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New app warns farmers about looming drought

Written by Galoome Shopane

A Free State scientist has developed a drought early warning system that integrates indigenous and scientific knowledge to help farmers withstand severe weather.

Climate change is rapidly impacting Africa but a dedicated and innovative scientist, Prof Muthoni Masinde (43) is doing her bit to help the continent withstand drought, using her ITIKI Drought Prediction Tool.

ITIKI, which is an acronym for Information Technology and Indigenous Knowledge with Intelligence, is a bridge that integrates indigenous and scientifi drought forecasting.

 ‘Itiki’ was the name of indigenous bridges built of sticks and used for decades to cross rivers in Eastern Kenya.

She has first-hand experience of how drought can affect communities. Prof Muthoni Masinde with her drought-detecting device, the ITIKI Drought Prediction Tool.

ITIKI is the result of her mission to fuse the indigenous knowledge systems she learnt while ploughing and herding livestock in her village with her knowledge of technology.

Prof Masinde’s ITIKI app can predict floods and drought but her focus is more on droughts as they last longer and their consequences are more severe.

Being highly competent in mathematics and science in school, she aspired to be a doctor until a high school teacher told her about computer science.

Prof Masinde has achieved numerous awards for her work, including the Distinguished Young Woman in Science Award from the Department of Science and Technology, three awards from the Central University of Technology (CUT) in the Free State  and a Securing Water for Food grant worth USD 500 000.

The mother of four has partnered with the South African Weather Services and the universities of KwaZulu-Natal and the Free State, and has teams in Kenya, Mozambique and South Africa to warn farmers of looming drought conditions.

Prof Masinde is the Head of Information Technology at the Faculty of Engineering, Built Environment and Information Technology at CUT. She recently returned from Washington DC where she presented her tool to world leaders and climate change activists at the World Bank Water Week.