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Apps to protect environment and SMS to aid farmers in Senegal
September 20, 2016, 5:19 pm

A three-day workshop, organized by the Goethe Institute, the German cultural organization operating worldwide, and mJangale, a Senegalese after-school program, is aiming to improve literacy, numeracy and foreign language skills among students in Senegal.

The goal is to introduce young people to computing, as well as to make them more knowledgeable about the environment," said Christelle Scharff, co-founder of mJangale and professor of computer science at Pace University in New York, who is teaching the young Senegalese to design apps.

“We didn't want kids to just develop an app, but also to gain knowledge in another area. Young people are interested in social media but not necessarily in the environment. As big consumers of technology, Facebook and all these tools, we are showing that young people can also contribute to tons of solutions here in Senegal,” she added.

Elaborating on the importance of bringing technical knowledge to schools in Senegal and other countries in Africa, Scharff explained "We can't just stand idle while there are more African engineers in the US than there are on the African continent; we need to reverse that trend.”

The Android apps will be made available on Google Play, where they can be downloaded for free.

But it is not just the young in Senegal that use technology as a better way forward. Famers in Senegal are also getting in on the act.

Unpredictable weather patterns in recent years have wracked havoc among farmers in Senegal. Not only is rainfall growing less each year, onset of the rainy season is also moving a little later with each passing year. Senegal's predominantly rain-fed agriculture is highly vulnerable to this climate change, as production depends largely on the amount of rainfall. Knowing when it will rain is key to calculating the risks of planting and harvesting certain crops.

Traditionally, Senegalese farmers have relied on environmental indicators such as the arrival of birds or the appearance of new leaves on trees, to predict imminent rains or other weather patterns. This knowledge, usually passed on from one generation to the next, had helped them in the past. But, with climate change throwing regular weather patterns out of kilter, it is becoming increasingly difficult for farmers to rely on traditional signs from nature to guide their farming process.

Now, thanks to new techniques put at their disposal by technology, Senegalese farmers are better able to correctly interpret weather patterns. Farmers are now relying on timely climate information sent via text message from the National Agency of Civil Aviation and Meteorology (ANACIM) based some 250 kilometers away in the Senegalese capital of Dakar.

The information is sent by SMS to contact people in each locality, who relay the information to their neighbors and consequently this helps farmers in the area to plan their planting and harvesting. To reach as many people as possible, ANACIM has now partnered with the community radio network to broadcast weather information in French, as well as in local languages.

By following SMS weather forecasts instead of environmental indicators, test plots have been shown to yield 1.5 times more crops. With cultivable lands likely to remain the same and an ever increasing population demanding more food, bigger harvests are vital to Senegal's future food security.

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