Access to technology does not necessarily start with ‘www’

Technology has the potential to change lives across Africa. But for the continent to reach its full potential, its people need to be empowered with energy that is profitable and available. Sivan Yaari, Founder and CEO of Innovation: Africa discusses the impact that new innovative technologies can have on various sectors and how easily these technologies can be accessed.

Technology and innovation are two of the main drivers of Africa’s growth in socio-economic growth. Network deployment, artificial intelligence, drone technology, improved digitization, and other emerging transformational technologies are driving the fourth industrial revolution (4IR). The reality is that these technologies often have a cost that they cannot afford. Infrastructure barriers, access to devices, and education are also factors that can hinder digital transformation, leaving many communities behind. But there are technological innovations available that, at a fraction of the cost, can have an immediate life-changing impact.

Access to technology does not have to be based on digital transformation. According to the World Economic Forum, “When you consider the historiography and digital innovation on the Internet, little is written about the role of Africa. Although adult illiteracy in sub-Saharan Africa was 34.7% in 2019, innovation on the continent has taken different forms thanks to the richness of its culture and way of life. Essentially, what the World Economic Forum is saying is that by changing the lens that we understand the pain points of the most vulnerable in Africa, we can develop cutting-edge solutions by linking technology to socio-economic well-being. This includes innovations that can affect health, education, agriculture, economic stability, gender equality, and so on.

How? Turning to the most reliable and inexpensive source of energy available that has the potential to drive technology development: the sun.

Plenty of solar energy is available throughout Africa. The continent receives more hours of sunshine than any other continent on earth, according to the World Sun Map. Since 2010, the price of solar energy has fallen by 89%, making it the cheapest energy in history. Off-grid renewable energy solutions can provide clean, reliable and cost-effective sources of electricity and clean water, which can have a significant impact on communities.

Take the development of Innovation: Africa’s Energy Box, which has the capacity to provide enough power to illuminate an entire school or medical center, as well as to power laptops and medical equipment. Energy Box uses lithium-ion batteries and LED lights to provide an optimized, scalable and sustainable solution for rural clinics and schools in Africa. “Remote monitoring can also be performed on our engineering teams as well as our donors to monitor the energy produced / consumed in any of our projects and to issue an alert in the event of a problem.” Yaari explained. The impact this energy box can have on health and education is tremendous.

Nearly 60% of all health facilities in Africa do not have access to reliable electricity for refrigerators, essential medical equipment or vaccine refrigerators. In rural areas, a visit to a clinic often requires a hard walk. In health centers, solar energy allows doctors to operate safely at night and allows them to use medical equipment, including solar refrigerators to store vaccines and medicines. In schools, solar energy increases the level of education a student receives, as they can learn in the light and use computers for the first time.

In terms of agriculture, agriculture is at the heart of the African economy and has a large social footprint. Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for 14% of total GDP, as well as the majority of employment on the continent’s population. But as water shortages increase, Africa is unable to reach its full agricultural potential. Serious adverse effects on food security and livelihoods are increasing at the regional, national and family levels.

Efficient micro-energy from solar energy, for example, is increasing farm incomes by five to 10 times, improving yields by up to 300% and reducing water use by up to 90%. This has a tremendous economic impact on agriculture-based communities to sustain and earn a living.

Drip irrigation invented by Israel, a technology that allows communities to close the water gap, is fully powered by solar energy pumps. Drip irrigation allows farmers to produce more with less water and energy, improving income and resilience to drought, flood and other extremes related to drought. This technology not only significantly improves food security but also enables economic development and financial independence. In an effort to create sustainable futures, it is essential to have climate-smart agricultural technology such as solar-powered drip irrigation.

We have seen first-hand through our extensive work across Africa on the impact that access to solar energy can have on communities and how innovative technologies can change growth and lives. Technologies exist, they are environmentally friendly and affordable. It is now up to African leaders to re-enact their energy policies and bring solar energy to rural communities to support the culture of innovation that is a major part of African life.

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