AI agriculture pest detection tool from Kenya wins tenth Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation in Nairobi

Africa Science News
FarmerLifeline CEO and founder Esther Wanjiru and Chief Technical Officer Jack Maina assemble a crop pest detection device at their offices in Nairobi, Kenya, on November 6, 2023.

Esther Kimani was named winner of Africa’s biggest engineering prize, the Royal Academy of Engineering’s Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation, in Nairobi on 13 June 2024. 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% while increasing yields by as much as 40%.

Five million smallholder farmers in Kenya lose on average 33% of their crops to pests and diseases. Kimani’s innovation provides real-time alerts within five seconds of an infestation, offering tailored intervention suggestions, and 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 and the nature of the infection or infestation. The device then notifies the farmer via SMS. This alternative to traditional detection methods leases for just $3 per month, which is significantly cheaper than hiring drones or agricultural inspectors.

The annual Africa Prize 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, 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. This momentous occasion showcased the strength of the community united by the Prize.

Esther said: “My parents would lose up to 40% of their crops each farming season, which affected our standard of living. We are empowering smallholder farmers, many women, to increase their income. We aim to scale to one million farmers in five years.”

Malcolm Brinded said: “to further develop the device. This is the largest amount awarded to a winner, in honour of the 10th Anniversary of the Prize. The four finalists delivered their final business pitch to the Academy judges and an in-person audience of approximately 700.

The three runners up who were each awarded KSh 2.5 million to develop their innovations, were:

Eco Tiles, Kevin Maina, Kenya with his environmentally friendly roofing material made from recycled plastic. 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.

La Ruche Health, from Rory Assandey, Côte d’Ivoire won through his innovation which 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.

Then there is Yo-Waste, Martin Tumusiime, Uganda whose work is 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.

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

The 2025 Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation, launched at the 2024 final, is now open for entriesThe Academy is looking for scalable engineering solutions designed to solve local challenges, and individuals and small teams living and working in sub-Saharan Africa are invited to enter. The deadline for entries is 15 October. Visit the ‘How to Apply’ guide on the Africa Prize website.

The Africa Prize presents a unique opportunity to support the brightest minds in tackling the greatest global challenges while improving economic prosperity and sustainable development for Africa through engineering.

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