Tech and Solutions – BORGEN http://www.borgenmagazine.com Humanity, Politics & You Wed, 15 Aug 2018 14:30:50 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.8 How Investment in Renewable Energy Can Reduce Poverty in Zambia http://www.borgenmagazine.com/poverty-in-zambia/ Sat, 04 Aug 2018 14:30:31 +0000 http://www.borgenmagazine.com/?p=128623 SEATTLE — Five years ago, Zambia had one of the fastest growing economies in the world. The country has large natural reserves of copper, which it mines and exports around the globe. Despite being landlocked, Zambia also has access to several major water sources, including the Zambezi River and Lake Kariba, the world’s largest man-made [...]

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SEATTLE — Five years ago, Zambia had one of the fastest growing economies in the world. The country has large natural reserves of copper, which it mines and exports around the globe. Despite being landlocked, Zambia also has access to several major water sources, including the Zambezi River and Lake Kariba, the world’s largest man-made reservoir. For years, a network of hydroelectric plants has harnessed this water to provide Zambians with a cheap and abundant energy supply.

Since 2015, though, Zambian economic growth has stalled. There are, of course, many complicated reasons why this happened, but one of the primary causes is the extended period of drought that has battered southern Africa over the past several years.

The Effects of the Drought on Poverty in Zambia

As one would expect, the years-long drought has hit Zambian farmers hard, even threatening to cut this year’s maize crop in half. But the dry climate has threatened far more than Zambia’s food supply.

In 2015, hydroelectric plants fed by Zambia’s rivers and lakes supplied 98 percent of the country’s electricity. During the drought, the water supply in Zambia has simply not been able to keep up with the demand for power. The country’s energy deficit is so large that it has had to implement total blackouts that last for hours.

Poverty in Zambia was already a significant problem going into the drought—more than half the country was estimated to live below the poverty line in 2015. Since the blackouts began, once-thriving businesses have had to deal with extended and sometimes unforeseen periods where work is impossible. Large businesses, including the all-important copper mines, have laid off thousands of workers. Meanwhile, some small business owners have been forced to arrange their work and sleep schedules around the power outages in order to keep their doors open.

Adapting to the Crisis

With the drought continuing, energy industry experts have advised hydroelectric-reliant countries like Zambia to invest in alternative energy. The Zambian government has responded to the crisis with a number of initiatives meant to restore stability to the country’s power supply. In 2017, it launched the REFiT program to promote the development of renewable energy sources.

In mid-July, the government officially partnered REFiT with the African Development Bank. In the agreement, the bank approved a $50 million loan and a $2.5 million grant to the government, which plans to use the funds to ramp up the production of solar power. This program alone could provide electricity to as many as 300,000 Zambians.

Potential for Change

This focus on renewable energy has larger implications in Zambia than it would in more developed countries like the United States. It is not only an attempt to clean and diversify the energy being used, it is also a necessary step towards providing that energy in the first place. For this reason, programs like the partnership with the African Development Bank have great potential to impact poverty in Zambia.

Nearly 11 million Zambians live without access to electricity—more than half of the country’s urban population and 86 percent of the rural population. With power this hard to come by, it will be nearly impossible for Zambia’s young economy to develop further.

Much of southern Africa relies on subsistence farming to survive, which leaves Zambians living in poverty at risk of malnutrition in the current drought. Because Zambia has one of the highest birth rates in the world, the demand for food and jobs will only grow in the coming decades. Access to electricity is vital to any economy looking to modernize, and poverty in Zambia may worsen without it.

Thankfully the government is responding to this need and even aims to achieve universal access to electricity by 2030. While the crisis caused by the drought will not be solved overnight, partnerships with the African Development Bank and other groups like USAID promise to improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of Zambians.

– Joshua Henreckson
Photo: Google

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A Look at the Scientific Future of Africa http://www.borgenmagazine.com/scientific-future-of-africa/ Fri, 03 Aug 2018 08:30:42 +0000 http://www.borgenmagazine.com/?p=128536 SEATTLE — Africa may not be what many people think of when they think about scientific innovation, but that may be about to change. Local scientists and engineers are creating new technologies that are winning awards and garnering attention. Spurred by a desire to help their communities, several innovators have used their scientific knowledge for [...]

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SEATTLE — Africa may not be what many people think of when they think about scientific innovation, but that may be about to change. Local scientists and engineers are creating new technologies that are winning awards and garnering attention. Spurred by a desire to help their communities, several innovators have used their scientific knowledge for positive entrepreneurship that helps save lives. Here is a look at the scientific future of Africa and how innovators are saving lives and helping their communities.

