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IBM Research and Hello Tractor Pilot Digital Wallet for Agriculture Based on AI and Blockchain

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Platform delivers new services for the agriculture value chain including tractor maintenance, fleet utilization, operator rankings, farm yield forecasting and microfinancing
LAGOS, NIGERIA, 11 December 2018: Scientists from IBM Research and start-up Hello Tractor are piloting an agriculture digital wallet and decision-making tool which provides demand and supply visibility for farmers, tractor fleet providers and banks to give farmers the equipment and technology they need to build a sustainable farm. The technology was unveiled today at TechCrunch Startup Battlefield Africa 2018.
In Sub Sahara Africa more than 60% of farms are powered by humans, with less than 20% provided by engines, a model which is not sustainable as food demand increases due population growth, which is averaging 11 million per year. In addition,according to the Food and Agriculture Organization 35-50% post-harvest losses for perishable agricultural products are lost annually in the region due to poor planting practices.
To address this, in 2014 Hello Tractor launched a mobile platform to enable farmers to access tractor services on demand. Using a mobile app, the service aggregates tractor service requests (e.g., ploughing) and then pairs them with recommended tractors and operators, while simultaneously tracking how many hours each piece of equipment is in the field and area serviced.
“Through valued relationships with companies like John Deere, we’ve been very successful in increasing mechanization access in smallholder communities. To reach the next level, we need to add additional services including predictive fleet utilization and maintenance; operator and tractor scoring; financing and the crop yield forecasting,” said Jehiel Oliver, CEO and Founder of Hello Tractor.
To achieve this, Hello Tractor turned to IBM’s research lab in Nairobi, Kenya. Scientists at the lab are working with Hello Tractor’s developers to apply several technologies, including Watson Decision Platform for Agriculture, Blockchain, IoT and cloud, to bring new services to the app for tractor owners and dealers, farmers and banks. The new services will be tested in a pilot starting in the first half of 2019.
More specifically,
  • Farmers: machine learning will help to predict crop yields, which combined with advanced analytics and the blockchain, can be mined to develop a credit score for loans. Forecasted weather data from The Weather Company, an IBM business; remote sensing data (e.g., satellite); and IoT data from tractors will also be incorporated into the app to help small holder farmers know when to cultivate, the quality of their farm cultivation, what to plant, and the appropriate fertilizer using remoting sensing and IoT data. In the future, the IBM AgroPad technology, developed at IBM’s lab in Brazil, could also be incorporated to determine soil quality.
  • Tractor Fleet Owners: using machine learning and IoT owners will be able to view and manage fleet utilization, predictive maintenance and forecast future tractor utilizations based on history, real-time weather and remote sensing satellite data. Using a five-star rating system, tractor operators will be ranked and utilized based on their training (e.g., ploughing, deep ripping, harrow, fertilizing). Owners will also have financing opportunities, for maintenance and for buying new tractors and implements using historical data.
  • Tractor Dealers: can benefit from improved tractor repair and servicing, after sales support, spare part inventory planning and credit administration.
  • Banks and Financial Institutions: can view and track utilization of tractors to determine a credit portfolio for the farmer and tractor owner, while also evaluating forecasted utilization to make credit decisions for tractor owners based on verified and trusted data on the blockchain.
  • Governments: can utilize data and actionable insights for various decision support capabilities such as for structuring incentives, enforcing regulations prioritizing investments and policy decisions.
The backbone of the agriculture digital wallet is a blockchain-enabled and AI-based decision support platform, which enables capturing, tracking, and instant sharing of data, while creating end-to-end trust and transparency for all the parties involved across the agribusiness value chain.
“Our vision is to leverage AI, blockchain and the Internet of Things to digitize, optimize, and streamline agricultural business processes to create efficiencies and new services from farm-to-fork around the world,” said Dr. Solomon Assefa, Vice President, Emerging Market Solutions and Director, IBM Research – Africa.
For the next phase of the project, IBM researchers and Hello Tractor engineers are looking to use machine learning with image recognition to predict the quality of cultivation. For example, remote sensing data combined with weather data could be used to predict the next harvest.  Plans are also underway to expand the platform beyond Nigeria to Kenya, Mozambique, Senegal, Tanzania, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.
For more details watch this video: https://youtu.be/d8c9zKw8GkM
About Hello Tractor 
Hello Tractor is focused on improving smallholder farmer’s access to timely and affordable tractor services along with other farm inputs. Our technology makes it easy and profitable for tractor owners to (1) monetize tractors as business assets and (2) connect with farmers to schedule tractor services. Hello Tractor’s innovative use of IoT (the Internet of Things) simplifies complex data to ensure transparency, profitability, and accountability across our ecosystem of farmers, tractor owners, tractor dealers, original equipment manufacturers, banks, and governments.
About IBM Research
For more than seven decades, IBM Research has defined the future of information technology with more than 3,000 researchers located across six continents. For more information about IBM Research, visit www.ibm.com/research.

