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Pest Detection Tool From Kenya Wins Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation

Esther Kimani is the third woman and the second Kenyan innovator to win the Africa Prize

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Esther Kimani was on 13th July named winner of Africa’s biggest engineering prize, the Royal Academy of Engineering Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation, in Nairobi. 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. Ms 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.

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

The solar-powered tool uses computer vision algorithms and advanced machine learning to detect and identify crop pests, pathogens or diseases, as well as the nature of the infection or infestation. The device then notifies the farmer via SMS. This affordable alternative to traditional detection methods leases for just $3 per month, significantly cheaper than hiring drones or agricultural inspectors.

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Ms Kimani received Ksh8.1million (£50,000), the largest ever awarded in the history of the Africa Prize, which she said will help her develop her device and expand its reach. “I aim to scale up my Innovation so that it can benefit one million farmers in Kenya in the next five years,” Ms Kimani said.

Ms Kimani who studied Computer Science at the University of Eldoret (formerly known as Chepkoilel Campus of Moi University) from 2015 to 2019, started her solar-powered innovation back on campus.

The annual Africa Prize by the Royal Academy of Engineering in 2014 supports innovators developing sustainable and scalable engineering solutions to local challenges in Africa. The Africa Prize alumni community has together generated more than 28,000 jobs and benefitted more than 10 million people through their innovative products and services.

Malcolm Brinded, Chair of judges and Past President of the Energy Institute, said: “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 that were each awarded KSh 2.5 million to develop their innovations, were:

Eco Tiles, Kevin Maina, Kenya

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.

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, Rory Assandey, Côte d’Ivoire

La Ruche Health 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.

By May 2024, the AI has facilitated over 150,000 user interactions and 189 in-home and teleconsultation appointments, processing over $18,000 in medical billings, illustrating its effectiveness and scalability.

Yo-Waste, Martin Tumusiime, Uganda

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, with a goal to reach 20,000 users by 2026.

A separate ‘One to Watch’ award was also awarded to Dr Abubakari Zarouk Imoro for his innovation, Myco-Substitutes, on the night for their innovation’s impact on local communities. Voted for by live and online audiences, Dr Imoro receives £5,000, conferred in 2024 in honour of Martin Bruce, a late Ghanaian alumnus of the Africa Prize.

The 2025 Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation, launched at the 2024 final, is now open for entries. The 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.

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BT Reporter
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