Medical Jacket That Detects Pneumonia an Example of the Scientific Future of Africa

In sub-Saharan Africa, pneumonia is one of the deadliest diseases young children can face. According to UNICEF, roughly 500,000 children under the age of 5 die from pneumonia every year on the continent. Part of the reason for this is because pneumonia is often diagnosed as another common disease, malaria. By the time doctors determine that the diagnosis is wrong, it is often too late.

Ugandan engineer Brian Turyabagye realized the seriousness of the issue when a friend’s grandmother was misdiagnosed and died as a result. The event moved him to develop a new way to diagnose pneumonia that eliminated human error. The result was a biomedical smart jacket named Mamaope, or “mother’s hope”, that can diagnose pneumonia up to four times faster than a doctor. Turyabagye’s invention caught the eye of Pitch@Palace Africa 2017, where African entrepreneurs can perfect their pitch and compete for the top prize. The jacket is only being used in select medical centers now, but Turyabagye is currently working on finalizing the jacket so that it can be ready for widespread use as soon as possible.

Cardiopad Brings Cardiovascular Care to Rural Africa

African inventor Arthur Zang saw firsthand the lack of healthcare available in rural areas of Cameroon from his home village. Specialists are rare in the country; it is estimated that only 60 cardiologists operate in Cameroon, and nearly all of them are in urban centers. Zang saw his uncle die from a cardiovascular disease at a young age, an event he cites as important to the genesis of Cardiopad.

Cardiopad is a touchscreen device that allows untrained people to perform cardiovascular tests on a patient and then send the results to a specialist in the city, greatly improving access to healthcare in rural areas. This invention is sorely needed, since cardiovascular diseases are the number one cause of death among people over 30 in sub-Saharan Africa.

Zang used the funding he received from his 2014 Rolex Award for Enterprise to bring the product out of the prototype phase and begin production. Now, he hopes that the use of the Cardiopad will spread to neighboring countries so that it can start saving lives all over Africa.

Using Technology to Make Maternal Healthcare More Accessible

Engineer Alain Nteff is using his skills to make maternal healthcare more accessible to rural communities through a mobile health platform he calls Gifted Mom. This invention aims to provide low-cost advice and analysis to prospective mothers through text messages. All mothers have to do is text “MOM” to a number and pay a one-time $1 fee to receive maternal advice for life. This includes being able to text a medical question to the number and receive an answer from a doctor.

This is an important issue in sub-Saharan Africa. In Cameroon, where Alain is from, 13.9 percent of female deaths are related to pregnancy. Africa’s maternal mortality rate is 500 deaths per 100,000 live births, meaning that one in every 200 mothers do not survive childbirth.

Alain’s ingenuity has caught the attention of the Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action, a group backed by the U.N. and USAID that aims to provide information to expecting and new mothers about maternal aid through their mobile phones. He was also awarded with a $25,000 grant for winning the Anzisha Prize, an award celebrating African entrepreneurs who have helped their communities.

Investing in the scientific future of Africa is important for improving both local economies and the overall quality of life. Science education not only helps students succeed in an academic setting, but also in building new inventions that help their communities. Organizations are already supporting entrepreneurship in Africa, but for innovation to come, science needs to be there first. With their help, and the help of organizations like them, young scientists in Africa have a bright future ahead of them.

– Jonathon Ayers
Photo: Google

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Automation in Latin America: A Threat or an Opportunity? http://www.borgenmagazine.com/automation-in-latin-america/ Thu, 02 Aug 2018 08:30:00 +0000 http://www.borgenmagazine.com/?p=128639 SEATTLE — The world faces another industrial revolution. Advances in artificial intelligence and robotics have opened up new possibilities for how industries operate and brought the value of human labor into question. A 2017 report from the McKinsey Global Institute estimated that half of the labor done today could be turned over to machines that [...]

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SEATTLE — The world faces another industrial revolution. Advances in artificial intelligence and robotics have opened up new possibilities for how industries operate and brought the value of human labor into question. A 2017 report from the McKinsey Global Institute estimated that half of the labor done today could be turned over to machines that are able to work more efficiently and cheaply than humans. Automation in Latin America and across the globe has the potential to change the nature of industry as we know it.

Undereducation an Obstacle for Latin American Workers

Latin America has much at stake in this oncoming era of automation. Regions that have high percentages of undereducated, low-skilled workers are likely to be hit the hardest by machine replacement. It stands to reason that if robots are considered to be justifiable replacements for low-skilled laborers in manufacturing, retail and other areas, humans’ share in production value will be dramatically reduced. For Latin America, this poses a threat, as it has one of the least trained workforces in the world. According to the World Bank’s Enterprise Surveys, 31.6 percent of the region’s companies say that inadequately trained workers are their biggest impediment to growth. The global average is 21.2 percent.