Press Release

Thabo Mashegoane Appointed As Chairman of the Africa ICT Alliance (AfICTA)

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Thabo Mashegoane

The President and Board Chairperson of the Institute of Information Technology Professionals South Africa (IITPSA), Thabo Mashegoane, has been elected as Chairman of the Africa ICT Alliance (AfICTA).

Formerly the Vice-Chairman of AfICTA, he succeeds Engr. Hossam Elgamal from Egypt to become the third Chairman. AfICTA, a private sector-led alliance of ICT Associations, multinational corporations, companies, organisations and individuals in the ICT sector in Africa, aims to fulfil the promise of the digital age for everyone in Africa by encouraging dialogue and fostering ICT enabled development.

During an electronic election at the AfICTA Annual General Meeting on 25 November, Mashegoane was elected chair, while IITPSA Past President and Non-Executive Director Ulandi Exner was also elected AfICTA Vice-Chair for Southern Africa.

The election named the following board members and officers: Paul Rowney, Deputy Chair; Opeyemi Onifade, Treasurer; Dr. Waudo Siganga, Vice-Chair for East Africa; Engr. Assem Wahby, Vice-Chair, North Africa; Adetola Sogbesan, Vice-Chair, West Africa; and Eric Sindeu, Vice-Chair, Central Africa.  

Thanking his predecessors for their service and leadership in the Alliance to date, Mashegoane noted that AfICTA was an organisation with a vast network, impact on critical policies, and reputation that took years and hard work to build. “Mine is to take the baton and continue where the honourable Engr. Hossam Elgamal has taken this organisation to. Of importance is the platform to enable African countries to collaborate and share best practices and lessons learnt with an objective of not leaving anyone behind in development. This is a vision we will continue to uphold. We stand in a critical position to influence attainment of Sustainable Development Goals 2030 through ICT.”

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Speaking after the election, Mashegoane said digital inclusion and ICT-enabled development was also a key mission for the IITPSA in South Africa.  “The IITPSA shares the vision and ethos of AfICTA. IITPSA has also stated that we need to step up efforts to achieve the goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which, among other things, seeks to bridge the digital divide and harness technology to address major global challenges such as poverty, climate change and conflict, we need to work harder. At IITPSA, we believe this means we have to collaborate across industries, across countries, to deploy the benefits of ICTs for the good of all,” he said.

Africa ICT Alliance

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AI Media Group launches The Deal Room – Africa’s first AI-focused, free investment matchmaking service

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The AI Media Group has launched The Deal Room, Africa’s first artificial intelligence (AI) focused, free investment matchmaking service which aims to connect African AI focused startups to interested investors and venture capitalists (VCs).

AI Media Group is the publisher of AI and Data Science quarterly magazine Synapse, the AI TV YouTube channel, as well as the curator and organiser of AI Expo Africa — Africa’s largest B2B / B2G trade-focused AI, Robotic Process Automation and Data Science conference — which has been a great success over the last three years.

