Advanced Computing in the Age of AI | Monday, July 15, 2024

Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation Goes to Esther Kimani for AI-Driven Agricultural Tool 

June 21, 2024 -- Esther Kimani has been named winner of Africa’s biggest engineering prize, the Royal Academy of Engineering’s Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation, at a live final event in Nairobi, Kenya on June 13, 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 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.

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.

The annual Africa Prize was founded 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 150 entrepreneurs from 23 countries, who together have generated more than 28,000 jobs and benefitted more than 10 million people on the continent 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 program ahead of the final ceremony. This momentous occasion showcased the strength of the community united by the Prize.

“My parents would lose up to 40% of their crops each farming season, which affected our standard of living,” said 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.”

Africa Prize Chair of Judges Malcolm Brinded CBE FREng said: “These awards form part of the Royal Academy of Engineering’s investment of over £1 million to African innovators through grants, prizes and accelerator programs during the tenth anniversary year of the Africa Prize.”

Kimani received £50,000 to further develop the device. This is the largest amount awarded to a winner, in honor 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 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 October 15, 2024. Visit the ‘How to Apply’ guide on the Africa Prize website here.

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. To learn more about becoming an Africa Prize partner, contact the Academy at [email protected].

Source: Royal Academy of Engineering