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UK to fund £37m agro-climate mobile tech solutions in Nigeria and peers

The UK government is investing in the development of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and mobile technology in developing countries to support tech entrepreneurs in addressing agricultural and climate challenges in their local communities.

The initiative will be implemented through the Mobile for Development Programme which the UK funds in an 11-year partnership with GSMA, a mobile operators association.

This initiative, which builds on previous funding efforts that have seen advancements in state beneficiaries, hopes to harness AI technology to improve agricultural practices in Nigeria including providing real-time agricultural advice to farmers and building “pay-as-you-go” solar-powered fridges.

This refrigeration system uses solar energy and is accessible through a payment model where users are charged for the service as they use it, rather than make a large upfront payment.

Andrew Mitchell, minister of state for development and Africa unveiled the new project at the World Mobile Congress last week. He says that the funding opens mobile and digital technology access to underserved individuals, particularly women and girls, and could bolster innovative solutions to tackle climate change.

According to him, “Mobile technology has the potential to revolutionise the lives of the poor by helping tackle the effects of climate change, creating jobs and boosting opportunities for women.

“The Mobile for Development programme has already benefitted more than 100 million people, and the UK’s new announcement aims to up the ambition, reaching 110 million additional people, including 60 million women.

Mitchell further emphasized the potential of mobile technology to contribute to all 17 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals which include climate action, clean and affordable energy, and life on land.

In South Asia, early interventions had begun to produce results for the locals. The funding from the United Kingdom helped scale up a digital hub in Pakistan with the introduction of BaKhabar Kissan (BKK), a mobile application to inform best agricultural practices.

BaKhabar Kissan, a term in Urdu which translates to “well-informed farmer,” is a title given to farmers who are knowledgeable about farming practices, techniques, and agricultural news in various regions of Pakistan.

Now, entrepreneurs have built innovative solutions around this idea. The BKK technology provides accurate weather forecasting data to farmers to help them make critical farming decisions such as the timing of seed sowing, irrigation, and fertilisation.

Farmers now implement this innovation into their practices and make intelligent agricultural decisions for a better harvest.

The UK says that with the help of this programme, BKK has almost doubled its users from 6.6 million to 12.4 million.

In rural Uganda, another innovative business, Ensibuuko, is providing digital skills to community-saving groups. Ensibuuko, meaning “savings” in the indigenous Luganda language, now serves as a digital platform to train indigenes in modern savings practices and keep them updated on new digital products and services where previously they relied on paper record-keeping.

The UK reports that Ensibuuko has provided digital skills training for over 236,000 members of rural savings groups, with 60% of them being women.

In Nigeria, the programme hopes to build on existing projects focused on agricultural productivity and sustainability like the 6-year $700 million Agro-Climatic Resilience in Semi-Arid Landscapes (ACReSAL) project approved by the World Bank in 2021 targeted at vulnerable communities in northern Nigeria to strengthen sustainable climate-resilient landscape management.

Given the increasing frequency of climate crises globally, the need for new solutions to help vulnerable countries adapt is growing and mobile technology could play a significant role

“For more than a decade, the FCDO and the GSMA Mobile for Development Foundation have worked closely in partnership to drive socio-economic and climate impact for the most underserved populations through digital innovation, and to date our partnership has improved the lives of more than 127 million people.

“Today’s renewal of our partnership will further amplify our joint impact by leveraging the power of digital and emerging technologies to support innovation, improve access to opportunities for women, and tackle the effects of climate change for the most vulnerable,” said John Giusti, president of the GSMA Mobile for Development Foundation.

At the Mobile World Congress, GSMA also announced that its Climate Resilience and Adaptation Fund which is funded by the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office will test and scale up new technology in African and Asian climate-affected countries.

Among the projects is an AI-powered satellite imagery to help smallholder farmers increase their yields and another to reduce food waste via an online grocery platform.

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