Latin American countries have struggled for years to create public education systems that are accessible to diverse populations and on par with international standards. Educational results from students in the region prove to be some of the worst in the world. Businesses also note that there appears to be a disconnect between the skills being taught in schools and the needs of the private sector. Based on the difficulties of accumulating a highly skilled workforce, the appeal of automation is tempting for many Latin American companies who want to cut costs. Estimates suggest that automation could raise global productivity growth by 0.8 to 1.4 percent annually. Automation in Latin America could have similar, if not greater effects.

Automation Can Provide a Chance for Workers to Rise into Quality Jobs

Although figures for potential job displacement due to automation in Latin America are high, some experts believe that the introduction of new machinery will create an opportunity for Latin Americans to advance into higher skilled and better quality jobs. The advent of artificial intelligence technologies will bring about the creation of vast numbers of new jobs and career paths. To cope with these new technologies, humans will have to be trained and educated on how to integrate them into the workplace. In this process, Latin American governments have the chance to help their large populations of low-skilled workers transition into jobs that require more knowledge and subsequently better pay.

The responsibility of training and mobilizing this at-risk population will fall on the shoulders of governments and businesses, who must act decisively to adapt to the shifting nature of the global economy. Governments must take on the role of providing new education and training programs to help workers transition into the automated economy. Education in a curriculum that complements the new machines will be essential. For example, interpersonal communications, physical dexterity and entrepreneurship are all skills in which humans retain a competitive edge. Businesses also must step up to the plate to take advantage of new opportunities that will be made available with increased automation in Latin America.

Peruvian Startup Demonstrates the Potential of Automation in Latin America

An example of a Latin American business creating positive growth from automation is a logistics startup group from Peru called Chazki. The creators of this group recognized that the lack of clear postal addresses across Peru created difficulties for e-commerce. Partnering with the Universidad de San Pablo, the group constructed a robot able to learn the coordinates of delivery addresses. Through this technology, Chazki and researchers at the Universidad de San Pablo have essentially created a new postal map with locations present that had previously maintained no formal address.

In all, the evidence points towards a future shift in the nature of the Latin American economy. The introduction of more advanced technology and artificial intelligence will lead to the elimination of many jobs for low-skilled workers. However, if governments and the private sector work together to come up with innovative solutions to help prepare their people for the industries of tomorrow, the results could be that Latin Americans see long-term socioeconomic improvement.

– Clarke Hallum
Photo: Google

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SmartGaon: An App to Transform Poor Villages in India http://www.borgenmagazine.com/poor-villages-in-india/ Wed, 01 Aug 2018 08:30:03 +0000 http://www.borgenmagazine.com/?p=128484 SEATTLE — The transformation of poor villages in India is crucial to its development. Like many developing countries, India faces a huge rural-urban divide that is a major cause of poverty. While progress can be seen in many cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore and Kolkata, the rural areas and districts remain untouched by the light [...]

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SEATTLE — The transformation of poor villages in India is crucial to its development. Like many developing countries, India faces a huge rural-urban divide that is a major cause of poverty. While progress can be seen in many cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore and Kolkata, the rural areas and districts remain untouched by the light of development. One of the major reasons for this divide is technological backwardness, also known as the “digital divide”. While cities in India gain access to technology, poor villages still remain without basic internet facilities.

To bridge this gap, two IT professionals from Uttar Pradesh have come up with an innovative tool. They have devised a mobile app called SmartGaon, which not only connects poor villages in India with the urban world, but also provides the villagers with an opportunity to grow professionally.

The Origins of SmartGaon

SmartGaon is the collaborative effort of two young minds: Yogesh Sahu and Rajnish Bajpai. Inspired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision of converting the “brain drain” in India into “brain gain”, these young professionals were determined to design something innovate to transform their nation. They decided to put their creative energies into developing something that would benefit poor villages in India, leading to the birth of SmartGaon.

Sahu and Bajpai started their experimental project in the small village of Taudhakpur, located in the Raeberali district of Uttar Pradesh. As with any new venture, their path was not free of challenges. In order to make an app that would cater to the needs of the villagers, they first conducted a survey of the village. They then discussed their plans with the village council, district magistrate and other ministers to gain their permission and eventually built the app.

The SmartGaon app is designed in such a way that people can track the progress being made in the village and find immediate solutions to their problems. It has various features to allow the villagers easy access to the nearest healthcare centers, information centers, village administrators and helpline numbers, while also keeping them updated about the latest news and events.

The Immediate Impact

The impact created by the app was immediate, as major changes to Taudhakpur, became visible within a short span of time:

• Village authorities built 242 toilets
• CCTV cameras have been set up at specific locations
• Streetlights have now lit up the dark corners of the villages
• Schools have started functioning more effectively
• Roads now have dustbins for proper waste disposal
• Wi-Fi zones have been created and the power supply now lasts 18-20 hours a day

GramMart: An Online Marketplace for Poor Villages in India

In order to help farmers gain more profits, Sahu and Bajpai came up with the feature of GramMart. GramMart is an online village market which allows farmers to list their products for sale, including vegetables, fruits, seeds, spices and dairy products. These products will be visible to customers, who can directly contact the farmers to place an order. The purpose of this feature is to eliminate the presence of middlemen and wholesalers, who tend to negate the farmers’ profits by demanding high commissions.

