Qatar, Rwanda Sign MoU in the field of Communication and Information Technology

Qatar News Agency

Business man signing a contract Image used for illustrative purpose. Getty Images

Kigali – The State of Qatar, represented by the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in the field of communications and information technology with the Republic of Rwanda.

The MoU was signed by HE Minister of Communications and Information Technology Mohammed bin Ali Al Mannai and HE Minister of Information Technology, Communications, and Innovation in Rwanda Paula Ingabire.

The MoU was signed during an official visit by an official delegation from the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology in Qatar to the Rwandan capital; as part of the state\’s efforts to enhance collaborations in the field of information and communication technology in Africa.

The areas of collaboration include public key infrastructure, formulation of information and communication technology policies and strategies, support for research and development in artificial intelligence, exchange of experiences in digital transformation and e-commerce, cooperation in smart cities, and in cross-border data flow.

HE Minister Mohammed bin Ali Al Mannai commented “This collaboration is a testament to our commitment to promoting innovation and technological advancement on both local and international levels.”This partnership aims to strengthen synergy for mutual growth and development, fostering knowledge and resource exchange in various key areas of the information and communication technology sector, he added.

Google opens its AI-Integrated search to Africa

Google logo and AI Artificial Intelligence words are seen in this illustration taken, May 4, 2023. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

Google wants to, once again, redefine the landscape of internet search. Only this time the search giant is starting at a deficit with its unlikely biggest competitor – Microsoft’s Bing – leading the search with generative AI charge. Google’s response after a couple of false starts with Bard is an experimental version of its search feature, known as the Search Generative Experience (SGE).
This new experience integrates artificial intelligence (AI) to generate answers directly into the search results, offering immediate responses to user queries right on the Google Search webpage.

Generating these conversational responses will significantly increase the cost of search queries because Google now has to spool up more compute power to run its large language model.

OpenAI found out very quickly that making ChatGPT freely available to the public was not cheap and quickly slapped a price tag on the full capabilities.

Microsoft has also curtailed general access to the service formerly known as Bing Chat (now Copilot) and invested $10bn into OpenAI for the license to use the ChatGPT engine.

Universally accessible

“Our mission is to make the world’s information universally accessible to all,” explained Wambui Kinya, GM of Google Search for Sub-Saharan Africa to a contingent of African journalists during a briefing call.

Kinya quickly dismissed any questions surrounding a future subscription for the SGE service by parroting this company PR line.

She went on to explain that SGE responses prioritise the quality of information above paid for responses, pointing out that “search ads are only for queries that have commercial intent”.

“We have over the last 25 years built an understanding about what providing high quality search results entail, and that is not changing as a result of search with generative AI,” said Kinya.

“Over time, and that is why we have released it as an experiment in Search Labs, we will continue to refine and improve the experience. Then we will be able to increase the number of queries we can serve.”

Google says that SGE is designed to streamline the search process in three significant ways:

Simplifying complex topics. If users are faced with a decision that requires a detailed breakdown, such as “learning ukulele vs guitar,” the SGE provides an AI-powered snapshot to help understand the factors to consider.

Offering quick tips for specific queries. For specific questions, the SGE can provide a range of content from across the web.

Enhancing product discovery and comparison while shopping. For example, if users are searching for removable wallpaper for their kitchen, the SGE can provide information on key factors such as ease of removal, and present a list of stylish options, including price, customer ratings, and purchase links.

Three products, one outcome

The reality is that Google now has three separate ways that users can interact with its core search business; Google Search, Google Bard, and Google Assistant.

“I think we’re trying to attract the same users. It comes down to what is the intent, and then what is the tool, feature, or product that makes the most sense to get the answers or the product that you’re looking for,” Kinya tells Bizcommunity.

“When it comes to gen AI experience in search, it really is how do we evolve the way one seeks information to be able to become more natural and intuitive, or conversational in nature. And how can we get you to your answers faster and be able to give you the opportunity to deep dive and be able to follow up a little bit more.”

According to Kinya, search is the same as it has always been. Google still assumes its role as helping users on their “path to the information that you seek” only now its powered by generative AI models.

To be part of these experiments, users can tap the Labs icon in the latest version of the Google app (available on Android and iOS) or on Chrome desktop. Users can also visit the Labs site to check their waitlist status.

