food and farming. As Wole Odetayo, Executive Head of the Wennovation Hub in Ibadan and coordinator of YEFFA, explains:
"The world has drifted towards technology and so the youths don't want their hands dirty and the AgriHack programme is the perfect solution. Calling youths out of their homes to develop the next big idea to make agriculture easy and more rewarding."
Fishy business in three countries
In Cotonou, Ibadan, Lomé and Warri, the YEFFA project partnered with EtriLabs, Wennovation Hub, Woelab and PIND, who hosted the hackathons in their respective cities. About 50 teams, preselected on the basis of their initial proposals, learned first some of the business skills essential to a thriving enterprise. Successful agri-entrepreneurs shared their stories with participants, taking the workshop into the realm of the personal and practical as well as the theoretical.
Five top teams from each of the four innovation labs then visited fish farms to discover first hand some of the difficulties faced at every point in the value chain.
"It was a long day, full of questions and answers," said Wole Odetayo. "As we hoped, the teams were able to clarify their thoughts about the solutions they intended to develop."
Those potential solutions are diverse and far-reaching. An e-commerce platform for buying fish and allied products is a conventional idea that could nevertheless have large impacts on fish farmers. A hatchery system to separate eggs from fry could reduce spoilage from unviable eggs and increase fry production in a limited space. Other apps proposed include one to map all the fish farmers in an area, one to make bulk deliveries easier, one to mentor new entrants to fish farming and an online infobank of technical and market information. Synergies suggest themselves.
With some of their questions answered, the teams headed back to the city for a 48-hour hackathon during which they would bring their ideas to life, mentored by experienced developers. At the end of it all, there was a pitch to a jury and a live demo. The jury then selected three winning teams in each city cluster, who will get further support to develop their ideas.
One of the initial impacts of the project is that participants now feel part of the innovation community. "They are free to walk in any time to seek support," said Wole Odetayo, looking forward to great things from these newly-enthused agri-entrepreneurs.
Technologies for Togo
ICT entrepreneurs in Togo already enjoy the support of the Association Jeunesse Technologie Développement (JTDEV) and its start-up incubator Ecohub. CTA support enabled JTDEV to launch AgriHack Talent–Togo specifically to promote ICT innovations for agriculture.
"After we promoted the competition to schools and universities, we ended up with 15 teams of young people, ten of which entered the final competition," said Ephrem Kotoumna, Coordinator of JTDEV.
As with the fish farming AgriHack, the teams received basic briefings on successful start-ups before the hackathon itself, covering such things as business models, creativity, how to pitch to investors and the like.
Then it was into 24 hours of non-stop work as the teams honed their ideas, polished up their working demonstrations and formulated their pitch.
In the end, the judges selected their top three teams, each of which will get financial and mentoring support to develop their ideas.
• Agrisoft wants to make it easier for farmers to borrow equipment they need and lend equipment they're not currently using. As currently envisaged, farmers will need only a mobile phone to make a deal, although there's scope to involve other actors in the agri-food value chain, such as processors, co-operatives and so on. And equipment, currently idle, will boost the incomes of borrowers and lenders alike.
• Soja Decision, as its name suggests, aims to help everyone involved in soybean production, processing and distribution. The idea is to facilitate the exchange of information about, for example, who is growing soybeans, which varieties are best, where production is concentrated and other useful information. This, the team hopes, will reduce the costs of production and improve the livelihoods of everyone in the value chain.
• Cajou App is intended to help growers of cashew nuts, who currently produce about 10,000 t of cashews a year in Togo. The sector holds great promise as more nuts are processed locally and as farmers improve the quality of their product. Cajou App is intended to be a personal assistant that can offer a cashew grower tailored advice about all aspects of production, processing and distribution.
Incubation for these three teams is on-going.
|Through its AgriHack activities, CTA also aims to encourage ICT incubation centres to favour the development of innovations supporting food security. Initial results in terms of raising awareness amongst young innovators to engage in the agrifood sector, capacity building and promotion of the entrepreneurship spirit have already been achieved. Specific impacts relating to offering effective services that will transform the agricultural sector and job opportunities will be captured eventually, as in East Africa. We are planning new activities to accelerate these impacts such as the Pitch AgriHack program, to be launched soon, which will support existing e-agriculture teams and start-ups.|
Find out more
Read another story about Agri-entrepreneurship support for youth in Africa, Caribbean and Pacific countries
Visit the West Africa AgriHack website
Learn more about the launch of the YEFFA project