Some weeks ago, the winners of the US State sponsored and Appfrica Apps4Africa Climate Challenge for the Southern Africa region were announced. The three winners for the region are a Botswana team working on an app called myHealth, a Madagascar team working on an app called Service Anti Cyclone, and Zimbabwean team working on UnsApp. The Zim team is headed by a guy called Hugh Sando whose profession is Livestock and Wildlife management.
We had an interview with Sando recently where we talked about their app, their development and roll out plans, what the challenge means to them and so on. We post below the transcription of the interview.
TZ: So how did you end up participating in this challenge?
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Hugh: I got an email from the US Embassy telling me about the Apps4Africa Challenge. They were inviting me to the brain storming session, so I came. That’s’ how I came to know about this.
TZ: And that was with your siblings that are in your team?
Hugh: No, it was just me.
TZ: So in terms of your career, what do you do? Your team members as well.
Hugh: I’m currently not employed. But most of my time I spend working on aquatic projects. I work on this system referred to as Aquaponics, where we integrate vegetables and fish farming. I studied Livestock and Wildlife Management at Midlands University in Gweru. My big brother Tinashe is a DJ, my other brother Tonderai is a machine shop engineer and then Mercy recently finished a degree in psychology.
I should have been working at the National Parks and Wildlife at their Aquatic research station in Chivero, but because of financial constraints, they cannot employ me at the moment
TZ: So the application, UnsApp, what is it about? What does it do?
Hugh: The name itself stands for Unknown Scientist’s Application. Food security affects everyone and so seeing that the climate change issue has an impact on food security, this application is meant for everyone so that people can understand that they can help in food security issues so that food can be available for the whole country.
There’s a lot of information out there about food security, but the problems is that it’s not getting to the people. So I thought this application could get this information and get it to the people so general people could understand. And these people can even contribute their ideas on how to improve the food security situation through the app. It’s like getting everyone into one cause.
TZ: So where does the information come from?
Hugh: When the application is now in full swing, we will gather research information. We will get the funds to go out to the farmers. We will find out how much maize is available for example and then we determine how long that quantity would last for the country. So if people can know how long the grain will last they can come up with ways to make it last longer, maybe how to conserve, maybe how to make it multiply.
TZ: So how will people access this information?
Hugh: The application is meant to be something that someone with an ordinary phone is able to access. A phone that doesn’t have any internet. We are still thinking of how the technicalities in terms of how this will be possible but basically there will be an interaction between the user and our database so that someone can register and will give them information on what is happening, they can give us information on how much they have if they are farmers, or how much they have even if they are not farmers but they know information. We’re still looking into how exactly the information will move between the different users of that information. But will also distribute via regular desktops, laptops, smartphones and also other media like TV and radio.
TZ: So is this for profit or non-profit? Do you intend to commercialise this somehow?
Hugh: I’d love to think of it as commercial but right now I don’t know how I can commercialise at the moment. But I’d love to make it something that can help the country. If it serves that purpose even without being profitable for me, it’s ok. I’d love to make profit as a human being but at the moment I will focus more on getting the scope of the application to the people. If along the way, I find a way to make a commercial thing then that will be good.
TZ: So how will you fund this project?
Hugh: The competition said that there are sponsors who can help with the projects, so at the moment I’m still looking to get something that make the sponsors to come in and help. So I’m waiting to get something that works for someone to look at and see that they can fund it.
TZ: And how is the Apps4Africa initiative assisting you in that regard in terms of refining the idea and making it sellable to possible funders?
Hugh: So far they haven’t really started interacting directly that much but they created this platform called Apps4Africa hub where everyone who won is interacting with each other virtually. They want you to be able to communicate with those people online, so that where I regularly talk to other people who have won previous challenges as well as the recent one.
TZ: So what stage of the development of the application are you?
Hugh: Right now it’s still a concept. We are trying to find developers as soon as possible. We’ll be looking for funding to pay the developers.
TZ: So what are you working on right now?
Hugh: We would like to have a developer by the end of this month. So right now I’m still thinking exactly how this application will work so that when we approach a developer, the things are clear to them. I’m also looking at areas that can initiate this project, in terms of how I will get the information. I’m also researching on other aspects of food security that I hadn’t covered.
TZ: How does this help with climate change?
Hugh: In terms of climate change, if we concentrate more on its effects, it’s hard to find a solution. You can’t really stop it. But what we can do is find adaptive measures that can help us humans not feel its impact. So we’re not looking at the effects, we’re saying there is climate change but we can manage to have a level of food security that is above its effects.
TZ: So how are you using the US $3,000 prize money?
Hugh: Well, it hasn’t come yet, but as soon as we get it our priority is to pay a developer and buy some equipment.
TZ: So what are your overall thoughts on this challenge?
Hugh: I just wish there more opportunities like this one for a lot of other people other there. Winning was just being fortunate. There are a lot of people in this country that I meet, who have a lot of innovative ideas but they don’t get a platform like this one. I just happened to participate. If such a platform would be more accessible and available to more people out there who have ideas we would see some great innovative ideas.