An interview with Mustapha Diyaol Haqq,
Co-founder of Okuafo Foundation
(2020 Zayed Sustainability Prize Food Winner)
1. Tell us about your journey into coding. How did you first get into this field and why?
I started my journey into computer programming when I was 15 years old. Growing up in the Ashanti Region of Ghana, which is a small, minority-dominated community, was challenging, and I had very limited access to a computer or the internet. It was hard navigating the computer programming scene as there were no mentors or learning resources available to me.
Relying on internet cafés, I sacrificed lunch most of the time to pay to access free online courses and learn how to code. My journey into the technology space is mostly inspired by global technology success stories. I knew I could utilize technology where it was needed the most.
2. You were the first to develop a curriculum (Ghana Code Club) to teach kids in Ghana about Coding and Artificial Intelligence. Tell us about your journey into coding. How did you first get into this field and why?
a) Can you elaborate more about the objectives of this club and why it was important for you to help train other kids to develop these types of skills?
As a content developer at Ghana Code Club, my mission has always been to create and curate valuable learning resources that equip the younger generation with skills needed to thrive in the 4th Industrial Revolution. The AI Curriculum project was a special project which was dear to me personally because of the recent waves AI has been making and the huge potential it presents.
The objectives of this project, are to demystify artificial intelligence for the next generation and provide hands-on experience to empower them to create solutions to existing problems in our community. The focus on the curriculum is on Machine Learning Fundamentals, Computer Vision, Speech Synthesis and Emotion Recognition. All are carefully curated in a fun and engaging way.
b) How many kids have been trained so far, and as a mentor/content developer, what is the most notable impact of this club that you are proud of?
A total of about 50,000 kids have been trained so far since Ghana Code Club’s establishment in 2015. We have certainly achieved so many milestones and I am very proud of all that. These include; our mobile coding program, Code On Wheels, which allowed us to travel to deprived communities to teach Digital Literacy to young girls and women, thereby creating entrepreneurs out of them. Another is our “100 Girls in Apps Development” through which we train 100 young girls in Mobile Apps Development every year. That being said, our achievement that I am most proud of, is the AI Curriculum Pilot Program, from which two teams and two solutions emerged.
The first team presented an Object Recognition and Speech Synthesis mobile application called “Object AI” geared for visually impaired persons. The app detects objects in the user’s surroundings and uses Speech Synthesis to speak it out loud for visually impaired users to be aware of their surroundings. The app uses the accelerometer sensor in mobile phones for navigation therefore enhancing the user experience for visually impaired persons.
The second team, an all-girls team, built a mobile application, “Emo AI” that recognizes emotions of people just by looking at a photo of them. When a negative emotion (depression, anger, sadness, fear etc.) is recognized, the app executes an action that is aimed at inducing happiness and calm.
Seeing these kids I helped train, apply the curriculum we built to develop innovative solutions of their own – is definitely an impact I can’t forget!
2. Your Agri sector start-up, the Okuafo Foundation, (founded in 2018) recently won the 2020 Zayed Sustainability Prize’s Food category for its innovative solution offered to farmers of all backgrounds.
a) What does this win mean to you on a personal level and how do you plan to utilize the Prize Funds?
When I was 19 years, before we won this prestigious award, my mantra had always been, “I define myself as a 19-year-old revolutionary dreamer walking the path my ancestors paved.”
Now, I am 20 years old and we have exactly a decade to achieve the SDGs. With my contributions to SDGs 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5, winning this award has served a catalyst to my personal mission and the general mission of the Okuafo Foundation.
The funds will be geared towards expanding our capacity as an organization in order to be able to serve more smallholder farmers across Ghana and Africa at large. We want to build the future of Agriculture for the rural farmer. And this award has made it possible.
It is part of our mission to ensure no crop is lost to pest infestations. When this is achieved, this would mean families will have access to nutritious food all year round. With our climate projects, we are ensuring a huge reduction in the amount of chemicals that go into the soil and polluting the environments.
Qualitatively, the dashboards and crisis maps we are working on will provide real-time data on how much, where and when GHGs are emitted. These updates will help Governments and NGOs in their policy-making, to ensure the huge players in GHG emissions are targeted to reduce the amount of emissions. When farmers have access to a real-time scientific knowledge base and tools to help check for pests themselves - including taking sustainable actions in fighting the pests - this means that families in rural areas can now enjoy nutritious meals and have enough to last them till the next farming season.
Quantitatively, we will expand our Farmer Leaders by approximately 600, to reach another set of 30,000 smallholder farmers. The difference this time round, is that we will be equipping these Farmer Leaders with our uniquely designed tools for their operations, while we continue to register more and more Farmer Leaders operating on their own, using their devices to provide our services. Since Farmer Leaders are mostly farmers living in the same community, this eliminates the quest of waiting for Agric. Extension Officers who our farmers tell us are mostly, “unreliable”.
4. Can you tell us about any other community activities and initiatives you are currently engaged in? (Especially in sustainability-related areas of Energy, Health, Food or Water).
We are working on a new project at Okuafo Foundation called DeepFence AI, which is a crisis mapping and data visualization tool. The first implementation will be in our Okuafo AI applications. With this tool, we can literally map out any crisis and alert users when they are approaching such locations. This can be, mapping out disease outbreaks, water pollution, dangerous electricity cables and transformers etc. Our Farmer Leaders will be able to know areas where pest infestations are high (or predict the likelihood of a pest outbreak) so they can prioritize crop scanning to be able to detect it at its earliest stage.
5. Is there anything else you wish to share with our readers?
If you are reading this and you are a youth like me, just know that everything is possible. People used to say this and I never believed it – I thought success was based on luck, or that only people living in certain demographics can achieve a high amount of success in their fields. But hey, look who shook hands with His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed! Me! Mustapha, the young boy from a small community.
To the older generation reading this, I say look out for us, the youth has much more to offer. Support us, advise us and provide us with the guidance we need and together we will create the future we all envisioned… a peaceful world.