Minit Money eases South Africa-Zambia money transfers

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Minit Money’s blockchain-based remittance app opens a Southern Africa corridor, allowing South Africa-based Zambians to send money home efficiently.
Speaking from the Africa Fintech Summit in Lusaka, Zambia Minit Money co-founder and chief executive officer, Angus Brown said, “We’re delighted to announce the launch of Minit Money’s ability to serve the Zambian diaspora community in South Africa.

“We have experienced significant growth in our existing corridors of Ghana, Nigeria, Uganda, Cameroon, Senegal, Benin, Ivory Coast & Kenya and the Zambia launch marks our first foray into the Southern Africa region.”

South Africa and Zambia have a long history of co-operation. During the apartheid era in South Africa, Zambia played a pivotal role in supporting the South African liberation movement. As a neighbouring country with a commitment to justice and equality, Zambia provided refuge and assistance to anti-apartheid activists, including prominent figures like Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo.

South Africa and Zambia share a strong economic connection, primarily driven by the copper mining industry. Zambia is one of the world’s leading copper producers, while South Africa is a key player in the mining and metallurgy sectors.

This collaboration saw South African mining companies investing in Zambia’s copper industry, fostering technological advancements, and promoting job creation. The economic ties extend to infrastructure development, with South African companies involved in building and upgrading transportation networks and power supply in Zambia, supporting the efficient extraction and export of copper resources.

This economic partnership not only benefits both nations but also contributes to the growth and sustainability of the global copper market. Many Zambians have family members who have found work in South Africa’s economic hubs.

Minit Money provides an easy-to-use consumer digital remittance app that leverages blockchain technology to make sending money easy, fast and low-cost. The launch of the South Africa to Zambia corridor is set to create significant savings for users, improve sending speeds and provide a seamless user experience for Zambians living in South Africa.

Solar mini-grids offer clean-power hope to rural Africa

Agence France-Presse (AFP)

A general view of a hybrid minigrids station in Doma Town which is mainly powered by solar energy in Doma, Nassarawa State, Nigeria on October 16, 2023. Mini-grids — small power stations usually supplying rural communities — are not new. But the drop in solar technology costs over a decade has prompted a growth in clean energy minigrids with rural Africa poised to benefit the most. Nearly 600 million Africans live without electricity access, and in Nigeria alone that figure is 90 million or around 40 percent of the continent’s most populous nation. And while Africa may have the most potential to generate solar power, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the continent lags behind installed capacity. (Photo by Kola Sulaimon / AFP)
Agence France-Presse (AFP)/AFP

Working as a nurse in her rural Nigerian village, Andat Datau faced more than her share of challenges. But delivering babies by torchlight was always hard.

Off-grid for years, her Sabon Gida village relied on diesel generators or lamps and, like millions of other Africans, Datau often got no light at all.

But a year ago, Datau’s village in north central Nasarawa State hooked up to a solar-powered mini-grid supplying half of her community’s households and most businesses with almost constant electricity.

Sabon Gida now has more light at times than Lagos, Nigeria’s economic capital, where many get by on around half a day’s power — at times much less — from the unstable network.

Mini-grids — small power stations usually supplying rural communities — are not new. But the drop in solar technology costs over a decade has prompted a growth in clean energy mini-grids, with rural Africa poised to benefit the most.

“It was stressful holding torchlights,” Datau told AFP at her clinic.

“Even giving injections without electric light would make it difficult for us.”

Nearly 600 million Africans live without electricity access, and in Nigeria alone that figure is 90 million — about 40 percent of the population in the continent’s most populous nation.

And while Africa may have the most potential to generate solar power, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the continent lags behind installed capacity.

Tripling renewable energy, including solar, will be on the agenda for COP28 climate talks next month in Dubai.

Africa is responsible for the smallest amount of greenhouse gas emissions, but is often impacted the most while also under pressure to avoid fossil-based development.

Solar mini-grids are not a low-scale solution: the World Bank and IEA see them as one of the most viable ways to get fossil-free access to electricity for rural sub-Saharan Africa.

In a report this year, the bank said solar mini-grid use expanded from only 500 installed in 2010 to more than 3,000 installed now. Another 9,000 are seen coming online in a few years.

