Esther Wanjiru a Kenyan Innovator emerges winner of the Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation

Judy Ndunge Kenya June 26, 2024

Esther Wanjiru, the CEO of Farmer Lifeline, has been awarded the Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation.

She battled her way against 3 other shortlisted candidates from the initial 16. They consisted of Ugandan Martin Tumusiime, Rory Assandey from Côte d’Ivoire, and a fellow Kenyan Kevin Maina. The final presentation was held in Nairobi on June 13th, 2024 where she was declared the winner

The Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation, founded by the Royal Academy of Engineering, is a platform dedicated to honoring Africa’s engineering innovation.

The Prize award is meant to help shortlisted businesses develop scalable engineering solutions for local challenges. These innovations show the importance of engineering in improving quality of life and economic development.

The winning innovation by Wanjiru featured an AI-enabled machine with advanced learning cameras designed to detect and identify agricultural pests and diseases. Upon pest recognition or disease identification, the data is promptly transmitted to an analytic dashboard for analysis. Results and remedies are then relayed to the farmer via SMS for immediate action. The device has led to a 40% yield increase and a 33% loss reduction for the farmers.

But who is Wanjiru?

Wanjiru is a 27-year-old computer scientist leading innovative initiatives in Climatech and Agritech in Kenya. She hails from Nyandarua County in the Abadares, where agriculture is the primary occupation. Motivated by her parents’ challenges in farming, Wanjiru made use of her Computer Science and Software Engineering degree leading to Farmers Lifeline’s inception in 2019.

Farmer Lifeline Technologies is a startup that helps farmers get ahead of pests and pathogens with a proprietary disease detection device.

“My parents would lose up to 40 percent of their crops each farming season, which affected our standard of living. We are empowering smallholder farmers, especially women to increase their income. We aim to scale to one million farmers in the next five years,” she said in an interview with Smart Farmer Magazine.

She went on her LinkedIn profile to convey her appreciation for being prized stating the recognition was a shared effort with her team.

“It’s an incredible honor for our crop pests and disease detection technology to be named the winner of Africa’s biggest engineering prize, the Royal Academy of Engineering’s 2024 Africa Prize for Engineering!

This recognition is a tremendous encouragement for me as the founder and a powerful inspiration for my entire team, reminding us that beyond the hard work we put in, there are silent claps of people celebrating our impact. We are motivated to keep pushing the boundaries, reaching every underserved farmer, and putting smiles on their faces as we pursue our mission to end hunger and extreme poverty through innovative agricultural technology.’’

Wanjiru becomes the third woman and the second Kenyan innovator to win the Africa Prize. She received £50,000 (Ksh.8,215,000), the largest amount ever given to a winner in honor of the Prize’s 10th anniversary. This funding will support further development and scaling of the device, bringing its benefits to a broader audience.

Other recognition
Before this Wanjiru has been recognized with other numerous awards and recognition, which serve as a testament to her accomplishments. These accolades include the COMESA Award, the 2022 African Agrihack, TotalStartUpper, and the 2022 GoGettaz competition.

She won the AWIEF African Youth Adapt Award at the UN Conference of Parties (COP27) in Egypt in 2022, the Gian Marco Moratti Award in 2023, the 2022 AGRF’s Africa Food Prize Awards, and the COMESA Innovation Award. Additionally, she was honored with the Presidential Honorary Medal conferred by the President of Rwanda, Paul Kagame.

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