The annual expo has seen AI Media Group amass a database of over 1000 companies, most of which are Africa-based tech startups, scale-ups or small and medium sized businesses. The company has regularly been asked by some of these firms to make introductions to investors and also observed the challenges faced by startups, such as access, transparency, intermediaries and fees.

Although AI Media Group has been able to connect some of these companies with investors in the past, the number of requests have been on the rise and the firm now wants to improve on this service in terms of scale, process formalisation and automation through the launch of The Deal Room.

The Deal Room will be hosted on the AI Expo Africa domain — www.aiexpoafrica.com —  which is a popular platform for Africa’s Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) community with over 3 million hits a year allied to a vibrant LinkedIn Group with more than 4 000 members. The Deal Room’s primary aim will be to direct 4IR, AI and smart tech companies seeking funding to investors, VCs and organisations who are interested in backing firms in this rapidly growing sector.  

The Deal Room has attracted six launch investment partners, namely; Cirrus AICape AI VenturesKnife CapitalE4E AfricaBritegaze & Intelligent Impact, with more set to join in the coming months.

Nick Bradshaw, CEO AI Media Group and co-founder of AI Expo Africa explained, “The main idea behind The Deal Room platform is to facilitate rapid matchmaking between an investor and 4IR / AI focused startups and scale-ups that align with the firm’s stage of growth. It’s often a minefield to find the right investor so we curated a group of like minded investors that are interested in this space or who have a track record of similar investments to date. This is a long awaited value add service for our community with no strings attached, no “middleman” and total transparency.”

The Deal Room’s launch investors cover a broad spectrum of the investment lifecycle and include; Cirrus AI CEO Gregg Barrett; Cape AI Ventures co-founder Pieter Boon; Knife Capital co-managing partner Andrea Bohmert; E4E Africa Ventures principal Bakang Komanyane; Britegaze CEO Reshaad Sha, and Intelligent Impact founder Aunnie Patton Power.

Sha stated, “BriteGaze Fund One’s primary purpose is to assist AI businesses to accelerate their growth in South Africa and across the African continent through the provision of growth funding and advisory services to expand into new verticals as well as new geographies.”

Boon stated, “We expect that the Deal Room could be a catalyst for startups in Africa!”

Power stated, “There is such a need for greater transparency for startups that are raising capital. We are excited to have this tool available to the market!”

Bohmert stated, “Investing in companies who solve real world problems applying deep AI capabilities is what we are looking for. We are very excited about The Deal Room and its ability to match startups with investors, embracing a partnership journey that is equally more about substance and less about the hype”. 

Komanyane stated, “The Deal Room will help us identify new 4IR-focused companies that align with our investment goals in this sector, its a great innovation for the Africa tech scene and one we are proud to be associated with”

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Barrett stated, “The Deal Room by AI Media Group will assist in the development of Africa’s AI ecosystem and is therefore an initiative that we are enthused to support and participate in.”

Bradshaw concluded, “The Deal Room’s biggest selling point is there is no complicated paperwork, costs or loss of equity for companies looking to use the platform. They simply answer a set of confidential questions on the nature of their investment needs, details about their company, products or services and the AI Media Group then passes them on to the most appropriate investor(s). Just like internet dating, our goal is to make a perfect match and speed up the process of investment capital flowing into the African 4IR tech sector. We can’t wait to see the results!”

Startups and scale-ups looking to submit their requests for funding can do so via The Deal Room online submission process HERE

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How Non-Techies Are Breaking Into Tech Jobs

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Image credit: Tasnim Shamma/WABE

Technology startups are at the forefront of innovation. However, while there are plenty of opportunities to influence technological growth, many people lack the necessary training to succeed. This means people need to attend training programs designed to help acquire the skills needed to break into careers in tech. Many college graduates were prepared for jobs that no longer exist or will soon become antiquated.

A 2017 report by McKinsey found that around 50% of current work activities are “technically automatable”. With this in mind, the reason is clear why so many regular people are starting to consider jobs in technology. 