Still, scaling up solar in Africa faces huge challenges, including securing investors wary of its viability, inflationary pressures on equipment, better state financing and clear policies to promote its use.

To meet the sustainable development goals of bringing power to 380 million in Africa by 2030, 160,000 mini-grids are needed. The current pace sees only 12,000 new grids by then, according to the World Bank’s Energy Sector Management Assistance Program.

Already though for Sabon Gida — a rice-farming community an hour from Nasarawa state capital Lafia — a year of solar power has brought changes beyond light to Datau’s small clinic.

Sabon Gida is one community in a private-public initiative involving the World Bank and US-based mini-grid maker Husk Power Systems with the country’s Rural Electrification Agency.

“Light… it was only for the rich before, they were the ones using power generators in their homes,” Dauda Yakubu, a traditional Sabon Gida community chief, said.

– Viable solution? –

Solar is now the cheapest source of energy for utility-scale power — an attractive proposition for Africa where poor investment and badly maintained power networks often mean limited energy.

The World Bank says Nigeria’s “market-driven” approach to solar mini-grids already helped bring more than 100 projects online, while Ethiopia and Zambia have passed new regulations to attract private investment.

Kenya also introduced favourable regulations for a public-private initiative for 150 mini-grids, the bank said.

“Solar mini-grids are integral to Nigeria’s energy transition plan,” Abba Aliya at Nigeria’s Rural Electrification Agency said.

“The government views this model as the most effective means to rapidly increase electricity access.”

Solar in Africa still needs more work, especially financing and creating profitable models. States often lack funds for large-scale projects while small-scale projects aren’t viable for the private sector, said Abel Gaiya, a researcher for Abuja-based think tank Clean Technology Hub.

Still, combining new technology such as electric transport and green hydrogen with solar mini-grids could make projects more attractive as well as efforts to “bundle” mini-grid investments together, he said.

“If you remove mini-grids from the equation, you remain with the problem of extension of national grids not being available to so many communities. So mini-grids are essential,” he said.

– Bikes and more –

Husk, which also works in India and other African nations, operates 12 grids in Nigeria, but plans 60 more by the end of next year.

An hour from Lafia along an unpaved earth road, Igbabo village in Nasarawa joined the scheme two years ago. Now around 350 households and businesses access Husk Power’s 172-panel solar plant.

His diesel generator sitting quiet in his roadside workshop, welder Jesse Eneh couples his tools to the solar grid.

Where he spent almost 30,000 naira ($30) a week on diesel, he now pays the same price a month as a business for access to the solar grid.

Private households pay an average of 2,500 naira a month for power. Businesses pay an average of 10,000 naira a month though more energy-consuming operations like the welder rack up more.

Nearby, Husk Power has a pilot project for electric motorbikes, part of its integrated approach offering power and equipment to rural communities.

John Buhari still offers the same price at his phone-charging business, but now makes more profit because he no longer pays to fuel his generator.

In Sabon Gida, no one could be happier with solar than Shagari Abari, owner of a viewing salon, where locals gather on concrete benches to watch football and movies.

“Most times with my generator, there are failures and breakdowns during the matches, and the crowds would start screaming at me,” he said.

“But with solar it’s steady and it’s cheaper.”

ICT sector comes out tops in latest Southern Africa venture capital industry survey

Africa Business

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A low-growth economy, high unemployment and the mounting pressures posed by the ongoing energy crisis have continued to weigh heavily on start-ups in Southern African over the past year. Early-stage investors likewise reported that these challenges have had a material impact on the local venture capital industry, with an overall decrease in the value of deals during the 2022 period. The local information and communication technology (ICT) sector, spearheading efforts to digitise the South African economy, has retained its position of attracting investor interest and confidence, despite the subdued investment climate.

This was one of the key findings to emerge from the 2023 Venture Capital (VC) Industry Survey, published by The Southern African Venture Capital and Private Equity Association (SAVCA). Speaking at the annual launch of the survey was SAVCA CEO, Tshepiso Kobile, who believes that the results of this year’s survey reflect that the sector is indeed experiencing trying times, yet the business case for it remains strong, with some attractive opportunities for investors.