The feature functions like a B2C business model wherein the products directly reach the consumers. The feature is also a solution to the problem of food waste. Regularly updating the amount of unused grains online provides the farmers with more options for the possible places where they can sell their products.

The Meaning Behind the Name SmartGaon

The name of the app has been very creatively chosen by Sahu and Bajpai. SmartGaon, which when translated into English means “Smart Village”, stands for:

S: Social Security Schemes
M: Modern Urban Facilities
A: Adopting Smart Agricultural Practices
R: Road, Infrastructure and Transportation Facilities
T: Tech Savvy

Thus, the name clearly highlights the purpose of the app. It is an attempt to provide the villagers with everything they need to lead a proper, healthy and democratic life.

SmartGaon is a nonprofit app that has been created to effectively address the various problems faced by poor villages in India, including scarcity of clean drinking water, poor production of crops, unhygienic living conditions, poor transportation and inadequate educational facilities. It is also a practical way of educating the villagers on the use of mobile technology and thereby helping them be on par with the modern world. Yogesh Sahu and Rajnish Bajpai are now planning to provide such beneficial services to many other poor villages in India.

– Shruthi Nair
Photo: Google

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Mobile App Helps Disabled People Find Assistive Technology in Africa http://www.borgenmagazine.com/assistive-technology-in-africa/ Tue, 31 Jul 2018 08:30:33 +0000 http://www.borgenmagazine.com/?p=128467 SEATTLE — Assistive technology (AT) is equipment used to increase or maintain the functional capabilities of people with disabilities. From prosthetics to educational software, different disabilities necessitate different assistive technologies. In developing countries, it has been estimated that nine out of 10 people in need of assistive technology do not receive it. This negatively affects [...]

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SEATTLE — Assistive technology (AT) is equipment used to increase or maintain the functional capabilities of people with disabilities. From prosthetics to educational software, different disabilities necessitate different assistive technologies. In developing countries, it has been estimated that nine out of 10 people in need of assistive technology do not receive it. This negatively affects both those with disabilities and their community. Without assistive technology, people with disabilities lead less productive lives and their communities suffer without the utilization of precious human capital.

AT-Info-Map Looks to Fill a Gap in Access to Assistive Technology in Africa

Around 85 to 95 percent of people in need of assistive technology in Africa do not receive it. The largest obstacles in southern Africa to acquiring assistive technology are a lack of knowledge of the availability of AT equipment, a shortage of service providers and a lack of prerequisite funds. To meet this need, and in conjunction with funding through the Google Impact Challenge, the Assistive Technology Information Mapping Project (AT-Info-Map) was launched in April 2016. The project has other partners, notably the University of Washington and Dimagi. The purpose of the AT-Info-Map Project is to improve access to assistive technologies in southern Africa and, eventually, other developing countries.

Using a mobile app designed by Dimagi, the AT-Info-Map Project is currently mapping and organizing assistive technology suppliers, products and service providers in 10 southern African countries. The mobile app takes this information and helps those seeking assistive technology in Africa easily locate the AT they need. Further, the app provides a user-friendly mechanism to efficiently connect users to a local vendor to purchase the equipment.

Study Demonstrates Success of AT-Info-Map Program in Botswana

A pilot program for the AT-Info-Map mobile application was launched in Botswana in 2016. A recent study set out to determine the effectiveness of the first run of the application. Released in 2018, the case study concluded a generally positive result from the pilot program. Participants in the program, service providers and representatives from NGOs in Botswana were excited by the AT-Info-Map mobile application. The study stated that many participants liked the location service of the app, which helped users find the nearest supplier for their assistive technology needs.

While many expressed their desire to continue using the application, some obstacles did show themselves along the way. Many people with disabilities could not afford a mobile device, partly because these devices are expensive in Botswana and partly because of the high poverty rates among people with disabilities. To make matters worse, telecommunications in sub-Saharan Africa are generally underdeveloped. In struggling communities within an already developing region, this leads to low acquisition rates of AT, and the issue is compounded when people with disabilities do not have the tools to find the equipment they need.

In response to these obstacles, in early 2018 AT-Info-Map launched the Assistive Technology Database, which puts content from the mobile app onto a website so that there are more options for potential users to find assistive technology.

In part because of the early success of the AT-Info-Map mobile application in Botswana, the organization has begun expanding its scope of operation. In February 2018, the organization released plans to expand into five more African countries: Mozambique, Angola, Swaziland, Namibia and Zimbabwe.

