Using AI to Empower Farmers Communities in Somalia: An Interview with Mustafa Othman, Executive Director of Shaqodoon

As Somalia faces severe flooding and climate-related disasters, the need for effective disaster management and early warning systems is critical. Over the past decade, the Shabelle and Juba rivers have flooded more frequently, worsening the crisis. Since 2023, these floods have displaced nearly 700,000 people, caused 50 deaths, and affected more than 2 million. The floods have devastated farmland, destroying crops and livestock, and depriving farmers of their livelihoods. In this context, Shaqodoon plays a vital role in monitoring flood risks and informing local farmers to help them prepare and respond effectively.

 

Shaqodoon, founded in 2011, creates innovative solutions to tackle environment and employment challenges in Somalia and Somaliland. Emerging from the USAID-funded EDC Somali livelihood project, it offers youth access to work, training, internships, and self-employment. Shaqodoon develops programs in livelihood skill training, education, and health, focusing on AI technologies for disaster management and agricultural support, significantly improving flood monitoring and farmer information systems. I sat down with Mustafa Othman, Executive Director, to talk about how they use technology and AI to support thousands of local farmers in dealing with the risk of floods.

 

— Shaqodoon (Somalia) is one of the 10 selected nonprofit organizations participating in the AI for Changemakers accelerator program, organized by the Tech To The Rescue Foundation with support from AWS and Google.org. — 

Can you tell us about Shaqodoon’s mission and vision to address flooding challenges in Somalia and Somaliland?

Mustafa Othman: At Shaqodoon, our mission is to support humanitarian organizations by developing systems that help them stay in touch with their beneficiaries and broadcast throughout the region. We create custom platforms for various projects, including the Somali Resilience Program (SomReP), a consortium of several international NGOs of which Shaqodoon is a member of. Our vision is to leverage technology to drive positive change in Somalia, focusing on providing greater opportunities for youth through work, training, and self-employment. By addressing local challenges in livelihood skills training, education, and health, we aim to create sustainable and impactful solutions.

 

How does Shaqodoon utilize technology and AI in its operations, particularly in disaster management and agricultural support?

MO: We have developed systems like Saadaal, our early warning platform, and M-Dalag, which focuses on crop disease monitoring. These platforms collect data from various sources, including international agencies and UN bodies, and use AI to analyze and predict potential disasters. For example, in the southwest state of Somalia, we monitor hazards and provide disaster preparedness information to the community. The AI component allows us to process historical data, making our predictions more accurate and timely. This helps us to inform farmers and other stakeholders about potential threats, enabling them to take preventive measures.

image credits: Shaqodoon 

Can you elaborate on how the data collection and AI analysis work in these platforms?

MO: Certainly. We collect data from various sources, including rainfall data from FSNU and crop disease data from international agencies. Using AI, we analyze this data to predict potential hazards. For instance, we monitor river levels in the Shabelle and Juba rivers to predict floods and inform communities in affected areas. The AI processes historical data collected over 30 years, providing us with insights that were previously impossible with human-fed data alone. This allows us to generate detailed reports and broadcast alerts to communities in a timely manner.

image credits: Shaqodoon 

How does Shaqodoon ensure that the information reaches the farmers and communities effectively?

MO: We use a platform called iMaqal for voice broadcasts. When there is an alert, the responsible person, records a summary of the report in Somali and uploads it to the platform. This audio file is then broadcasted to the mobile numbers of people living in the affected areas. We have registered 8,000 farmers who receive these alerts. The alerts are sent out whenever there is a significant threat, such as rising river levels, ensuring that the communities can take preventive measures to protect their lives and livestock.

What practical actions can farmers take upon receiving these alerts?

MO: The primary goal is to save lives. Upon receiving an alert, farmers need to take preventive measures such as moving themselves and their livestock away from danger zones. The reports provide specific guidance for the team to communicate effectively with the community. Additionally, NGOs and UN agencies also receive these reports to understand the support needed and provide timely assistance.

image credits: Shaqodoon 

How do you gather input from the farmers and understand their needs?

We work closely with a consortium of seven international NGOs under the SomReP umbrella, which includes organizations like CARE, Oxfam, and World Vision. These partners have been working with the communities for years and provide us with valuable insights into the needs of the farmers. The 8,000 farmers registered on our platform were identified and registered by these partner NGOs. This collaboration ensures that the technology we develop is aligned with the real needs of the communities we serve.

What drives you to work on these challenging issues? Can you share your background and motivation?

MO: My background is in tech; I have a BSc in computer science. I’ve always been passionate about using technology for development. At Shaqodoon, we have a strategic focus on leveraging innovative technologies to drive positive change. Personally, I believe in the power of technology to solve everyday problems and improve lives. Working in this field allows me to combine my technical skills with my desire to make a meaningful impact. Seeing how our work helps communities prepare for and respond to disasters is incredibly rewarding and motivates me to continue pushing for advancements in this area.

— 

Shaqodoon is one of the 10 selected nonprofit organizations in the Disaster Management cohort of the AI for Changemakers Accelerator Program, organized by the Tech To The Rescue Foundation, with support from AWS and Google.org. 

Is your organization ready to join the AI revolution? Find out more about the AI for Changemakers program, and apply as an NGO in one of the upcoming cohorts.

Share this article
Read more
AI 4 Good: 4 cases when NGO can benefit from AI solutions
Some Artificial Intelligence technologies have been around for more than 50 years, but advances in computing power and new algorithms have led to major AI breakthroughs in recent decades.…
Read more
How can you implement digital solutions to support healthcare?
As we’re now all too aware, COVID-19 caused an unprecedented global healthcare crisis. The pandemic put intense pressure on healthcare, which in most parts of the world saw the highest level of demand in a generation. Today, there is no doubt that technology and healthcare are becoming inseparable.…
Read more
We raised seed funding of €700k to establish pro-bono as an industry standard
Our platform was established in 2020 to match IT companies with nonprofit organizations and we can already see it becoming a fast-growing benchmark in the industry. So far, we have managed to bring over 250 Tech companies together to implement technology solutions for good. All of this was made in an effort to solve the world's most pressing social and environmental problems. …
Read more