Tool predicts droughts

2016-08-24 06:00
WINNER of the award in the Distinguished Young Woman Researcher: Research and Innovation category of the Women in Science by the Department of Science and Technology, Dr Muthoni Masinde.

WINNER of the award in the Distinguished Young Woman Researcher: Research and Innovation category of the Women in Science by the Department of Science and Technology, Dr Muthoni Masinde.

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THE dream of Dr Muthoni Masinde of setting up a Drought Mitigation Centre in the Free State has come closer to realisation with her award-winning innovating tool that can predict drought-stricken environments.

Masinde is a top researcher at the Central University of Technology’s (CUT) Bloemfontein campus.

Masine’s tool that can accurately predict drought-stricken environments for the farming sector, won the prestigious award at this year’s annual Women in Science Awards (Wisa).

Recognising women’s role in science and technology, the awards is an initiative of the Department of Science and Technology (DST).

With research and teaching experience spanning 16 years, Masinde was named the winner in the category: Distinguished Young Women Researchers: Research and Innovation, earning R75 000 for advancing science and building knowledge.

She envisages that winning the award will boost the prospect of realising her dream of setting up a Drought Mitigation Centre in the Free State.

“For me, getting this award is a lifetime achievement as a scientist. I feel very honoured and sincerely thank the Department of Science and Technology for the great initiative to honour women scientists.

“I’m now more motivated to implement this tool and to ensure that it is accessible to more small-scale farmers in South Africa as well as those in other African countries.

“My dream of setting up a Drought Mitigation Centre in the Free State has been greatly boosted by this award,” she said.

The tool taps into African indigenous knowledge of natural disasters and augments it with information and communication technology such as artificial intelligence, wireless sensor networks and mobile phones.

This contribution was recognised by the International Telecommunications Union and emerged in the top five in the union’s Green ICT Application Challenge.

“I developed a novel tool that accurately predicts droughts. The innovation was motivated by the realisation that in most African countries, rain-fed agriculture accounts for over 70% of food production.

“Furthermore, this production is in the hands of small-scale farmers who continue to rely on their local indigenous know­ledge to reach critical cropping decisions,” Masinde explained.

Her contribution to drought forecasting solutions for the Free State was recently featured on BBC World Service and led to the establishment of a unit at CUT for research on informatics for drought in Africa. Masinde obtained her PhD from the University of Cape Town in 2012 and is the head of the IT Department at CUT.

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