In a country that has no shortage of successful entrepreneurs, she believes that the role played by venture capital (VC) in supporting high-growth, early-stage businesses has not only become more pronounced but has also become an effective approach and means to address deepening socioeconomic challenges.

Of notable interest was the fact that although the value of VC deals concluded during the survey period (2022), showed a 14.5% contraction from the year prior, the 2023 survey marked the fifth consecutive year that the industry has attracted over R1 billion in early-stage investments. At 48.1%, South Africa’s ICT sector represented the largest combined sector by number of deals in 2022.

Likewise, the local ICT sector held the largest allocation by number of active deals held in portfolios at the end of 2022 (40.6%). A detailed look at the spread of ICT-related investments revealed that the leading sub-sectors within this category were FinTech (12.3%), Software (8.9%), Telecoms (4.0%), AgriTech (3.9%) and Electronics (2.3%).

Furthermore, the overall allocation of capital based on the primary sectors of the economy, showed an abundance of ICT deals in active portfolios (37.7% by value, 40.6% by number of deals). This was followed by deals involving Consumer Products and Services (18.0% by value, 14.1% by number) and Business Products and Services (13.3% by value, 15.4% by number).

The 2023 survey found that investment sectors involving education technologies (or ICT EdTech) featured prominently in the 2022 investment year but makes up a small percentage of the overall portfolio allocation as it has only recently been introduced as an investment sub-sector.

For Kobile, these findings are indicative of the high level of innovation that exists within Southern Africa’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. “Of particular relevance is the fact that the FinTech category overtook the Food and Beverage category this year – a testament to the sector’s ability to leverage technology to address the mass market and existing inefficiencies in delivery of services.

While fund managers and institutional investors within the VC sector remain steered by the commercial viability of deals and fiduciary duties, the ICT sector also holds promise as a bedrock for social development as evidenced in areas such as education, by providing much-needed access to information and e-learning resources”.

Startups in the portfolios of South African VC fund managers pursue advancements in healthcare, governance and various industries through technological solutions. As a driver of innovation and efficiency, the sector can position South Africa on the global stage – attracting investment and fostering international collaboration.”

Speaking at a panel discussion which formed part of the SAVCA VC Industry Survey launch event was Kabelo Themane, Senior Investment Associate at small business development firm, Edge Growth. Echoing Kobile’s sentiments, Themane asserted that a dual focus on return-on-investment and impact involves the need to strike a delicate but important balance.

As she elaborated: “The unique challenges that face the Southern African market has warranted a closer look at the way ‘impact’ is defined. For Edge Growth, ‘impact’ needs to go beyond the bounds of ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) and should also touch on issues that affect society at a grassroots level. Some of these issues include unemployment, the global sustainable development goals, imperatives such as financial inclusion, the emergence of the green economy and how to enable the way forward for education in the country.

These objectives can be met by deploying investment into homegrown businesses and truly investing in their growth – not only from a financial standpoint but in terms of mentorship, ongoing support and training.”

Motivated by the general findings of the survey, including funds under management (FUM), overall investment activity and exits, Kobile holds high hopes for early-stage investments heading into the new year. According to the survey’s findings, the bulk of available funding was allocated to new deals, which comprised either investment into start-ups, or the first investment from an investor. This trend can be attributed to an increase in follow-on funding into existing portfolios reported for the 2022 investment year.

Reflecting on the 2023 SAVCA VC Conference, which took place in Stellenbosch the day after the VC survey launch, Kobile expressed her belief that this important conversation must be taken forward and must remain a priority for all industry stakeholders. During the conference, local and international institutional investors, fund managers, entrepreneurs, advisors, and policy makers shared their ideas on the future prospects of the VC sector in Southern Africa.

South Africa advances green hydrogen economy with BMW trial

Hydrogen pipeline. Image used for illustrative purpose.
Getty Images

Anglo American Platinum (Amplats), Sasol and BMW used the 2023 Green Hydrogen Summit as a platform to launch a trial of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. This initiative is a result of a collaboration between these companies to explore the viability of new energy vehicles (NEVs) in the country and expand the domestic green hydrogen economy, according to the Minerals Council South Africa.
Green hydrogen is emerging as a pivotal fuel to help curb greenhouse gas emissions and combat climate change.

