Kenyans shine in 2024 Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation finalists revealed

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 and Kevin Maina from Kenya are among the finalists for 2024 Africa Prize for AI and machine learning.

From an initial shortlist of 16 innovators creating sustainable, scalable engineering solutions on the continent, four finalists have been selected to present their innovations to the judges in front of both a live and online audience. Registration for this event is now open.

Esther made to the list through her early crop pest and disease detection device. The 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.

On the other hand, Kevin’s innovation involves 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.

In 2024, the four finalists have developed solutions including an environmentally-friendly roofing material made from recycled plastic, a smart healthcare platform providing direct access to vital healthcare information via WhatsApp, a location-based mobile app connecting customers to independent agents for on-demand rubbish collection and disposal, and a solar-powered tool using AI and machine learning-enabled cameras to detect and identify agricultural pests and diseases.

These 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.

This year’s winner will receive a prize of £50,000, with the other three finalists receiving £15,000 each. The prize is double the amount of previous years in recognition of the Africa Prize’s ten-year anniversary. The other shortlisted innovators will also be given one minute each to present their innovations, and an audience poll will select one of them to receive an award of £5,000.

This prize, the ‘One to Watch’, is awarded in honour of an alumnus of the Africa Prize who passed away, Ghanaian Martin Bruce, co-founder of Young at Heart. It is awarded to a member of the shortlist who the audience identifies as one to watch in the future. The awards form part of the Royal Academy of Engineering’s investment of over £1 million to African innovators through grants, prizes and accelerator programme places during the 10th anniversary year of the Africa Prize.

The 2024 Africa Prize finalists were selected from a shortlist of innovators who are applying engineering to solve problems faced by their communities. The finalist selection took place following an eight-month training and mentoring programme, during which experts provided tailored, one-on-one support designed to accelerate and strengthen the businesses of each member of the shortlist. Training covered business plans, scaling, recruitment, IP protection, sector-specific engineering mentoring, communication, financing and commercialisation.

The Royal Academy of Engineering will host the final of the 10th Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation, the continent’s largest engineering prize, on 13 June 2024 in Nairobi, Kenya.

Other Finalists include Rory Assandey, Côte d’Ivoire, Martin Tumusiime, Uganda

Local supporters, industry peers, engineering and entrepreneurial enthusiasts, innovation hubs, investors, as well as media, are encouraged to register to attend the Africa Prize final free of charge in person or online here. An online exhibition showcasing the Africa Prize 2024 shortlist can be viewed here. The final will be held at the Mövenpick Hotel & Residences, Nairobi, where approximately 100 Africa Prize alumni from 20 countries will also attend to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Africa Prize.

View a full set of photographs here.

The Africa Prize runs annually and is designed to bring together individual innovators changing their communities, to form a network that can transform a continent. The 2025 Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation will be open for entries on 13 June 2024. Individuals and small teams living and working in sub-Saharan Africa with a scalable engineering innovation to solve a local challenge are invited to enter. Visit the ‘How to Apply’ guide on the Africa Prize website.

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