Students making drones that will benefit communities in Malawi

By Naomi Kalemba, UNICEF Malawi

Ethel Pondelani a student from Malawi University of Science and Technology, UNICEF’s Michael Scheibenreif and Selina Kasambara at Kasungu Aerodrome 
© UNICEF Malawi/2017/Suresh Muthukrishinan

In Malawi, the majority of girls shy away from mathematical and science subjects. Selina Kasambala is an exception. From a young age, she has always loved the science subjects. This love for sciences led her to study Agricultural sciences at the Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (LUANAR) where she specialized in Land Management. While at LUANAR she was also part of the Innovations Association which is a group of students that are working on coming up with innovations that will help improve agriculture and help farmers harvest more for their families. They also focus on coming up with innovations that will benefit communities in general like the ethanol project that has the potential to replace electricity as the only source of power.

Being a recent graduate from the Agriculture University and working with an organization that supervises small holder farmers on how best to use their land, she wondered how this new technology would be used in her field.

Selina’s current work involves inspecting small farms and advising the owners on how best they can use their small pieces of land to harvest the most food for their families.

“We already monitor small farms using land transport which is slow and expensive. Drones would significantly reduce the time spent between monitoring and offering solutions. This would save time, money and crops for farmers,” said Selina.

The advice given to the farmers depends on collecting information that is later analyzed and interpreted into advice for the farmers. This information is collected during mostly by cars, motorcycles and bicycles.

“Drones can add value to this process by increasing the speed with which the information is collected, analyzed and given back to farmers as advice,” she added.

Because of her involvement with the innovations group, Selina was selected to participate in a UNICEF supported two-day workshop to build drones that were tested at the humanitarian drones testing corridor which was opened by the Government of Malawi and UNICEF in June, 2017.

A team from Virginia Tech led by Associate Professor Kevin Kochersberger worked with 13 students and faculty members from the Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (LUANAR), Polytechnic College and youths and entrepreneurs from across the country to build drones. They spent two days building drones using poster boards and 3D printed parts.

Virginia Tech engineers and student from Malawi University of Science and Technology with the drones that they made.
© UNICEF Malawi/2017/Suresh Muthukrishinan

“This skill-sharing will ensure that not only are technologies tested in Malawi, but that those tests develop a workforce that can pilot, service, and utilize this technology in the future,” added Michael Scheibenreif, UNICEF’s Innovations Consultant.

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