South Africa is the world’s largest supplier of platinum group metals (PGMs) that are used in the electrolysis of water to split hydrogen and oxygen, and in hydrogen fuel cells to generate electricity. In this capacity the country can play a crucial role in global decarbonisation.

The trial could potentially stimulate a demand for up to 5 million ounces of PGMs annually if hydrogen fuel cells find application in 10% of the global car market. This development promises to bolster job security for the 175,000 individuals employed in the PGM mining sector.

South Africa’s production of PGMs in 2022 amounted to 269.5 tonnes, 5.5% lower than the 285.3 tonnes recorded in 2021. Export volumes for the entire basket of the six metals that comprise PGMs fell by nearly 13% to 230.7 tonnes in 2022 from 264.6 tonnes the year before. Local sales volumes were 15.7 tonnes in 2022, a 24% increase from 12.6 tonnes in 2021.

Understand the role of the mining industry

The Minerals Council and its members are engaged in the early stages of a project to understand the role the local mining industry can play in South Africa’s emerging green hydrogen economy and to encourage the use of PGMs.

The Amplats, BMW and Sasol project is an important development for the automotive and mining industry. BMW will provide its recently launched iX5 Hydrogen to evaluate how these NEVs perform in real-world conditions in South Africa.

Amplats will provide the PGMs used to make hydrogen and convert it to electricity and Sasol will provide the green hydrogen and the mobile refuelling system.

This project comes soon after the launch of the world’s largest mine haul truck with a 290-tonne payload by Anglo American at the Mogalakwena platinum mine in Limpopo. Sasol produced its first green hydrogen at its Sasolburg facility in June.

Accelerate transformation in the mobility sector

“Hydrogen is a versatile energy source that has a key role to play in the energy transition process and therefore in climate protection. After all, it is one of the most efficient ways of storing and transporting renewable energies. We should use this potential to also accelerate the transformation of the mobility sector,” said Oliver Zipse, chairman of the board of management of BMW AG, at the launch of the iX5 Hydrogen in February.

The powertrain of this vehicle can produce a maximum output of 295kW from its electric drive train. It also uses regenerative braking to feed power back into a high-performance battery.

Gaseous hydrogen required to supply the fuel cell is stored in two 700-bar tanks made from carbon-fibre-reinforced plastic (CFRP). Together, they hold six kilograms of hydrogen, giving the BMW iX5 Hydrogen a range of 504km in the WLTP cycle.

Refuelling the hydrogen tanks takes only three to four minutes, which addresses many of the problems associated with electric drivetrain vehicles.

Amazon to launch online shopping service in South Africa in 2024

By Nqobile Dludla

The logo of Amazon is seen, November 15, 2022. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol/File Photo Acquire Licensing Rights

“The launch of in 2024 will provide independent sellers throughout the country an opportunity to rapidly launch, grow, and scale their businesses,” Amazon said in a statement.

Africa’s most advanced economy is usually seen as a beachhead for companies to expand into the continent and Amazon could be doing the same, analysts have said in the past.

The launch of its service comes at a time when South Africa has seen a sharp rise in online shopping after the pandemic created an opportunity for e-commerce to finally take hold, with retailers doubling down on investments in response.

But of late the spike in online sales appears to have peaked as South Africans return to shopping malls.

Also, given South Africa’s anaemic growth, high unemployment, power supply and transportation problems, analysts do not see the launch as a game-changer for Amazon or a major disruptor for the local industry.

“I don’t think their takeover of South Africa retail is a slam dunk,” said Sasfin Wealth senior equity analyst Alec Abraham.

While Amazon is expected to intensify competition with local online and traditional retailers, “the reality is that the consumer pie in South Africa is not growing,” he said.

Last year, Takealot Group Chief Executive Officer Mamongae Mahlare told Reuters the company’s vast delivery network and local appeal would ensure it competes well with Amazon.

It is not yet known how Amazon’s platform will be configured as it will have to comply with the local competition authority’s rules which mandate online retailers to separate their retail division from their marketplace operations.

Nigeria’s space technology industry worth $1bln —NASRDA boss

Nigerian Tribune

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The National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA) has said the valuation of Nigeria’s space industry could be as high as $1 billion.

