On Friday, September 14 across seven time zones, technicians, designers, storytellers and development experts poured into USAID’s Innovation lab with one shared purpose: food. They joined an online gathering of advocates across five countries for the chance to help tackle critical food security challenges in developing countries by participating in USAID’s Hack for Hunger.
Working throughout the weekend teams applied open data to build products that addressed key challenges outlined by USAID, USDA, and food security stakeholders months prior. On Sunday afternoon a panel of judges expert in food security, open data, entrepreneurship, and open government evaluated the teams based on incorporation of open data, how easy their project was to use, and its relevance to food security.
Winning teams include established organizations like Grameen Bank and Palantir Technologies, small startups including Digital Green, Sonjara, and GeoWiki; and proof-of-concept upstarts like PineApple project and Grower’s Nation. Visit PineApple’s website and input your location to be provided with suggestions of optimal crops to plant based on known, elevation, soil PH and annual rainfall data. Grameen data on crop blights generate a heat map that Ari Gesher of Palantir labs describes “gives some sense of where maggots and soy beans are colliding, and where the maggots are winning” With this data a text-message can be sent to farmers to warn them of outbreaks of diseases that can affect their crops. The Geo-Wiki Project combines Google Earth data with crowdsourced information to identify land grabs and offers a platform for non-technical volunteers to help combat illegal actions that affect food security.
But, the hacking doesn’t stop. Teams continue refining their applications, adding in monitoring & evaluation tools like SMS-based Q&A plugins, incorporating still more detailed data, and partnering with similar organizations to bring products to scale. Tomorrow is October 16, World Food Day, and Assistant to the Administrator Paul Weisenfeld and Chief Innovation Officer Maura O’Neill will join winning teams onstage at the Iowa Hunger Summit, the kick-off to the week-long World Food Prize events, and showcase products built at Hack for Hunger.
USAID has a long history of working with frontier technologies. Hackathons, crowdsourcing cleanups, and other events are just the latest in engaging tech advocates. USAID Administrator Raj Shah has issued a call to action: “Our Agency must serve as a platform that connects the world’s biggest development challenges to development problem-solvers – all around the world.”
We’re looking ahead to a “Development Datapalooza” that the White House plans to host in early December to announce new datasets and showcase products and organizations that use USAID and development data and build innovative products for greater development impact. As with any tech and hackathon event, anyone is welcome to get involved.
Visit http://idea.usaid.gov/opendata to learn more about Hack for Hunger.