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Ugandan farmers test big-data solution to climate challenges





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Peter Alisengawa, a farmer in Namungwale village in eastern Uganda, was struggling to grow enough maize to support his family a few years ago. Despite getting regular advice through his local cooperative, he could not afford to act on it.

“Without money, you can do nothing,” he said. “They were giving us all these trainings, but I could not put them into practice.”

Banks refused to lend to him because he had no land title to put up as collateral.

But after signing up for a service that draws on a huge database to give Ugandan farmers tailored weather information, funding and insurance all together, Alisengawa’s luck changed.

The programme run by the Netherlands-based Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Co-operation (CTA) was designed to address multiple challenges by building a comprehensive picture of farmers’ problems rather than attempting to solve them one by one, said CTA’s head of information technology, Benjamin Addom.

Using weather mapping based on satellite data, agents working for the project delivered location-specific advice to Alisengawa and others on when to expect rain or dry spells.

They also recommended ways for farmers to adjust their crop schedules and techniques to prepare for the coming weather.

At the same time, they collected data on the smallholders themselves—about which crops they grew, their historical yields and how many people they employed, as well as sketches of their farmland using the Global Positioning System (GPS).

The CTA took that information to the Rabobank Foundation, a Dutch social fund, which used it to gauge the farmers’ creditworthiness and agreed to lend the programme Ush1 billion ($270,000).

The collective insight the database offered gave Rabobank the confidence to approve the loan, said CTA Director Michael Hailu.

The money was divided among more than 1,800 farmers across Uganda, including Alisengawa, who got 1 million shillings.

He used his six-month loan to pay for fertilisers and hire more labour, as advised by the agents who visited his village.

As a result, he bumped up his maize harvest by 400 percent.

“Now I am in position to send my children to school, I improved my piggery and opened up more of my land for farming,” Alisengawa told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

As data plays an increasingly important role in adapting to climate change, some development agencies are seeking ways to use the data they gather to make their projects sustainable.

With the CTA programme’s funding from the Dutch government and the European Union ending last month, it has come up with a new idea for its database: selling access to the information to help companies build products and services for farmers.


When the MUIIS (Market-led, User-owned, ICT4Ag-enabled Information Service) launched in 2017, farmers who signed up paid a small monthly fee and contributed details about their farms to the programme database.

In return 10 companies and other groups, including financial technology firm Ensibuuko, the Uganda Cooperative Alliance and the Uganda National Farmers Federation, teamed up to harness the data to give subscribers training and access to finance.

Those three organisations have now taken over the programme, with the goal of transforming it into a business.

Most of the revenue will come from farmers’ subscriptions but the long-term plan also depends on finding ways to make money from the database, Addom said.

The MUIIS will charge financial institutions and service providers for access to the data it has collected, which they can utilise to develop products for farmers, he said.

“The potential of the data is huge for businesses,” he said.

In Uganda, however, the market for data is still new and very small, he noted. “Unfortunately, we don’t have global businesses that see the value of farmer data.”

Although the MUIIS has profiled more than 250,000 farmers in its database, fewer than 4,000 used the bundled service for four consecutive seasons throughout 2017 and 2018, Addom said.

Part of the reason was cost. The service started out charging each farmer 14,000 shillings per acre per season, which was already too expensive for many, he said.

When funding was running out, the CTA decided to double the fee, pricing out even more farmers.

Now, by selling access to the MUIIS database, the aim is to cut the cost of membership and expand it.

The difficulty lies in convincing potential customers the data is worth paying for, said Luke Kyohere, who worked on a similar programme in Uganda for the U.S.-based non-profit Grameen Foundation eight years ago.

Its Community Knowledge Worker project gave advice based on the profiles of more than 300,000 farmers.

It tried to fund the programme by selling access to its data, but could not generate enough revenue and eventually shut down, Kyohere said.

“Data is a hard sell,” added Kyohere, who now heads Beyonic, a financial tech company. “The potential buyers say there is a lot of data (out there) and aren’t willing to pay top dollar for it.”

While businesses may need convincing, farmers who have benefited from the MUIIS service say it is invaluable.

Subscriber Esther Nakisige, a farmer in eastern Uganda, was one of the recipients of the Rabobank Foundation loan—money she said she never would have been able to access otherwise.

“Banks are for people like teachers and nurses, not farmers like us,” she said. “We are intimidated by them. We can’t even go in.”

($1 = 3,700.0000 Ugandan shillings)

Thomson Reuters Foundation.


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Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard




Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.


However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
SEE ALSO: Thinking inside the cardboard box for post-lockdown work stations
Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
SEE ALSO: Working from home could be blessing in disguise for persons with disabilities
Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.

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Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard




President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
SEE ALSO: Sakaja resigns from Covid-19 Senate committee, in court tomorrow

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Drastic life changes affecting mental health




Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.

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Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.

Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.

The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.

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With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.

In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020.  It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.

A study by Dr. Habil Otanga,  a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says  that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.

KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.


Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.

As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.

“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”

Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.

“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.

Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.

“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”

Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.

“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.

Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.

Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.

She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.

Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.

“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added

Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.

“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and  also engage in   reading that would  help expand their knowledge.

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