A New Online Tool Uses Big Data And Machine Learning To Forecast Nutrition Related Issues In Afrika

A new online tool to help decision-makers take early action to resolve problems that cause high levels of malnutrition in Sub-Saharan Africa has been launched.

The tool is known as Nutrition Early Warning System (NEWS) will be in use by the end of this year in Ethiopia, Nigeria, Somalia and South Sudan, according to researchers from the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) who are developing it.

Speaking during the launch in Kenya on 29 May 2017, experts said that with recurrent droughts and famine causing hunger, malnutrition, and instability across Africa, there is an urgent need for innovations to help stop the vicious cycle.

“There is a need [for] proactive actions, which will require a shift in the way we forecast nutrition-related vulnerabilities.”Mercy Lung’aho, CIAT

“There is a need [for] proactive actions, which will require a shift in the way we forecast nutrition-related vulnerabilities and identify the key factors driving undernutrition, while building nutrition resilience to shocks that add to the fragility,” Lung’aho said.

Debisi Araba, regional director for Africa, CIAT, says that NEWS will use cutting-edge big data approaches to process large volumes of information from multiple sources to detect early signs of food shortages and raise the alarm about impending crises.

Africa Malnutrition Map

“The tool will use machine learning and artificial intelligence technology to process a steady stream of data to food and nutrition security, and will get smarter and become more accurate over time,” Araba noted.

He adds that it will complement existing efforts by offering a new level of precision and accuracy to assessments and predictions of food-related challenges.

“We will work with countries to ensure that NEWS adheres to national laws regarding data sovereignty, privacy and intellectual property,” Araba explained.

Olufunso Somorin, senior policy officer, fragility and resilience unit at African Development Bank, Kenya, applauds the NEWS system, saying there is need for Africa to move away from reactive to proactive responses to crises.

He is calling for effective collaborations to produce knowledge that include not just warning signs of trouble but also options for interventions that have proven successful in similar situations.

“Research and capacity building play a critical role to build resilience within communities, especially by helping to ensure that our food systems can deliver more nutritious food, to reach people when they need it, where they need it at affordable price,” Somorin explained.

The researchers declined to reveal who is funding the development of the tool or the amount of money it will cost once it is fully developed.

This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.

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