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JKUAT innovators win Sh10 million

By Fredrick Oginga | June 27th 2019

An innovation team comprising staff and students of Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKuat) has won two top innovation spots in this year’s Cisco Problem Solver Challenge.

Charity Ngobia, Taita Ng’etich, Brian Bett, Dysmus Kisilu, Rita Nkatha and other participants scooped both the first runners-up and second runners-up positions in the challenge. Their companies and projects named Solar Freeze and Illuminum Greenhouses have been named winners and will receive Sh7.5 million and Sh2.5 million, respectively.

Speaking after unveiling the winners, Country General Manager for Cisco East Africa and Indian Ocean Islands David Bunei said the two companies, led by young students, came tops after demonstrating how technology can be used to solve critical challenges affecting livelihoods and communities in Kenya.

“We celebrate the young people who took part in this season of the Cisco Global Problem Solver Challenge. I am particularly proud of the two Kenyan companies that have come tops,” he said, adding: "They have demonstrated that Kenyans have great ideas that are globally competitive and we are looking forward to seeing the positive impact these two companies will have on Kenyans."

Solar Freeze provides portable solar cooling units that allow farmers to move and store smaller quantities of fresh produce.

Illuminum Greenhouses, on the other hand, provides smallholder farmers with affordable greenhouses and drip kits equipped with solar-powered sensors that enable greater protection of crops from pests and diseases. The sensors also ensure increased water efficiency through automation.

The challenge, carried out on four levels, rates competitors based on the innovative nature of technology solution their project provides, the ability of the project to be carried out within a particular area of interest with ease, its expected level of impact on the population and how well the project is presented and planned.

The two teams from Kenya beat at least 335 teams from around the world who competed for a total of Sh30 million in prizes. In this year’s challenge, teams focused on solutions addressing challenges in the environment, healthcare and critical human needs.

Launched two years ago, the competition's final this year featured three teams from Africa: two from Kenya and one from Nigeria. Oorja from Imperial College in London, the United Kingdom, was the overall winner of the challenge, walking home with Sh10 million.

The innovation deploys and operates pay-as-you-go community solar pumping systems to provide affordable irrigation services to smallholder farmers, allowing them access to affordable water services year-round, reduce irrigation costs, helping them grow high-value crops and easily double their incomes.

Last year’s winners had come up with a solution christened CareNX, a wearable, low-cost, non-stress test fetal monitoring device called Feton for mothers in India.

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