Director-General of the agency, Dr Halilu Shaba, also clarified that it had successfully cultivated the essential resources and expertise needed for the sector to prosper.

Shaba said, “The value of Nigeria’s space industry should be worth $1 billion because we have developed the critical mass. We already have a design of what our next satellite will look like, but we need funds.

“Again, because we are sitting at the equator, all our communications satellites used to have very wide coverage; they are more than any other country.

“Angola launched but the footage is not all over Africa but our satellites will always have footage all over Africa, not only for West Africa and that gives us the market.

“We value ourselves as the only operators at the equator and because of that, we imagine our reach; that alone gives us a unique position.”

He also mentioned that the agency is actively implementing measures to democratise space technology and involve a broader spectrum of Nigerians to enhance awareness, thereby ensuring transparency in its service delivery.

Shaba said, “A lot of people use this technology without knowing it. They use Global Positioning System (GPS), hand-held phones and they don’t even know that these are space technology.

“In everything we do these days, technology is been used but the common man is not even aware that it is this same technology. We are talking to the people who will break it down to the citizens through the relevant institutions.”

The NASRDA DG also noted that the agency has progressively bolstered its collaborations with universities to foster a research-oriented culture.

He also mentioned that the agency has actively promoted the pursuit of advanced degrees, such as Masters and Doctorate programmes among its researchers.

The initiative, he said, aims to deepen their knowledge and contribute to the development of a critical mass of expertise. However, he pointed out that security concerns had posed a hindrance to achieving a round-the-clock research culture.

“We are working to change the culture of research because you must have security. Comparing with some other countries that are into space science technology, you see that they have about a 24-hour research culture but in the case of Nigeria, we just have about eight hours, yet we are competing.

“We have been consistently trying to see how our centres and campuses located sometimes in the outskirts of town can improve on research by having 24 hours,” he said.

How biotechnology will transform Nigeria’s abundant food supply initiative

Nigerian Tribune

Image used for illustrative purpose. Getty Images

NIGERIA’S food production system is progressively expanding and analysts predict that widespread biotechnology adoption would hasten the nation’s push toward food security.

Stakeholders emphasised that adopting biotechnology goods is not only crucial,but also vital to the food production mechanism in order to meet the country’s population’s food needs, which are predicted to reach 450 million by 2030.

The National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) along with partners has championed numerous genetically modified crops throughout the years in an effort to address the myriad issues that the Nigerian agriculture sector is currently facing.

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While two important crops, cowpea and cotton, are now acceptable and profitable for farmers, others are on the way, and when they are, the nation’s output will increase.

Nigeria’s economy was based on agricultural production for both internal and export markets in the early 1960s and early 1970s.

At the time of independence, the nation was self-sufficient in the production of food, but by the late 1960s, the emphasis had changed to the export of non-food crops through big enterprises as well as fossil fuels. In order to meet public demand, food imports increased while food production decreased.

Why biotech is key

While describing the current state of Nigerian agriculture, Professor Abdullahi Mustapha, Director General/CEO of the NABDA, noted that the country is experiencing rapid population growth, necessitating a need to double food production by 2050. He also noted that as the world becomes more urbanized, pressure on land and land-use is becoming an increasingly difficult problem.

According to Professor Mustapha, Nigeria is getting poorer and the agricultural environment is getting worse. Low-performing, out-of-date, and incompatible with the new climatic conditions, seed varieties. Diseases and insect pest pressure is strong. Low soil fertility and a lack of investment capital are two problems. In order to overcome these obstacles and increase food production for the general public, it is crucial to investigate flexible tactics and cutting-edge technological tools like modern biotechnology.

“Modern biotechnology practices, which uses genetic modification tool, will provide safer, cheaper, better quality, less waste, less energy, more environmentally friendly and more sustainable products. Hence, application of biotechnology to agriculture will ensure the production of significantly more food on less land, with less water in conditions of increasingly unpredictable climate and markets, with less manual labour as well as reduce the amount of waste and losses and produce more nutritious and safe food,” the DG said.

Dr Jean Baptiste, AATF Regional Representative for West Africa while addressing stakeholders during the National Farmers Day, reflected on the challenges faced by our farmers and the need for biotechnology application.

