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Computer algorithms to end hunger, malnutrition

By Nasibo Kabale | June 9th 2017 at 11:44:51 GMT +0300

The government and partners are concerned with the rising malnutrition levels in the country with 2.7 million Kenyans already in dire need of food.

International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) has announced a new approach to predict and track malnutrition in Africa through advanced technology that is powering everything from Internet search-engines to consumer fraud protection.

The new technology launched by CIAT called Nutrition Early Warning System (NEWS), will help governments, aid groups, and farmers in early detection of famines, droughts, and floods among other calamities and help lessen their effects, especially those that lead to food shortages.

The approach could help trigger a shift from crisis response to early action against hunger, according to scientists.

Environment Cabinet Secretary, Prof. Judi Wakhungu said that the technology could help clump down on hunger crisis especially now when stunting rates in the country are worrying and could have grave impacts on future generations and lost educational opportunities for young people.

"As we expect to experience more intense weather extremes like drought in future, it is vital that we build resilience within our communities, and within our ecosystems and environment, to be able to cope with challenges in future," said the CS.

With one in four people in sub-Saharan Africa malnourished, and famine and food shortages already affecting South Sudan and looming in northern Nigeria and Somalia, the approach aims to fast-track solutions to meet global commitments to end hunger and malnutrition by 2030.

"Since the 1970s, sub-Saharan Africa has been hit by food crises with depressing frequency.This tells us that something is fundamentally wrong with our food system and with the way we're tracking crisis signals. ," said Dr. Mercy Lung'aho, a CIAT nutritionist and lead author of the white paper.

She said that NEWS would enable scientists identify trends and risks way ahead of time, allowing policymakers to take evasive action before disaster strikes.

Initially, NEWS would focus on boosting nutrition in sub-Saharan Africa by responding to triggers and allowing relief agencies, donors and governments to make more informed decisions.

A prototype is currently being developed by CIAT to be deployed in future in alliance with key partners.

Currently, most governments and aid organizations use multiple metrics and separate tracking systems to measure malnutrition but with so much data to absorb, it can be easy to miss early indicators of trouble that can be brewing years before a crisis kicks in.

"This makes it hard to formulate a proactive food policy and escape the trap of constantly reacting to disruptions rather than getting out ahead of hunger," said Dr. Debisi Araba, CIAT's Regional Director for Africa.

More broadly, the NEWS system would enable governments, donors, farmers, health care providers, NGOs and food companies to contribute towards and implement more rapid, tailored interventions

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