A focus on farmers

As representatives from the UNDP and 11 African nations discuss climate action initiatives in a conference room in Livingstone, Zambia, a global group of developers is next door hacking on solutions to these countries' greatest communication challenges.

At stake is how these governments can save lives and empower their populations through quality climate information services and reliable early warning systems. With only a little over 24 hours, this group of 'hackers' has been tasked with developing solutions that will connect this data with those that need it most.

Of the five groups participating in the hackathon, four are focusing on reaching rural farmers, and the potential impact of these projects is immense. About 65 percent of Africa's labor force are agricultural workers -- in Zambia alone, more than four in five workers are employed in agriculture.

Farmers are one of the most at-risk populations in many African countries, and are reliant on the weather for their livelihoods. Yet they are one of the populations least served by technology. Cellular service is spotty in rural areas, and there are few services that reach farmers on their mobile phones.

Still, hackathon participants are determined to find technological solutions to reach farmers and serve them with much-needed weather, climate and early warning information.

The challenges are daunting. What's the best way to reach these farmers, including those without a digital connection? How can the group make sure their information is understood across languages, cultures and literacy levels? Will farmers trust and use this information?

While the groups have devised similar missions, they are each approaching the problem through a different lens and pursuing different solutions. Their end projects will be as diverse as the perspectives they bring to the table, and will provide a variety of novel ideas for a problem much in need of creativity.