Inspiring Agricultural Innovation and Transformation

William Kamkwamba signs books during the Agricultural Transformation Summit,

held in Lilongwe, Malawi on November 14, 2019

 

Inspiration can come from all places. For some, inspiration comes from listening to the words of others. Moments of inspiration can also hit during times of great need, or times of reflection.

For William Kamkwamba, the Malawian innovator and inventor who built an electricity-producing windmill from spare parts and scrap in his home village at the age of 14, a feat that was recently dramatized in the Netflix adaptation of his book, “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind”, inspiration came from multiple sources. He was inspired by the great need of Kasungu, which has alternating seasons of floods, droughts, and hunger, and science textbooks from his school’s library, among many other founts of inspiration.

Needless to say, Kamkwamba’s story inspires youth and adults around the world. The Agricultural Transformation Initiative (ATI) was honored to host Mr. Kamkwamba as the keynote speaker for the second annual Agricultural Transformation Summit, which took place Thursday, November 14 in Lilongwe, Malawi.

In advance of the Summit, Kamkwamba was a judge for ATI’s 2019 Agriculture Technology (AgTech) Challenge, which was hosted by the Centre of Agricultural Transformation (CAT) program. The challenge was designed to inspire innovative thinking among the youth in Malawi, to harness the next generation of inventors and innovators to drive and sustain agricultural transformation. Kamkwamba, with CAT staff, mentored and encouraged participants throughout their application process. All finalists were invited to attend the Summit, and to present their innovations to the judges for final assessing the day before.

After his keynote address at the Summit, which was full of great advice on how to innovate, design, and harness your own ability, the winners of the AgTech Challenge were announced, and awarded trophies for their inventions, accompanied by music from Shakira blaring through the speakers and uproarious applause.

 

A university student shows his invention that reduces the labor involved in

harvesting groundnuts to the AgTech Challenge judges

The day was jam-packed with inspiring conversations and speakers, including poignant comments from smallholder farmer Patrica Mussa, who clearly articulated the impact of crop insurance on her own farm, and insightfully described survey methods she believes would bring about more accurate and usable data in the future. Participants got to watch labor-saving innovations in action, with a Multi-Crop Thresher demonstration from Bountifield International and the Soybean Innovation Lab. Panelists debated global trends in artificial intelligence, data science, and automation, their impacts on the agricultural sector, and innovative approaches to skills development taking hold in Malawi and abroad. Through a conference-wide WhatsApp group, attendees were able to engage with each other on issues such as land as an investment, and the importance and role of crop insurance within the agricultural sector. At the end of the day, four PhDs from the University of Minnesota and Stellenbosch University introduced a bold plan to kickstart a data revolution in agricultural markets in Malawi.

It’s clear that Malawi’s got talent. By bringing in a variety of speakers and perspectives, from celebrities, farmers, professors, practitioners, and the honorable Minister of Agriculture himself, the second annual ATI Summit proved to be an inspirational and exciting event.

As paraphrased from Kamkwamba during his keynote – while talent is universal, opportunity is not. Investing and encouraging innovation, science, and technology in Malawi will ensure the country is ready to work together to transition away from tobacco dependence.

From left to right: Derek Yach, President of the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World; Candida Nakhumwa, Country Director for Malawi for the Agricultural Transformation Initiative; Kondwani Nakhumwa, the Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation, and Water Development; Jim Lutzweiler, Vice President of Agriculture and Livelihoods for the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World; and Gray Nyandule Phiri, the Principal Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation, and Water Development

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