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 must be empowered with cost-effective, easily accessible energy. Sivan Jaari, Founder and CEO of Innovation: Africa, discusses the impact that new innovative technologies can have in a number of sectors and how easily these technologies can be made available.

Technology and innovation are two key drivers that can push Africa to the next level of socio-economic growth. The proliferation of networks, artificial intelligence, drone technology, improved digitalisation and other emerging technologies is driving the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). The reality is that these technologies often come at a price that many simply cannot afford. Infrastructure constraints, access to devices and education are also factors that can hinder digital transformation, leaving many communities behind. But there are readily available technological innovations that come at a fraction of the cost that can have an immediate, life-changing impact.

Access to technology must not rely on digital transformation. According to the World Economic Forum, “When you look at the historiography of the Internet and digital innovation, little is written about the role of Africa. Although adult illiteracy in sub-Saharan Africa was 34.7% in 2019, the continent’s innovation has taken various forms thanks to the richness of its culture and way of life. ” In essence, the World Economic Forum says that by shifting the lens through which we understand the pain points of Africa’s most vulnerable, cutting-edge solutions, it can be developed by linking technology to socio-economic well-being. This includes innovations that can significantly affect health, education, agriculture, economic stability, gender equality, etc.

How? By turning to the most reliable and affordable energy source that has the power to stimulate the development of technology: the sun.

There is an abundance of solar energy throughout Africa. The continent gets more hours of sunshine than any other continent on earth, according to the World Solar Map. Since 2010, the price of solar energy has fallen by 89%, making it the most affordable form of energy in history. Off-grid renewable energy solutions can provide clean, reliable and cost-effective sources of electricity and clean water that 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 power laptops and medical equipment. Energy Box uses a lithium-ion battery and LED lights to provide an optimized, scalable and long-lasting solution for rural clinics and schools across Africa. “It can also be monitored remotely, which allows our team of engineers as well as our donors to monitor how much energy is produced / consumed in one of our projects and to issue a signal if problems arise.” Yaari explains. The impact that this energy box can have on health and education is staggering.

Nearly 60% of all healthcare facilities in Africa do not have access to reliable electricity for lighting, basic medical equipment or vaccine refrigerators. In rural areas, visiting a clinic often requires a difficult journey on foot. In health centers, solar energy allows doctors to work safely at night and allows the use of medical equipment, including solar refrigerators to store vaccines and drugs. Solar energy in schools increases the level of education that students receive, as they can study in the light and use computers for the first time.

In terms of agriculture, agriculture is at the heart of Africa’s economy and has a broad social impact. It represents 14% of total GDP in sub-Saharan Africa, as well as most of the employment for the continent’s population. But due to growing water scarcity, Africa is simply unable to reach its full agricultural potential. Serious adverse effects on food security and livelihoods at the regional, national and individual levels of households are becoming more common.

Efficient solar-powered micro-irrigation, for example, increases farm-level incomes by five to 10 times, improves yields by up to 300% and reduces water use by up to 90%. This has an incredible economic impact on communities that rely on agriculture to maintain and generate life-changing income.

Israel’s invented drip irrigation, a technology that allows communities to fill their water gaps, is powered entirely by solar pumps. Drip irrigation allows farmers to produce more with less water and energy, improving their income and resilience to drought, floods and other extreme weather conditions. This technology not only drastically improves food security, but also enables economic development and financial independence. Pioneering climate intelligent agricultural technology such as drip irrigation with solar energy is crucial in trying to create a sustainable future.

We have seen first-hand, through our extensive work in Africa, the impact that access to solar energy can have on communities and how innovative technology can enable growth and change in life. Technologies exist, they are environmentally friendly and affordable. Now is the time for African leaders to rethink their energy policies and commit to delivering solar energy to rural communities to support the culture of innovation that forms such a dominant part of life in Africa.

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