Mustapha Diyaol-Haqq: millennial prodigy behind the AI wave that is Okuafo Foundation

Mustapha Diyaol-Haqq was raised in Old Tafo, in the Ashanti Region, Ghana. He is a Software Developer and a Code Instructor at Ghana Code Club, where he teaches children and adults in Ghana the fundamentals of Computer Science. As a Content Developer for Ghana Code Club, Mustapha worked to produce the Artificial Intelligence curriculum for children, the first of its kind in Africa. Mustapha is on a mission to bridge the gap between minorities and technology. Due to his exceptional and inspirational story, Mustapha was appointed the Youth Ambassador for Africa Code Week 2019 and his NGO, Okuafo Foundation, took home US$600,000 as the winner in the Food Category,– Zayed Sustainability Prize 2020.

As an Applied AI Researcher, Mustapha looks to solve some of the African continent’s biggest challenges using Artificial Intelligence. His research is focused on sectors that play important roles in improving the African economy such as Agriculture and Healthcare. Mustapha is the co-founder and Applied AI Researcher of Okuafo Foundation, an NGO in Ghana with the mission of minimizing hunger and poverty in Africa by building tech solutions to help farmers increase yield and prevent losses.

Farmers Review Africa managed to get a hold of the young tech-enthusiast and AI Researcher who provided more insight on the Foundation’s innovation the Okuafo AI App, the inspiration behind it, how it works and some of the challenges faced in the development and roll-out of the same.

“The Okuafo AI App is inspired by the needs of smallholder farmers. These farmers in rural communities mostly lack access to reliable information and real-time help with regards to pest control and disease management. However, with our mobile solutions, smallholder farmers can now have easy access to expert-level knowledge with a tap of a button – with or without internet connectivity. Our machine learning platforms enable farmers to detect, at an early stage, pest infestations and take actions to avoid spread and further damage to their crops. This means, farmers will spend little or no money on pesticides and have increased yield, enabling them to support themselves and their families beyond the farming season.

The Okuafo AI App uses an innovative user interface design. The interface allows you take a photo of a crop, then the app analyses the crop and detects the disease (if any). The predicted disease is shown as a number (Example: 1, 2, 3, 4…). The farmer can then tap on the number and get further insights.

The insights are delivered in a local dialect to enable farmers to take actions that are sustainable to prevent losses. Recommendations are in the form of an animated video that explains exactly how the farmer should handle the infestation.

Our applications are trained with images of crops both healthy and infested (example images). The machine learning model is built to learn from these images, learn the patterns and features of diseases.

With an average accuracy of 93.3%, the applications are then able to predict whether a given image is healthy or infested. Due to the complexity of our algorithms, the machine learning model is able to extract very fine details which enables it to detect diseases at an early stage even before the human eye notices it.

The model is “frozen” and embedded in the application and runs on the device locally without the need for internet connectivity to make an inference.

Our greatest challenge has always been how to expand our platform and reach more smallholder farmers as most of them are in extremely remote locations and spread across the country.  Scaling our initiatives will mean investments in expanding our server infrastructure, cloud computing platforms, trainers, and field officers. We could never have achieved this without the Prize. The Zayed Sustainability Prize is enabling us to scale our platforms, develop new ideas and partner with Governments and other organizations for greater impact.”

On ensuring that the smallholder farmers are not locked out of the Okuafo AI App because of financial constraints, Mustapha and his very able team have introduced a program that allows them to serve a small village (20 – 50 farmers) with one smartphone. Farmers without smartphone can opt for their farms to be scanned by assigned ‘farmer leaders’. This ensures that a lot of farmers are able to access the Foundation’s tools and services. 

He also adds that the Zayed Sustainability Prize has been instrumental in enabling them to develop a special plant disease detection kit. The kit comes with a low-cost smartphone which has their apps installed by default. Powered by solar energy, the kit can work in extremely remote communities with or without internet connection.  A smallholder farmer does not have to necessarily own a smartphone to benefit from our services, just being a farmer in communities within our reach, simply makes you a beneficiary.

The Okuafo AI App allows farmers with no literacy background to interact with the app and get insights into what is happening on their farms. This makes it the first of its kind as it is an all in one package. Aside detecting diseases in real-time, the app connects farmers in rural areas with experts with a touch of a button. This feature is only needed in cases where the farmer isn’t satisfied with the insights and recommendations or need additional information. The recommendations feature built into the apps, brings top-level scientific knowledge to the farmer with ease. This removes the need for an Agriculture Extension Office in most cases.

“As it stands, we are optimizing our platforms for improved accuracy and access which includes translating content into different languages in order to be accessed by different countries in Africa. For the next 3 – 5 years, we will focus on research and development of low-cost technologies for sustainable agriculture as well as training field agents who can in turn, train small scale farmers to use our technology. This will impact the overall yield of small-scale farming in Ghana.

Our community intervention projects are also aimed at helping rural farmers process their harvests using renewable energy powered machines, reducing their reliance on more traditional energy sources such as diesel and kerosene.

We encourage SMEs, NPOs, NGOs and other sustainable organizations to apply for the prize – the experience is incredible and the prize money is truly transformative! Entries close this Thursday 11th June 2020.”

As a parting shot, Mustapha asserts that Artificial Intelligence presents a lot of potential for precision agriculture. AI can help in mitigating effects of climate change on farmers.  In Ghana for instance, farmers have started experiencing the effects of climate change on their crops and overall output. Smart irrigation systems powered by AI can help mitigate these effects on farmers and increase yield and profit.

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Farmers Review Africa
Farmers Review Africa
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