Limpopo turns to hackathon to find agritech solutions

The winning team: Makwarela Campus 123.
The winning team: Makwarela Campus 123.

Limpopo hosted its first hackathon this weekend, with aspiring young software developers in the province gathering at Vhembe Community Hall, seeking tech solutions to enhance agriculture.

The hosts, Thulamela Business Forum and tech non-profit Empire Partner Foundation (EPF), say this is the first time young people have been exposed to a hackathon in Limpopo.

Ntsieni Mbulungeni, chairperson of Thulamela, says the hackathon was aimed at creating awareness and empowering the youth to design innovative solutions to address challenges around small-scale farming communities.

For the hackathon challenge, developers were tasked to develop new digital capabilities that will assist in transforming small-scale farming.

In response, 170 aspiring developers in the province registered for the hackathon, a surprisingly high turnout for a first hackathon, says Mbulungeni.

The participants were drawn from the University of Limpopo, Vhembe TVT and other local institutions of higher learning. Other national participants joined virtually.

“Most people had no idea what a hackathon is in many of our local institutions. We spent weeks educating people. As a forum, we then approached Empire Partner Foundation, which has been running hackathons to solve community challenges, and we partnered with them to help us with the outreach programme. This was an historic first,” says Mbulungeni.

“This hackathon will build the foundation to give the youth the experience and confidence in using the technology to bring solutions that are relevant to improve the local economy and scale these solutions to other relevant markets.

“New digital capabilities offer us a unique and immediate opportunity to transform food systems and accelerate impact towards zero hunger. The new focus group will significantly contribute towards these efforts, bringing together AI [artificial intelligence] and IOT [internet of things] as key enablers behind new capabilities for digital agriculture.”

For Empire, collaborating with the Thulamela Business Forum will assist to develop well-informed interventions that ultimately will improve agricultural sustainability by helping farmers produce more with less.

The tech NPO says it will pay particular attention to the needs of small-scale farmers, as most people's livelihoods are most reliant on agriculture in Africa.

"EPF imperatively took on to partner with Thulamela Business Forum to address the challenges that South African small to medium-scale farmers face in tracing their produce from farm en route to market, to generate income and support their families. The theme being: digitising the farmer.

“This was EPF's first offsite hackathon for the team, working virtually, which proved to be a success. EPF is thrilled to have the opportunity in effecting change in Limpopo and for a Limpopo team to have taken the cup in their home ground, was a bonus,” says Jasmine Mokwena, head of EPF marketing and hackathon coordinator.

Turning to the teams, Makwarela Campus 123 took top honours, for its solution “making farmers become smart farmers”.

The winners walked away with R30 000 prize money shared among the top three, sponsored by the EPF Tech Fund.

Other teams that received recognition include Cyber Techies, Tech UI, Agriconnect, TechSol, Masterminds, Agro Phoenix and Agric Family.

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