The acquisition of assistive technology in Africa and other developing regions of the world allows people with disabilities to live far more productive and fulfilling lives. There is a massive gap in acquisition rates of AT between developed and developing countries. Poverty and geographic isolation prevent many from getting the equipment they need. Through programs like AT-Info-Map, the unmet need for local, cost-effective and quality equipment can be fulfilled in the developing world and the poverty-stricken communities within it.

– Peter Buffo
Photo: Google

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Trash Robots Saving the World’s Water http://www.borgenmagazine.com/trash-robots/ Tue, 10 Jul 2018 14:30:45 +0000 http://www.borgenmagazine.com/?p=128184 SEATTLE — Clean water is a basic necessity that 2.1 billion people on the planet do not have access to. The lack of clean water leads to poor health, which prevents people from being able to work or become educated, thereby continuing the cycle of poverty. Lack of clean water can be caused by pollution, [...]

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SEATTLE — Clean water is a basic necessity that 2.1 billion people on the planet do not have access to. The lack of clean water leads to poor health, which prevents people from being able to work or become educated, thereby continuing the cycle of poverty. Lack of clean water can be caused by pollution, climate change, disease, water stress and shortages because of growing demand. In many cases, humans play the biggest role in creating these issues and are also the ones that can ultimately solve the problem.

The Impact of Ocean Pollution

Approximately 1.4 billion pounds of trash ends up in the oceans each year. Oceans are connected to all of the Earth’s other bodies of water, meaning that any trash commonly found in the ocean can be found in a river or a lake and vice-versa, which affects the already small percentage of fresh water available. Of the 1.4 billion pounds of trash, the main contributor is plastic. If ingested via polluted water, plastic particles can lead to inflammation, which is an immune response that if prolonged can cause extreme damage. It can also bind strongly to other toxins like mercury and pesticides, chemicals which can affect body cells. leading to an increased risk of cancer as well as reproductive and developmental problems.

It further affects human populations through food consumption in the form of aquatic life. Plastic pollution has negatively impacted 267 species worldwide through ingestion, starvation, suffocation and infection. It also reduces biodiversity, as many species become extinct. This decline in aquatic life affects the livelihoods of subsistence fishers and those who depend on fishing to earn a living, making it harder for them to rise out of poverty.

Rise of the Trash Robots

Two Australian surfers took a step towards combatting pollution in 2015 with the invention of the Seabin. Seabin is a garbage can designed to collect trash in the ocean, rivers and other bodies of water. It is connected to a dock which has pumps that remove floating trash by sucking it into a bag and then releasing the water. It has been estimated to catch 1.5 kg of debris a day, or half a ton a year, and its water pump uses about $1 in energy consumption.

Eco-Business reported that the most common objects caught in the bag are cigarette butts (29 percent of all trash collected), plastic fragments (28 percent), food wrappers (26 percent), foam particles (5 percent), bottle caps (4 percent), straws and stirrers (2 percent) and plastic bags (1 percent). Where the Seabin falls short is that it can only collect the garbage around where it is stationed, limiting its potential.

To address the need for mobile trash collection, Urban Rivers recently completed a Kickstarter campaign to bring its very own Trash Robot to life. This design allows the device to move across bodies of water, which increases the range of collection. Another difference from the Seabin is that there is no bag that needs to be emptied, as the robot can deliver the trash to a collection location for removal.

In the simplest terms, Urban Rivers’ Trash Robot is basically a remote controlled truck on water. Urban Rivers is capitalizing on the ease of controlling the robot by incorporating it into an online game that allows anyone to control the robot. This is an interactive way to get individuals involved in protecting bodies of water and consequently promoting pollution-free water.

The team of designers is hoping to increase the number of trash robots in rivers, as well as add features like stronger WIFi connectivity, a stationary trash can and tracking capability. If improvements continue, it could lead to a substantial decrease in the amount of trash present in bodies of water, which means decreased contamination and an increase in clean freshwater.

Looking Ahead

The trash robots are a great step forward in combatting pollution, the major cause of water scarcity. However, it could also be a method of improving the lives of individuals in developing countries. The most direct effect of decreased pollution is improved health as a result of increased availability of clean water, but the proliferation of trash robots could lead to economic opportunities as well. In order to deploy trash robots across the world, people will be needed to maintain them and remove the trash they collect. This illustrates the multi-faced benefits trash robots can have in helping to lift people out of poverty.