“The agricultural sector has always been subject to numerous uncertainties and adversities, be it unpredictable weather patterns, pests, diseases, or market fluctuations. However, despite these hurdles, our farmers have consistently risen to the occasion, adapting to changing circumstances and embracing innovative practices to ensure a bountiful harvest.

“I am proud to acknowledge that our nation’s farmers have not only excelled in traditional farming methods but have also embraced modern technology and sustainable practices. By integrating advancements such as biotechnology in agriculture, you are not only increasing productivity but also minimizing environmental impact. Your commitment to sustainable agriculture sets an exemplary standard for the entire world,” he stated.

Dr Rose Gidado, Director, Department of Agricultural biotechnology at NABDA said biotechnology has been recognised as one of the most significant frameworks for development in the nation. Application of safe biotechnology, particularly in agriculture, enhances the production of nutritious food crops and increases farmers’ revenue.

She said that due to false information promoted by anti-biotechnology campaigners, biotechnology is dealing with contentious issues on a global scale. However, it is documented that since the technology’s application began more than 20 years ago, neither it nor the environment has been exposed to any risks.

Dr. Gidado noted that scientists through biotechnology have succeeded in using living organisms and biological processes to improve life on earth, adding that biotechnology application has become very necessary in almost all sectors of the economy especially in the health sector where various vaccines are saving lives.

According to her “the application of biotechnology cuts across various fields ranging from medicine to industry, environment and agriculture, among these sectors, agriculture is the most important, because agriculture provides food without which human cannot survive in addition to serving as the resource factor for other sectors including medicine, industry and environment.”

What is coming soon

Currently, many biotech crops are in their various stages of development in the country and will add enormous value to the sector.

TELA maize, which was developed for Fall army Worm and Stem Borer resistance by Institute for Agricultural Research (IAR), Zaria, has been environmentally approved by the National Biosafety Management Agency (NBMA).

Other modern biotechnology crops being developed and commercialised in Nigeria include insect-resistant beans and cotton. Herbicide Tolerant (HT) soybeans are being developed by NABDA, Virus Resistant Cassava with Elevated Iron and Zinc is being developed by the National Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI), and Salt Tolerant (NEWEST) Rice is being developed by the National Cereals Research Institute (NCRI), Badeggi, Niger State.

Media is crucial on agric biotech

For most successful adoption, editors of news organisations have been urged to provide a balanced view, incorporating diverse perspectives on biotechnology-related issues in order to facilitating public discourse that will help shape policies that prioritize safety, equity, and sustainability in agric biotechnology.

Speaking on the theme “the Role of Editors in Communicating Agricultural Biotechnology” at the biotechnology & biosafety sensitization workshop for senior editors held in Abuja recently, Professor Mustapha described the role of the editors as critical to the development of agricultural sector.

He said editors play a pivotal role in shaping public opinion and disseminating information. The power of media in shaping narratives and public perception cannot be overstated. Hence, your role in communicating agricultural biotechnology to the masses is crucial for fostering understanding, dialogue, and informed decision-making.

Speaking to the editors he said: “I encourage you to bridge the gap between scientific language and the layperson’s understanding. Agricultural biotechnology can sometimes be laden with technical jargons that may be difficult for the public to grasp. It is your responsibility to translate these scientific concepts into accessible language, enabling everyone to comprehend and appreciate the significance of biotechnological advancements.

“While exploring the benefits of agricultural biotechnology, you should also be mindful of addressing potential risks and ethical considerations. As editors, you have the responsibility to provide a balanced view, incorporating diverse perspectives on biotechnology-related issues. Facilitating public discourse on the ethical implications and societal impact of biotechnology will help shape policies that prioritize safety, equity, and sustainability,” he said.

He urges editors to highlight success stories and instances of agricultural biotechnology applications, highlighting real-world examples of how biotechnology has benefited agriculture that can enhance the public and illustrate the palpable advantages of this breakthrough.

“Our farmers are also planting Bt. Cotton, another innovative product from modern biotechnology that is changing the game in cotton farming and the hope of the textile industry revival is on course,” he said.

In the past three years, the success recorded in the PBR cowpea in the hands of farmers has change the sadness and challenges farmers face in the production of cowpea because of the destruction of the crop by the pod borer insects, which cause up to 80% yield loss despite about 8 to 10 times of spread.

