A first mapping of local innovators in Namibia: the power of good ideas
By Margretha Kampulu
With the Namibian government’s recent declaration of a state of emergency due to ongoing and persistent drought, the new UNDP Accelerator Labs could not have come at better time.
Unveiled officially last month with the support of the German and Qatari governments, Namibia’s Lab will focus on fusing issues central to climate change, environmental sustainability and resilience.
Increasingly, we now see the impact of these issues on areas like health with diseases like Hepatitis E and malaria increasing at a faster rate. This naturally fuels the complexity of providing relief for the drought. The compound effects of climate can damage not just health systems or infrastructure — but extreme weather can take a heavy toll on communities. Often, droughts and floods can affect crop yields and result in malnutrition, which makes people more vulnerable to disease and dependent on finding new and sometimes unreliable food sources.
Quite frankly, today’s challenges are moving so rapidly that countries must respond with an equally sophisticated range of development solutions to tackle complex problems and make faster progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The lab will help elevate grassroots solutions to respond rapidly and effectively to meet this pace of change.
Mapping out local solutions
The Lab has set its sights set on a new way of working –working closely with people close to the problem and who are ‘walking the talk’ — so to speak. This also means devising partnerships and alliances to better navigate the effects of climate change, like drought — and to better understand what is needed in various communities and in many cases, integrate locally sourced solutions.
And amid serious concerns surrounding the link between climate change on agriculture in the region, Namibia’s recent launch provided an opportunity for locally-owned solution providers to showcase efforts to address these challenges.
What’s more, the Namibia Lab is part of an ongoing effort to map out what is being done in the country and highlight insights from various sources of intelligence, including grassroots solutions. The Labs will combine local innovations with new sources of real-time data and experimentation, digging deeper to explore solutions and potential partnerships into issues such as youth employment and climate change.
We’re just getting started, but it’s amazing to see the talent and budding innovation in the country.
Solutions we’ve mapped so far:
Nam-Oceanic Kelp Production Enterprise (AKA NamKelp)
In the face of persistent drought, Namkelp has found a way to support local farmers. The company is repurposing seaweed found along the Namibian coast to produce chicken feed products. The seaweed also supplements most of the required nutrients for animal diets. This is good news for the many chicken farmers, especially start-ups, struggling with the high-cost of animal feed.
By producing feed from natural seaweeds, the company can supply animal feed supplements at a lower cost for farmers. In a region where drought conditions compromise livestock productivity, farm income, and farmers’ livelihoods — this product could be a gamechanger. It turns out that this seaweed has been proven to be rich in the nutrients needed to boost animal and chicken growth. Given Namibia’s vast ocean coastline, the country has many natural resources, such as seaweed that may provide a renewable food source alternative.
Drones are rapidly becoming valuable tools for helping farmers inspect their fields quickly and efficiently. Afridrones hopes to transform the way drones integrate into any business growth strategy by demonstrating the possibilities agricultural drones provide local farmers to improve crop yields and productivity. Increasingly drones offer numerous uses in the fields of inspection, agriculture and aerial surveillance. For farmers in Namibia, drones can support mapping, spraying, or data collection and play an important role in assessing and mitigating the effects of climate on crops. Afridrones efforts will enable rural communities to measure crop health, assisting farmers in adaptation and more precisely managing their fields and livestock. In the long run, such efforts may also help communities to be better prepared for climate change and allow policymakers and water managers to plan accordingly.
But climate adaptation is only part of the picture
As a new breed of collaboration gets underway in Namibia, several other technologies may also generate a number of benefits. Progress is being made towards more localized solutions designed to increase productivity, and demonstrating initiatives that offer greater flexibility in educating young people, providing transport and delivering mobile technology. Looking ahead, beyond these solutions, more partnerships will need to grow, especially if we are to come together to solve some big developmental challenges, exacerbated by climate. And through ongoing knowledge sharing, we believe we can drive increased productivity and returns for residents, especially farmers who stand to benefit from those improvements the most.
Consider a few other start-ups that continue to spark interest by creating complementary, high-tech solutions to help the Namibian community become resilient in new ways:
To meet the many transport challenges facing Namibia, LEFA’s connecting existing networks of shuttle services with customers to make transport and travel safer and more reliable. As one of the countries in the world with the worst road accidents statistics per capita, LEFA provides a safe way to move around the city in an affordable and reliable way. The platform gives residents instant access to transport service providers. Passengers benefit from driver profiles, ratings, and vehicle information, trackable in real-time. What’s more this rideshare holds the promise of reducing emissions and playing a part of larger solution on climate!
NOI Coding Academy
This social enterprise is on a mission to educate young Namibians of how to create and develop computer programs and gain a head-start on the technical skills for the future. Programs are designed to encourage young people to problem solve and access information and technology, and to enhance their skills in computing, understanding and appreciation of IT. Students gain the skills and tools to develop and design programs, games and animation of their own and eventually expand this knowledge into Robotics, Raspberry PIs, and the Internet of things.
With the belief that ICT can encourage learning, bring employment opportunities, and assist towards the promotion of Namibian’s cultural identity, Glowdom‘s mission is to bridge the technology gap in Africa’s education. The company is using e-learning to help individuals and schools monitor performance and to grow the number of individuals who have the ability, skills and knowledge to systematically solve problems and address relevant local challenges facing Namibia.
The Namibian Lab is an encouraging reminder that entering the broad but interconnected landscape of development, requires more than ‘walking the talk’ — it means building on these early, progressive efforts and continuing to support the traction of the many pioneering solutions that have taken hold. Meeting the needs of the 21st century requires forging stronger partnerships and greater cooperation, especially if we are to accelerate business models and address interconnected issues rooted in issues like climate change and the sharing economy. The Lab is poised to find breakthrough approaches that can take on Namibia’s environmental and social challenges and at the same time build new solutions by looking close to home — tackling what works and expanding the conversation. Watch this space — as together with our partners, we know that by elevating good ideas, the sky’s the limit!
Margretha Kampulu is UNDP Namibia Communications Consultant. You can follow her on Twitter.