Esther Kimani wins Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation, takes home £50,000

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Esther Kimani has been named winner of Africa’s biggest engineering prize, the Royal Academy of Engineering’s Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation. Her early crop pest and disease detection device was selected as the winning innovation for its ability to swiftly detect and identify agricultural pests and diseases, reducing crop losses for smallholder farmers by up to 30% while increasing yields by as much as 40%.

Five million smallholder farmers in Kenya lose on average 33% of their crops to pests and diseases. Kimani’s innovation not only provides real-time alerts within five seconds of an infestation, offering tailored intervention suggestions, but also alerts government agricultural officers to the presence of diseases or pests, contributing to broader agricultural management efforts.

The solar-powered tool uses computer vision algorithms and advanced machine learning to detect and identify crop pests, pathogens or diseases, as well as the nature of the infection or infestation. The device then notifies the farmer via SMS. This affordable alternative to traditional detection methods leases for just $3 per month, significantly cheaper than hiring drones or agricultural inspectors.

The annual Africa Prize was founded by the Royal Academy of Engineering in 2014 to support innovators developing sustainable and scalable engineering solutions to local challenges in Africa. This year has seen the Africa Prize alumni community grow to almost 150 entrepreneurs from 23 countries, who together have generated more than 28,000 jobs and benefitted more than 10 million people on the continent through their innovative products and services.

To celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Prize, the Royal Academy of Engineering hosted the Africa Prize Alumni Reunion, bringing together 100 innovators from the past decade for a three-day programme ahead of the final ceremony. This momentous occasion showcased the strength of the community united by the Prize.

Esther said: “My parents would lose up to 40% of their crops each farming season, which affected our standard of living. We are empowering smallholder farmers, many of whom are women, to increase their income. We aim to scale to one million farmers in the next five years.”

Africa Prize Chair of Judges Malcolm Brinded CBE FREng said: “These awards form part of the Royal Academy of Engineering’s investment of over £1 million to African innovators through grants, prizes and accelerator programmes during the tenth anniversary year of the Africa Prize.”

Esther received £50,000 to further develop the device. This is the largest amount awarded to a winner, in honour of the 10th Anniversary of the Prize. The four finalists delivered their final business pitch to the Academy judges and an in-person audience of approximately 700.

The three runners up, who were each awarded £15,000 to develop their innovations, were:  

Eco Tiles, Kevin Maina, Kenya:

  • An environmentally friendly roofing material made from recycled plastic. Stronger and lighter than clay or concrete tiles, the innovation is a dual solution to plastic pollution and high building costs.
  • The innovative manufacturing process involves a custom-made extrusion machine that blends different plastics at varying temperatures, eliminating the need for energy-intensive processes like kiln-burning and reducing carbon emissions. The tiles are enhanced with UV stabilisation chemicals and construction sand to improve durability and sturdiness.

La Ruche Health, Rory Assandey, Côte d’Ivoire:

  • La Ruche Health connects communities to vital health information, advice, and services through “Kiko”, an AI chatbot tool available on WhatsApp and mobile apps, and a digital backend solution to streamline documentation, billing, and data sharing for practitioners.
  • By May 2024, the AI has facilitated over 150,000 user interactions and 189 in-home and teleconsultation appointments, processing over $18,000 in medical billings, illustrating its effectiveness and scalability.

Yo-Waste, Martin Tumusiime, Uganda:

  • Addressing Uganda’s mounting waste crisis, Yo-Waste is a location-based mobile application that connects homes and businesses to independent agents for efficient on-demand rubbish collection and disposal.
  • Yo-Waste currently serves over 1,500 customers including homes, businesses, and waste collection agents, with a goal to reach 20,000 users by 2026.

A separate ‘One to Watch’ award was also awarded to Dr Abubakari Zarouk Imoro on the night for their innovation’s impact on local communities. Voted for by live and online audiences, Dr Imoro receives £5,000, conferred in 2024 in honour of Martin Bruce, a late Ghanaian alumnus of the Africa Prize.

The 2025 Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation, launched at the 2024 final, is now open for entries. The Academy is looking for scalable engineering solutions designed to solve local challenges, and individuals and small teams living and working in sub-Saharan Africa are invited to enter. The deadline for entries is 15 October. Visit the ‘How to Apply’ guide on the Africa Prize website.

The remaining innovations shortlisted for the 2024 Africa Prize were:

  • Beba-Beggie, Charles Oduk, Kenya – An IoT automated locker technology offering affordable, accessible, secure and convenient short-term storage.
  • Biomass Briquettes, Ludo Ntshiwa, Botswana – An environmentally-friendly clean fuel that harnesses the green energy of biowaste to produce a renewable energy source for heat production as a substitute for charcoal.
  • Kiri EV, Christopher Maara, Kenya – An end-to-end affordable and clean energy mobility provider, from electric motorcycles, scooters and tuktuks to battery charging infrastructure across Kenya.
  • MAVUNOLAB Solar Dryer, Dr Evodius Rutta, Tanzania – A low-cost solar-powered dryer developed to help small-scale fish processors and farmers in off-grid locations by enhancing food safety and hygiene for perishable food products.
  • Microfuse Stick Computer, Ivan Karugaba, Uganda – A compact and affordable device that plugs in to any screen, projector or monitor to transform it into a Wi-Fi-connected computer, increasing computer access and digital inclusivity.
  • Myco-Substitutes, Abubakari Zarouk Imoro, Ghana – An eco-friendly sewage treatment that uses viruses, bacteria, and fungi to treat and feed on faecal waste and produce yarn and leather substitutes.
  • PenKeep, Adaeze Akpagbula, Nigeria – A climate-smart remote sensing device that monitors and controls environmental conditions in poultry farms, ensuring optimal health and productivity of chickens.
  • Second-Life Batteries, Léandre Berwa, Rwanda – A solution that repurposes retired electric vehicle (EV) batteries to be assembled as a back-up power supply for telecom towers and mini electricity grids.
  • The Kitchen Box, Tunde Adeyemi, Nigeria – An affordable biogas digester technology which turns any type of organic waste into animal feed and organic fertiliser, and generates clean energy for heating and cooking.
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