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 Monday, October 31, 2011
ITU Green App Challenge - Meet the developers! - Interview with Ms. Euphraith Muthoni Masinde

The first ITU Green ICT Application Challenge sought to uncover innovative concept papers for climate change related ICT applications. ITU announced the Challenge’s winner and papers deserving special mention at the Green Standards Week held in Rome, 5-9 September 2011. The event was supported by BlackBerrry and Telefonica.

One of the challenge’s finalists, Ms. Euphraith Muthoni Masinde from Kenya, developed a concept for an application entitled, “A Community-Based System for Biodiversity Degradation.” This application aims to tackle climate change through community engagement and knowledge sharing. The app proposes a system harnessing traditional and indigenous knowledge on biodiversity and conservation. This information will be brought to light through community-based focus groups, and then disseminated to users through a database feeding data directly to mobile phones. Users would then build on this knowledge to create their own conservation practices.

We approached Euphraith to discuss the inspiration for her concept and her experience with the challenge. Here is what she had to say.

[Question] Tell us a little about yourself and what you do.  

I am a PhD student in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Cape Town, South Africa. I am a member of the HPI Research School in ICT for development (ICT4D), as well as a member of the Intelligent Systems and Advanced Telecommunication Laboratory. I am currently on study-leave from the School of Computing and Informatics at the University of Nairobi, where I am a lecturer.

I hold an MSc. in Computer Science from the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium, and a BSc. in Computer Science from the University of Nairobi, Kenya. My research objective is to come up with a drought and climate change monitoring/warning solution based on wireless sensor networks and mobile phones. This research also seeks to determine how these two technologies can complement indigenous African knowledge on droughts.

[Q] How did you find about the Challenge, and why did you decide to take part?

I am registered with the ITU’s Academic database,and it was through this network that I became aware of the Challenge and received an invitation to take part.. I decided to take part in the competition because my current area of research revolves around a number of topics on ITU’s list of activities. For instance, I am piggybacking the design of my wireless sensor networks on the ITU’s schematic layers of a ubiquitous sensor network proposal. In short, I am just fascinated by the activities of ITU, and this made me quickly submit my application to the Challenge.

[Q] Have you developed an app before or was this experience new to you?

Yes, I have developed a number of applications over the last 15 years. My first job assignment at the University of Nairobi was as a computer software analyst/developer. To give an example of my work in this role, I designed and developed the students’ management information system that is currently in use at the university. As a lecturer, I specialize in teaching courses with a software development emphasis, and I develop software as a hobby.

[Q] Was the application that you presented something you’ve been working on for a long time, or did you develop the app for this challenge? How did the development of the app take place?

My application is something I have been working on for the last 18 months, and I intend to complete it by the end of 2012. The development of my app is still under way.I have completed the template for collecting the indigenous knowledge on biodiversity degradation, and this takes the form of an Android-based mobile application. The website to disseminate this information is also complete, and it is a PHP-Apache-MySQL application.

[Q] What is the biggest challenge you are expecting upon completion of the application?

My biggest challenge lies in collecting this elusive indigenous knowledge on biodiversity degradation. It is an enormous volume of information and the task of collecting it is one requiring more resources than I currently have at my disposal.

[Q] What was your motivation behind developing an app to combat climate change/promote sustainability?

I viewed the competion as an avenue through which to publish what I consider a very innovative idea of compacting climate change information. I also entered hoping to win the prize and use the prize-money to fund the completion of my application.

[Q] Where did your inspiration for this application come from?

It came from my personal encounters with the devastating effects of climate change on biodiversity. I was born and brought up in a semi-arid area of the Eastern region of Kenya. In this remote village called Rugogwe, the formerly semi-arid area is now on the verge of becoming arid.

I grew up and lived in this village for over 20 years, and I have witnessed phenomenal degradation of its biodiversity. Crops such as sweet potatoes and bananas, which thrived in the late 1970’s and early 80’s, have no chance of flourishing in the now hostile climate. Seasonal rivers and streams that retained water throughout the year now struggle to retain water for a day. The size of maize crops and finger millet bunches produced by the area’s farms have shrunk drastically, and many musical birds that sang joyful songs during rainy seasons are now extinct. The bulls, cows, goats, sheep and chicken are no longer as big as we knew them in years past, rains do not fall when we expect them to and, when they do, they cause floods and carry away the little soil and sand left from sand harvesting!

Biodiversity here has been turned upside-down. I am determined to use my doctoral level education to contribute a solution for this degradation.

[Q] What other activities are you involved in to help fight climate change and promote environmental sustainability?

I have developed a novel solution for down-scaling the collection and dissemination of weather information to a local level. My solution makes use of the prevalence of mobile phones and versatile wireless sensor networks.

[Q] What do you expect from this application in the future? Are you planning to further develop it? What is your advice to developers wishing to create apps to help combat climate change/promote sustainability?  

I am determined to see the full realization of my application. I will first pilot it in three selected areas in Kenya, and then hopefully scale it up to the rest of Kenya and the Horn of Africa in general. To my fellow developers, I would encourage people to create community-driven applications. It is difficult to go wrong with such initiatives, because one ends up with a solution ‘for people-by-the-people’.

[Q] Any last thoughts?

I am completely thrilled that the prominent judges deemed my application worthy of a special mention. This has really boosted my morale and encouraged me to move even faster in implementing my application. Thank you very much to the ITU team that came up with this noble idea.  


To find out more about Ms. Muthoni and her activities, visit her website at http://www.muthonimasinde.net/, or contact her via ITU by sending an email to climate@itu.int. Meet the rest of the winners and relive the ITU Green Application Challenge by accessing http://www.itu.int/ITU-T/climatechange/greenict/index.html.

For more information about the ITU’s activities on climate change visit www.itu.int/climate