– Stephanie Singh
Photo: Flickr

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Gabon: A Model for Expanding Internet Access in Africa http://www.borgenmagazine.com/expanding-internet-access/ Sun, 08 Jul 2018 14:30:16 +0000 http://www.borgenmagazine.com/?p=128195 SEATTLE — Located in Central Africa along the Atlantic coast, Gabon is a country known for its lush mangroves and pristine rainforest. Rich in natural resources such as oil and manganese, Gabon has seen impressive economic growth over the past decade. While this might seem like a familiar description of several burgeoning African countries, there [...]

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SEATTLE — Located in Central Africa along the Atlantic coast, Gabon is a country known for its lush mangroves and pristine rainforest. Rich in natural resources such as oil and manganese, Gabon has seen impressive economic growth over the past decade.

While this might seem like a familiar description of several burgeoning African countries, there is more to Gabon’s story than meets the eye. As oil reserves that have accounted for 80 percent of exports, 45 percent of GDP and 60 percent of budget revenue decline, Gabon has had to pursue alternative means of economic growth. Fortunately, not only has Gabon done just that, but it has been remarkably successful.

Expanding Internet Access Key to Economic Growth

In order to diversify its economy and shift dependence away from oil, Gabon has made significant strides in expanding Internet access and network coverage across the country. The Central African Backbone (CAB) project is a tremendous and innovative infrastructure initiative that intends to construct 901.8 km of fiber optic cable networks across Gabon.

The project spans beyond Gabon and integrates fiber optic infrastructure in surrounding countries, including the Central African Republic, Chad, Sao Tome and Principe, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea and Cameroon. In integrating these neighboring countries, the information technology and communications sectors are not limited to Gabon’s borders.

The significance of this regional integration across Central Africa cannot be overstated. Expanding Internet access with fiber optic infrastructure is only the beginning. As Internet access becomes more prevalent, new markets and business sectors such as information technology, finance, banking and telecommunications can take root. This will expand opportunities for rural areas that were once outside the scope of urban centers and empower formerly marginalized communities.

Overcoming Hurdles

Connecting to the Internet incurs numerous benefits, from increased access to education to better job opportunities. It enables companies that were once limited to Gabon’s borders to reach global markets. However, building digital infrastructure is not enough to ensure greater accessibility. The more pressing obstacle is the high cost of Internet use. After all, what good is digital infrastructure if only a small percentage of people can access it? Fortunately, Gabon has paved the way in reducing cost and thus increasing accessibility.

In fact, since 2010, the cost of Internet access has fallen tenfold, decreasing from $18 per month to $2.8 per month. In addition, there has been a sevenfold increase in the number of people using the Internet in Gabon.

These incredible achievements have drawn significant foreign investment, and an addition $23 million was awarded to the CAB project in 2016. Reducing cost and expanding Internet access has enabled Gabon to further its digital transformation and fulfill its goal of becoming a Central African digital hub.

The Advantages of Internet Access

In recent years, digital technology has been instrumental in providing numerous benefits to the economies of developing countries. By affording people increased access to electronic banking, medical and administrative services, digital technology has been able to successfully bridge the gap between urban and rural areas.

The financing of digital infrastructure and data centers in Central Africa has lowered the cost of Internet fees, which will add competitiveness to regional exchanges and provide an important demonstration effect for new public and private sector infrastructure projects in the region.

Internet Access and Poverty Alleviation

According to a study by Strategy&, PwC’s strategy consulting business, increased global Internet access has the potential to lift 7 percent of the global population (500 million people) out of poverty.

Insofar as Gabon’s population is highly urbanized, with four cities containing 86 percent of Gabon’s population, greater Internet access has the potential to impact many people and bring them above the poverty line.

Given that Gabon has risen 10 places in the 2017 Internet development index world classification, Gabon has great potential to significantly reduce poverty rates moving forward. Its current and future successes can serve as a model for Africa and developing countries worldwide.

– McAfee Sheridan
Photo: Flickr

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How Food Biotechnology Is Improving Food Security http://www.borgenmagazine.com/food-biotechnology/ Thu, 21 Jun 2018 14:30:12 +0000 http://www.borgenmagazine.com/?p=127929 SEATTLE — According to the U.N., the world’s population is expected to grow to 9.7 billion in 2050 and further increase to 11.2 billion by 2100. For a lot of developing countries, this rapid population growth makes it more difficult to eradicate poverty and ensure food security. As a result of these concerns, more research [...]

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SEATTLE — According to the U.N., the world’s population is expected to grow to 9.7 billion in 2050 and further increase to 11.2 billion by 2100. For a lot of developing countries, this rapid population growth makes it more difficult to eradicate poverty and ensure food security. As a result of these concerns, more research is being dedicated to achieving global food security through a common practice known as biotechnology.

By definition, biotechnology is any technological approach that makes use of biological systems, organisms or the like to make new products or modify current ones for a singular purpose. Biotechnology combines a vast repertoire of knowledge obtained from biochemistry, microbiology and engineering sciences to produce things like beer, corn, fabrics used for clothes, active pharmaceuticals and much more.

