Egypt has long faced extreme water scarcity and other water-related challenges, and these are set to be exacerbated by climate change in coming decades.
In the agricultural sector, soil salinity and water scarcity are already impacting livelihoods among some of Egypt’s farmers and threatening the country’s food security.
The prospect of rising temperatures and more frequent droughts in the years ahead makes it an absolute priority to find solutions before it’s too late to prevent disaster.
In the face of these challenges, Egypt is fortunate in having a growing ecosystem of vibrant and active young innovators who are eager to put their ideas and hard work into the task of shaping a sustainable future for their communities.
To tap into this rich resource, UNDP Egypt’s Accelerator Lab joined with the International Water Management Institute of the Middle East and North Africa (IWMI MENA) to bring together young innovators and experts to come up with new solutions for challenges at the intersection of water, climate and agriculture.
With the right people, the ‘impossible’ can happen
As strong advocates of harnessing the benefits of collective intelligence, we first consulted leading Egyptian organizations and experts by conducting an issue survey to identify the most pressing challenges for Egypt related to water, climate and agriculture.
These experts identified the most urgent issues to address as (i) heatwaves and rising temperatures, (ii) seawater intrusion, (iii) the uncertainty of climate impacts, and (iv) the deteriorating quality of natural resources.
Experts prioritise the challenge of rising temperatures and frequent heatwaves because their impacts will worsen crop yields for smallholders in the Nile Delta, increase the spread of pests and diseases, and reduce the productivity and health of these farmers’ livestock.
Informed by these priorities, we launched a call for teams of young innovators to come up with smart solutions to compete for a place in a hackathon three weeks later.
Of the 80 proposals we reviewed, eight teams were selected to participate in the virtual hackathon. Each team came from a different background and approached the challenge from a different perspective, from portable nano-biosensors for rapid soil analysis to using moringa seeds for sewage water purification.
Three days of innovation
The three-day hackathon gave participants the opportunity to attend consultation sessions with leading mentors from the field and introduced them to key tools in design-thinking approaches to solutions.
On the final day of the hackathon, the teams presented their ideas to a panel of experts from UNDP Egypt, IWMI MENA, the Arab Organization for Agricultural Development, and the Academy of Scientific Research and Technology.
The team’s proposed solutions were assessed according to their impact, feasibility, sustainability, and innovation.
The winning teams and solutions were as follows:
Team AquaMeter proposed a digital platform that allows fish-farming producers to maximize and organize their production process through data analytics.
Team Vita proposed enhancing soil properties through the use of microalgae as biofertilizers and biopesticides.
Team SunRes proposed bringing together PV solar energy with agriculture to increase yield production and save water from evaporation.
Team Algaenoor proposed pairing inland desalination plant with algae farms and using salinity-tolerant algae for the remediation of the rejected brine generated by the desalination of groundwater aquifers.
UNDP Egypt’s Accelerator Lab and IWMI MENA are now working closely with the selected teams to gain technical and business support to develop their solutions and amplify their benefits by extending them to other communities.
What we learnt:
- Mentors are key: The experience and soft skills of professional mentors is essential to guide participants through their thinking processes.
- Going virtual to go further: Virtual hackathons enabled teams to join from seven different governorates across Egypt. Tools for engaging virtual participants should be improved.
- When nature meets tech: As Egypt moves closer to a digital future, it is important not to leave nature behind. Instead, we should further explore the areas where nature-based solutions can inform technology and vice-versa to ensure a greener future. Many of the participating teams explored solutions at the intersection of different sciences.
We look forward to sharing the progress of the winning teams in the next couple of months and exploring the different ways to nurture the connections and opportunities that were developed from the Water+Climate+Agri Innovation Hackathon.
If you are interested in finding out more about these solutions and working together to help bring them to life, get in touch at email@example.com or connect through our social media platforms @UNDPEgypt