Whatever statistic you want to use, one thing is for certain: millions of workers are vulnerable to automation, and many future jobs are in the technology industry. 

As automation continues to take hold and disrupt new markets, there are a number of available programs to support people who want to transition into the tech industry. This article will discuss the three main paths being used to support workers in their transition: coding bootcamps, upskilling, and reskilling.

Coding Bootcamps as a Training Method

Coding bootcamps are short-term, intense training programs focusing on employment. Whereas college is focused on teaching a wide range of theoretical knowledge which builds the foundation for a career in Computer Science, coding bootcamps have one specific focus: to help people find jobs in tech. 

A recent report on the bootcamp market found that 33,959 people graduated from coding bootcamp in 2019 alone, a 4.38% increase from the previous year. 

Coding bootcamps, which have been around for about a decade, have grown in popularity because they promise to help people pursue specific careers in technology.

Bootcamps often position their courses in fields such as Data Sciencea and Web Development, both of which are expected to realize strong growth in the coming decades. Also, bootcamps bundle services such as career support and hiring partnerships together with offerings. These services assist people in their transition from a training program to a job.

Learning New Skills Through Upskilling

Often, a worker will be in a stable field but needs additional training to keep up with technological changes. For instance, a retailer may need to be trained in a few Sales tracking tools, or an Engineer may need to learn a new programming language. This type of training, called upskilling, is an important part of workforce training.

Upskilling refers to when people learn about new technologies to help them stay viable.  While a particular job may not be directly affected by automation, new technologies have emerged, allowing employees to be more productive and efficient.

Many companies looking to largely incorporate technology in their business have in-house upskilling initiatives. The Guardian Life Insurance Company, for instance, is training its workforce in new technology like sensors used to improve underwriting and risk management procedures.

Upskilling allows people who work in more traditional roles – like Marketing, Business Development, Sales, and Payroll – gain exposure to new tech ideas, and may act as a springboard to further training opportunities. For instance, a marketer may be trained in how to use SQL to analyze campaign data. Also, after finishing an upskilling program, an employee may decide to commit to pursuing a career in tech, capitalizing on the skills acquired during training.

Also Read: Chidi Nwaogu: Multi Award-winning Entrepreneur Launches Global Fellowship Program for Aspiring and Early-stage Entrepreneur

Reskilling Existing Workers

There is another training option in addition to coding bootcamps and upskilling which has become popular among technical training programs in recent years: reskilling programs. Reskilling programs are initiatives where a business invests in its workers and help build the skills employees need to remain viable.

In contrast to bootcamps, reskilling programs are designed for workers whose job is at risk of automation. An employer will create a training program in a field of growth within their business–the Cloud, for example–and offer some workers the opportunity to retrain in a new field. AT&T, for example, is investing $1 billion in workforce retraining. The telecom giant did so after learning only half of their employees had the skills needed to be protected from automation.

Reskilling programs have grown in popularity because they allow businesses to simply retrain existing employees instead of hiring a new workforce. Often, companies will work with external training providers such as Udacity to design a reskilling program and offer to retrain any employee whose job is likely to soon become obsolete.

Reskilling programs offer dedicated workers an opportunity to stay with a company while being trained for a job in tech. This is an especially worthy proposition for workers who do not want to invest months training beyond work hours. With a reskilling program, a worker can stay with an employer – and earn a paycheck – while being trained in the new skills they need.

Each training method mentioned above has the potential to support people who are breaking into tech from non-technical backgrounds. Upskilling, coding bootcamps, and reskilling options are only three of the many workforce training options being explored. Apprenticeships and education-as-a-benefit, among other programs, are being seen as additional ways for workers to gain new technical skills.

Automation presents a threat to millions of workers, but jobs in techare likely to keep growing and provide job security. But before workers can get a job in tech, they need to find the training, and that’s where coding bootcamps, upskilling, and reskilling have become crucial in the workforce development puzzle.

Written by: Artur Meyster

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