Food Biotechnology Improves Crop Yields and Growing Times

Advancements in food biotechnology such as genetic engineering and gene editing have allowed for the sequencing of various crop species like pearl millet. Pearl millet is commonly cultivated in sub-Saharan Africa, India and other South Asian countries and is commonly regarded as a staple food and a source of straw and fuel, but is difficult to produce because it can only grow in dry conditions where irrigations, fertilizer and pesticides are hard to come by. Through the sequencing of pearl millet, a number of important genes were identified. Biotechnology methods allow for the transfer of these important agronomic-efficient traits to other crops to increase the viability of the transgenic plant, thereby increasing the yield and promoting commercialization in developing countries.

Food biotechnology methods also shorten the time needed to develop and release a food item because molecular markers allow users and producers to select for a plant with favorable genes that can lead to resistance against biotic and abiotic stressors like microbial infections or harsh climate conditions. One such example of inducing earlier production is the Indian mustard plant, a plant commonly exported from developing countries to the U.S. in the form of vegetable oil and used by locals as a medicinal herb. Scientists identified the microRNA MIR172, which negatively regulates the expression of protein-coding genes that are involved in the flowering time. Increasing the expression leads to earlier flowering, resulting in a shorter life cycle and better yields because the plant no longer experiences prolonged exposure to harsh environmental conditions.

Biofortification Helps People in Developing Countries Meet Their Nutritional Needs

Food biotechnology can also improve food security by increasing the nutritional value of food. A common problem in sub-Saharan Africa is vitamin A deficiency, which is a crucial issue for children and pregnant women. Children affected by this deficiency are more likely to suffer from visual impairment and contract severe illnesses. Pregnant women suffering from vitamin A deficiency are at risk of developing anemia, increasing the mortality risk for both mother and child. Therefore, it is recommended that infants be breastfed to receive vitamin A from their mother and for pregnant women to take 800 μg of vitamin A derivatives.

To increase the options available to combat vitamin A deficiency as well as other vitamin-related problems, a biotechnological method known as biofortification is used. Biofortification is defined as a process by which the strength of the nutrients in a given food is enhanced. Biofortification helps to add in nutrients from early stages of production to create a mutated seed that can easily be replicated and distributed, allowing for even the poorest countries to get adequate nutrients at a reasonable price. Through this method, several countries in Africa are reaching the nutritional target for vitamin A, zinc, iron and many other vitamins through biofortified varieties of maize.

Biotechnology is just one way to meet people’s daily without putting future generations at risk of starvation. Continued advancements in this field can increase productivity, leading to improved livelihoods at lower costs of production per crop. It also means a safer, more plentiful alternative to preventing and curing multiple nutrient-related conditions or diseases. Ultimately, with continued research in this field, developing countries will have a chance to increase their overall self-sufficiency in matters of health and economic development.

– Stephanie Singh

Photo: Flickr

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Switching Coca to Cacao: Peru’s Alternative Development Program http://www.borgenmagazine.com/perus-alternative-development-program/ Wed, 13 Jun 2018 08:30:49 +0000 http://www.borgenmagazine.com/?p=127705 PERU — The San Martin region of Peru is known for three things: its proximity to the Andes, the evergreen tropics of the Amazon rainforest and in more recent years, the 800 acres (374 hectares) of coca, a plant that is the source of cocaine. Peru is one of the largest producers of cocaine, second [...]

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PERU — The San Martin region of Peru is known for three things: its proximity to the Andes, the evergreen tropics of the Amazon rainforest and in more recent years, the 800 acres (374 hectares) of coca, a plant that is the source of cocaine. Peru is one of the largest producers of cocaine, second only to Colombia, and this production has led to increasing unrest and lack of security in the country. But because of a joint effort by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the situation is improving.

USAID works in conjunction with the Peruvian Commission for Development and Life Without Drugs (DEVIDA) to provide farmers with the appropriate technology and connections to global markets through Peru’s Alternative Development program. The UNODC reports that this has led to a 90 percent reduction in the production of coca in regions where farmers were taught sustainable cacao farming alongside the pitfalls of coca cultivation. The safety in such areas has greatly improved and more people have the chance to break out of the cycle of poverty. This is possible because of USAID’s investment of $110 million into the program over the past decade.

USAID Program Draws Partnerships to Further Encourage Cacao Cultivation

To improve the efficiency of chocolate cultivation in Peru, the USAID is working with TechnoServe, a nonprofit headquartered in Washington D.C., to provide essential tools for farmers so that they can increase their crop yields and meet global demands. These services include workshops about pruning timings and fertilizer applications and highlight faster ways to provide healthier food. Education programs are also conducted by Peru’s Alternative Development program so that farmers understand the nuances of trade and business better, which is promoting informed ownership and cultivation.

