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[NAIROBI] The increasing use of software applications (widely known as apps) in solving Africans' problems has been highlighted by the three winning entries  of the Apps4Africa: Climate Challenge contest.

The regional competition encourages participants to address local climate change challenges through the development of web-based and mobile applications in the East African region.

The first prize, worth US$15,000, was awarded to Grainy Bunch, a national supply chain management system which monitors the purchase, storage, distribution and consumption of grain across Tanzania.

It was followed by the Mkulima Calculator team from Kenya, who won US$7,000 for an application designed to help farmers know when to plant crops and how to select suitable crops for a particular location using climate and weather data.

Agro Universe, a mobile and web-based application from Uganda, took the third prize of US$3,000.

The design of apps is flourishing as more Africans enter the middle classes, said Jonathan Gosier, co-founder of metaLayer Inc, a US-based company that develops apps and application programme interface products.

"There's a great deal of significance in the market being created.  

"Local apps developers are building solutions for the local mass market, who in turn are purchasing these apps and services. This is creating an ecosystem. This would be significant for Africa, as it creates jobs and local content, which allows them to represent themselves online," he said.

Gosier added that many young people were now solving problems using apps: "This generation of Africans will build an app that demands their governments come to their villages and fill holes".  

Elisha Bwatuti, Mkulima Calculator project manager, said that his team made their app as user-friendly as possible and hoped that uptake would be successful.

He added that the team plans to use the prize money to develop further apps, for example to alert farmers about when to apply various chemicals and to recommend good farming practices.

But team member William Nguru said they are facing some challenges, especially funding. "We are still at university, hence we cannot work on applications full time, collect the data to feed into the system and get it to the farmers," he added.

Linda Kwamboka, data collection and integrity officer with the Nairobi based M-Farm, a software and agribusiness company set up by women entrepreneurs, said information on weather patterns and what to plant in a particular region is useful, because farmers experience huge losses when they plant in regions that are not conducive for their crops.

The winners of the contest, which was supported by the US Department of State, were announced last month (14 January).