South African Lecturer Invents Drought Forecasting Tool



Africa is reported to contain the highest number of people affected by droughts, severe droughts in the continent have left millions of people on the brink of starvation. This has been especially the case in countries such as Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia and Uganda.

However, every crisis is an opportunity for innovators to showcase their skills and come up with new ideas to tackling such issues. These alarming statistics are what led Muthoni Masinde, a lecturer from the Central University of Technology in Bloemfontein, to invent a drought forecasting tool. The Kenyan-born lecturer believes that an effective drought early warning system can support appropriate mitigation and preparedness strategies and hence minimize these effects.

According to her research paper, the system is anchored on a novel integration framework called ITIKI (Information Technology and Indigenous Knowledge with Intelligence). Indigenous knowledge ensures that the system is relevant, acceptable and resilient. ITIKI further employs three ICTs (Mobile phones, wireless sensor networks and artificial intelligence) to enhance the system’s effectiveness, affordability, sustainability and intelligence.

This innovative tool, which combines African indigenous knowledge and computer science technologies, has already been used in parts of Mozambique, Lesotho and Kenya.

“ITIKI was conceptualised from itiki which is the name used among the Mbeere people in Eastern Kenya, to refer to an indigenous bridge made using sticks and was used for decades to go across rivers,” explains Masinde, “Until mid 90s, this bridge used to be constructed by ‘experts’ who possessed indigenous knowledge on the rivers terrain as well as on the strength of the various trees along the rivers and the trees ability to sustain the weight that the bridge would eventually carry. Such was the accuracy of this knowledge that during the 1992 floods, a newly constructed modern bridge was swept away while the itiki nearby was left standing.”

Masinde recently received the top award in the category Distinguished Young Women Researchers at the Women in Science Awards in CUT, Bloemfontein, where she is also the head of ICT. The invention is recognised by the International Telecommunications Union and the proud inventor says that with the tool, it is possible to predict drought as accurately as 98%.

“I noticed that the more skilled farmers, mostly in the rural areas, do not make use of weather forecasting. Vastly because it is inaccessible to them, they do not read newspapers. They continue to use their own knowledge. They wake up in the morning and look at the sky for instance, that is what we call indigenous knowledge. So I wanted to document that by using Computer Science,” concludes Masinde.