April 2016

The Silicon Valley Effect

Photo of Victoria Davis

By Victoria Davis

Victoria Davis holds an MS in Global Technology & Development from ASU, and a BA in Neuropyschology from UC Berkeley. She has previously interned at the World Energy Forum as an Editorial Associate. Victoria attends and participates in hackathons, technology summits and startup conferences to further her knowledge on technology and its impact on developing markets.

Imagine a Kenyan cattle farmer grasping a herding cane in one hand, and a mobile phone in the other. As paradoxical as this may first appear, new technology pioneered in California is gradually becoming commonplace in rural parts of Africa.

Agriculturalist and social entrepreneur Su Kahumbu launched the iCow app in 2011. It allows users to monitor herding patterns of cattle, gestation tracking and even real-time market value for livestock. It also allows small-scale farmers to track disease patterns, pests, and climate variations to advantage crop management. This is enhancing  food security and business ventures, whilst improving social patterns in the process.

The M-Pesa mobile banking app launched in 2007 by Safaricom became available before there was a recognized need. However, now that agricultural apps promote efficiency in process and profit management, farmers can effectively use mobile banking systems like M-Pesa. Also available are EZ Farm, in its Beta stage, which enables remote crop management, and M-Farm, launched in 2012, offering real-time crop pricing.

The health sector is also benefiting from Africa’s grasp on mobile technology, as ‘telemedicine’ is helping to tackle  healthcare issues. Fundamentally, telemedicine is cost and time-efficient in the sense that it enables broader participation. The convenience of testing stations and information kiosks for symptom diagnosis, medication reminders, and remedies will steadily reduce the need for treks to faraway clinics. South Africa’s Telemedicine Africa has trail blazed this market. Despite being in its initial stage, it was a finalist in the November 2015 Appsafrica Innovation Awards, narrowly losing out to Cameroon’s GiftedMom – an SMS & voice message application for maternal engagement.

Considering the growing demand for technology-based solutions, African nations are adopting a stronger focus on IT education. In the United States and much of the developed world, coding has been incorporated into school curriculums. Africa’s educational infrastructure may not be able to compete, but local initiatives are attempting to close the gap. Lions@frica’s ‘afriCoderDojo’ and South Africa’s Kids Who Code actively provide coding classes for children. Enlightening a new generation of coders will nourish future think tanks and entrepreneurs to fill a new thriving market. If Africa’s problems are perceived as creating innovation, the continent is a haven for the tech industry’s development.

Ironically, one of the barriers preventing technological advancment is technology itself. For example, in order to provide telemedicine services to rural areas, a reliable IT infrastructure and satellite system must be in place. A recent partnership between Facebook and six companies (Samsung, Ericsson, MediaTek, Opera Software, Nokia and Qualcomm) recently launched to provide limited free Internet access to rural populations under the initiative of benefiting new business models. Despite being criticized for net neutrality infringements, is pioneering net access across Africa. Facebook is now collaborating with French satellite provider Eutelsat to launch broader Internet bandwidth on the Savannah from space, aiming to go-live during 2016.