Last year, eHealth Africa’s CornBot Application was one of the finalists for the Fall Army Worm Tech Prize. The application received the Frontier Innovation Award for its ease of use and human-centric design. CornBot also received $50,000 in prize money. Six months later, CornBot’s, Chinedu Anarado and Cornelius Adewale share their progress and how they are using the prize money to expand CornBot so that the solution addresses more challenges in nutrition and food security.
Why did you develop CornBot?
One of eHA’s focus areas is Nutrition and Food Security Systems. Our goal with this program is to provide nutrition stakeholders at all levels of the value chain, with technological tools and data so that vulnerable populations in West Africa can have access to nutritious food.
When USAID called for innovations to address Fall Armyworm (FAW), a major pest that destroys various crops worth $2.4bn – $6bn annually, predisposing communities to food insecurity, we knew we had to respond. We partnered with the Washington State University (WSU) to design and build CornBot, a mobile application, that interacts with farmers in their local dialect and guides them through the process of detecting, preventing and treating FAW infestation on their farms. The application is synced to a dashboard to enable us and other stakeholders to easily aggregate data on FAW infestation and make informed decisions.
What scenario mapped the transition from CornBot to FMT?
After we received the Frontier Innovation Award and the prize money, we started thinking about what we could do to expand CornBot. During the field testing phase as well as during other field research carried out by WSU, we realized that smallholder farmers needed more than just a pest detection tool—they needed a platform where they could exchange and receive guidance and knowledge to increase their productivity. We then decided to invest the prize money in building a platform where farmers can gain additional information to enable them to yield as much as possible from their farms, in line with the Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) put forward by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). So, CornBot went from an idea that helps in combating farm pests, to a platform for providing guidance on farming practices as a whole. For now, we call it the Farm Management Tool.
What do you hope to accomplish with the Farm Management Tool?
Overall, we want to improve the quality of livelihood among smallholder farmers and strengthen the resilience of communities against food insecurity. We know that by making small changes in their farming processes and decisions, and by adopting good agricultural practices, farmers can increase the crop yield from the same plot of land. They just do not know how to. Many of these farmers have been doing things the same way for years without ever knowing why. Our goal is to arm them with relevant information and ensure that they can produce more crops. If we can achieve this, it will be a huge success and it means that our solution is viable.
What first steps have you taken?
We are currently working to build a mobile application. However, we held a workshop with 40 smallholder farmers in April to glean baseline data about their current agricultural practices, their level of knowledge, and current challenges, and to introduce them to our project and the concept of good agricultural practices. They have agreed to work with us for the pilot scheme and testing, as well as map out portions of their farmlands to test our concepts. We have also commenced field operations such as soil sample testing to understand the existing soil composition and what kinds of fertilizers will be needed.
The idea is to “hand-hold” the farmers throughout the planting season and see if there are significant differences from their previous outputs.
We are very excited about this platform and the possibilities that it presents for addressing food insecurity in communities across West Africa.