But the bt. cowpea varieties allow for just two application of insecticides because it is resistant not only to pod borer insects but to strigga too.

This has increased the productivity of many cowpea farmers across the production belt of the country.

Another Bt. crop that has recorded huge success is cotton, which has brought many farmers who have abandoned the crop to roll back to production in many places like Adamawa, Katsina, Kano, Plateau and many more are joining the production every year as the see the income of their fellow farmers increase.

With TELA Maize close to the hands of farmers, experts said it would address the perennial shortage of maize in the country as many industries in the downstream suffered short supply.

Two Kenyan health startups picked for Google AI Growth Academy

The East African

FILE PHOTO: Visitors stand near a sign of artificial intelligence at an AI robot booth at Security China, an exhibition on public safety and security, in Beijing, China June 7, 2023. REUTERS/Florence Lo/File Photo

Two Kenyan health startups have been selected by Google for a three-month Growth Academy that infuses artificial intelligence (AI) for development in the healthcare industry.

The companies, Zuri Health and iZola Limited will be among 30 others selected globally and part of the five selected in Africa for the hybrid program whose aim is to support promising startups that use AI technology to grow and innovate responsibly.

The training will involve mentorship and networking events with company founders coming up with data-driven strategies that will open doors for new customers and partnerships.

They will use the opportunity to learn and take advantage of emerging technologies to expand to new markets.

Read: Google to invest $1 billion in Africa“Africa’s innovative spirit in the AI for Health domain is profoundly inspiring. These startups stand as a testament to the continent’s ability to develop global health solutions. We aim to stand alongside them, offering support and partnership as they strive to scale and disseminate their groundbreaking solutions,” said Yuval Passov, Head of Google for Startup and lead of the program.

The two startups embrace telemedicine with iZola Limited specifically focusing on supporting families with neurodivergent children via an AI-integrated therapeutics platform.

Telemedicine in the country is gaining momentum and studies show that it peaked during the pandemic.“We showed that the coronavirus pandemic had a modest increase in the utilisation of telemedicine for healthcare services delivery during the pandemic period probably due to limited infrastructure to scale up,” says a study published in the International Journal of Telemedicine and Applications this year.

The study shows that Kenyan doctors are now more aware of telemedicine options, which they fully embrace.“The current utilisation in Kenya is to support doctor-to-doctor consultations and provide education with minimal utilisation in actual healthcare delivery,” explains the study.

Read: US gives $30m for Nairobi regional data centreHowever, the study shows that there are hurdles to its use and implementation at scale in the country.“There is limited single use of telemedicine in providing direct clinical services to patients. Telemedicine is regularly used in combination with in-person clinical services, allowing for continuity of clinical services beyond the physical hospital infrastructure,” says the researchers.“Africa and other developing countries, significant improvements are needed in multiple areas cutting across regulatory, infrastructural, legal, and financial, to better support telemedicine services and improve healthcare delivery,” they add.

The scientists also suggest that the inclusion of telemedicine in healthcare providers’ curricula in their training programs may also promote awareness and uptake of telemedicine in the country.

A report forecasting the country’s telehealth market released by 6Wresearch in 2020 showed that there is likely to be a two-fold increase in uptake of the new digital health options. This prediction was made for six years between 2020 and 2026.“With a market value worth a double-digit billion number, the market is anticipated to reach a triple-digit revenue value and is expected to register significant growth in the next decade. This significant rise in the market value can be attributed to the rising adoption of digitalised and the virtual platform underpinned by the superior growth patterns in the healthcare sector,” said the report.

The report details that the uptake is supported by the rising prevalence of chronic illnesses in the country.

Read: Base technology for Africa on the best science“The increase in the healthcare costs, a spur in the technological innovations in the healthcare sector, and efforts to find a resolution to address the accessibility issues of the healthcare sector in remote areas which have been a perennial problem in the developing economies across the world are expected to ramp up double-digit growth prospects for the Kenya telehealth market,” they explained.

Five years after introducing the Google for Startups Accelerator programs in Africa, Google has so far supported 106 startups from 17 African countries.

These startups have collectively raised over $263 million in funding and created more than 2,800 jobs.