Young innovators using tech for climate fight

Saturday September 09 2023

Ahmed Hussein, the Canadian Minister of International Development, with Founder of Bleaglee Waste Management Limited Juveline Ngum Ngwa (R) during a panel discussion in Nairobi, Kenya on the unlocking finance on creating an enabling environment for Youth entrepreneurs and innovators in Climate action during the Africa Climate Summit on September 5,2023. PHOTO | EVANS HABIL | NMG


Imagine getting paid to have your garbage collected instead of being charged for the service. For hundreds of people in Abuja, this is their reality thanks to an innovation that helps them use their waste as “currency.”

EcoBarter, a Nigerian start-up, has developed a way for people to earn from disposing their recyclable waste.

One requests for garbage pickup using a mobile app and earns points for every kilogramme of recyclable waste collected. Each point is worth about $0.04, and the points can use to buy commodities from specific partner businesses.

The company sells the recyclable garbage to manufacturers, preventing tonnes of plastic waste from polluting the environment, EcoBarter founder Rita Idehai says.

Read: Kenya seeks investors to recycle trash

Idehai says the innovation is incentivising locals to responsibly manage garbage, which “addresses the problem of indiscriminate waste disposal, something that makes us extremely vulnerable to urban flooding.”


“In most cities across Africa, drainages are already filled with waste material and as climate change increases the intensity of rainfall, we are so vulnerable to flooding; so, we’re trying to keep that garbage from the drainage,” she told The EastAfrican.

Idehai is one of about 100 young innovators from across the continent who are leveraging the power of the internet and modern technologies to help mitigate the impact of climate change in their countries.

Read: EAC bans dumping of electronic waste, calls for recycling

Their innovations were showcased at the AU Climate Action Innovation Hub on the side-lines of the Africa Climate Summit this week to “inspire replication across the continent in the fight against climate change”, according to an organiser of the side-event.

Another innovation, Umojalands, uses AI models and satellite technology to provide farmers with virtual agricultural extension services for climate-smart agriculture and to access cheaper finance from banks in Zimbabwe.

Its founders, Tafadzwanashe Gavi and Emmanuel Chimukupete, told The EastAfrican that by using technology to analyse various variables like weather patterns, soil fertility and acidity level, their innovation helps farmers improve harvests and to effectively assess risk levels to get loans on better terms.
“We provide a platform for farmers to get the best agronomic advice on the best practices, maybe to apply pesticides, fertilisers, or plant a particular crop that will give the maximum yield,” said Gavi.

“Our system utilises AI to predict any anomalies in climate and weather patterns more accurately and advice farmers on how to better prepare for them,” added Chimukupete.

Read: Kenyan youth turn e-waste to robotic prosthetic

Other innovations showcased also seek to find new ways of tackling climate-change related problems, from reducing pollution to enhancing climate smart agriculture and enabling access to required investments for indigenous people.

Yossi Matias, vice president of Google Research, said that their studies show that some solutions that utilise modern technologies like artificial intelligence to boost climate change mitigation and adaptation “are actually pretty effective.”

“For example, most of the carbon emissions in cities comes from cars in intersections. Turns out using AI to just make the scheduling a little better, one can get more than 10 percent reduction in carbon emissions,” he said.

But while technology has the potential of providing real solutions in the climate change fight, innovators struggle to scale up their startups as investors steer clear, forcing many to fold.

“We need funds to scale, and we must invest a lot without getting immediate returns. Investors do not understand that. Most of them want quick returns, which we can’t provide as we start,” said Idehai.

Sam Gichuru, founder and CEO of Nairobi-based start-up accelerator Nailab, said at the event that while there are enough investments for African budding businesses, they barely trickle down to those providing climate solutions.

“When it does trickle down to these innovators, the KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) set for this money are way beyond them and the outcomes are not the same ones they are pursuing,” he said.