More importantly, the initiative has also attracted government investments. This is in light of farmers transitioning from producing illegal crops to those like chocolate that have a higher value and are a better source of income. The Peruvian government has expanded its funding for efforts against narcotics to $214 million in 2017 from $145 million in 2012. DEVIDA has also been given more authority since 2013 and works on a direct level as a liaison between the government and the people to promote new economic ventures.

Peru’s Alternative Development Program Leads to Success in Export Market

As a result of these improvements, Peru’s cacao exports have increased by more than 20 percent in the last year alone. Peru’s chocolate exports are currently worth $6.95 million, and this amount is projected to increase with the increasing quality of the products. Now, nearly half of the 150,000 acres that were previously used for farming coca in Peru are being utilized to grow chocolate.

Peru’s Alternative Development program is taking extra measures to ensure that Peruvian chocolate has a niche in the international market. Local researchers in San Martin at the Institute for Tropical Crops are working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to identify new varieties of cacao beans. The program is studying 342 specimens, and their DNA is being isolated to better understand how each bean can cater to different tastes. The findings will then be used to brand Peruvian chocolate exports, much like French champagne or Brazilian coffee.

USAID’s investment and involvement in Peru’s Alternative Development program has improved the lives of many that were previously threatened by drug cartel violence and incomes below the poverty line. The education and provision of technology ensure that Peruvians can break out of the poverty trap through the legal and safe production of crops like chocolate. As more regions in the country are impacted by this program, the switch to cacao will aid Peru in creating a unique place for itself in the chocolate market.

– Sanjana Subramanian
Photo: Flickr

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Drones Track Monkeys in Malaysia as “Monkey Malaria” Spreads http://www.borgenmagazine.com/drones-track-monkeys-in-malaysia/ Wed, 06 Jun 2018 14:30:18 +0000 http://www.borgenmagazine.com/?p=127180 KUALA LUMPUR — In the humid, thick jungles of Borneo, drones track monkeys in Malaysia to learn how macaques are passing a primate-exclusive strain of malaria to humans. Known as “monkey malaria,” there has been a sharp increase in human cases of the disease, and as much as 69 percent of all human malaria cases [...]

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KUALA LUMPUR — In the humid, thick jungles of Borneo, drones track monkeys in Malaysia to learn how macaques are passing a primate-exclusive strain of malaria to humans.

Known as “monkey malaria,” there has been a sharp increase in human cases of the disease, and as much as 69 percent of all human malaria cases in Malaysia are caused by the monkey strain. Data shows that the number of human cases in Malaysia has spiked from 376 in 2008 to 1,604 in 2016, and there were eight related deaths in the same year. This particular strain stems from a parasite called Plasmodium knowlesi and has a high fatality rate among human victims due to a 24-hour replication cycle. It is commonly mistaken for a different and milder form of malaria. 

Drones Track Monkeys in Malaysia to Predict Outbreaks

In some areas, as much as 86 percent of macaques carry the Plasmodium knowlesi parasite, yet it appears to have little effect on the monkeys. At the moment, the parasite is endemic in Southeast Asia. There is also concern over the lack of solutions to prevent transmission such as drug administration, which would be difficult considering the primary carriers of the disease are monkeys. The key is predicting outbreaks before they occur, and the only equipment required is a $14,000 drone and a laptop.

A team of researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine conceived the idea to have drones track monkeys in Malaysia and have cleverly titled the research program the Monkey Bar Project, which started in 2013. The researchers’ collected data focuses on long-tailed macaques, the most common species of monkey in the Malaysian state of Sabah.

Monkey Bar Project a Cost-Effective Way to Prevent Malaria Transmission

The researchers suspect there is a strong correlation between the deforestation of Malaysia’s jungles and the frequent occurrence of the disease. When the macaques are displaced and forced to move away from their habitat, they may wander into human living spaces. Citizens are at risk if they come in contact with the macaques.

The benefit of having drones track monkeys in Malaysia is that it is a method of overseeing changes in the terrain and tracking deforestation and plant life, while also utilizing infrared cameras that track the movement of the monkeys themselves. The cameras take pictures from an aerial view, which are put together in an accurate representation of a detailed map, enabling researchers to predict the number of monkeys in an area at any given time. Making use of drones is less costly than using satellite images, which can cost millions of dollars.

The use of drones to prevent diseases has become more common. They are being used in areas such as the Zanzibar islands in Tanzania to identify mosquito breeding grounds, which are potential hotspots for malaria. The Monkey Bar Project is now in the second phase of action, which consists of taking blood samples from about 10,000 people and having them answer a questionnaire. Researchers will publish the results of their study over the course of the last five years by the end of 2018.

– Camille Wilson

Photo: Flickr

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