Ghanaian teenager overwhelmed by Zayed Sustainability Prize win

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A TEENAGER from Ghana who began teaching himself how to code just three years ago was crowned a winner of the Zayed Sustainability Prize in Dubai on Monday.

Mustapha Haqq, 18, was awarded $600,000 to help develop a smartphone application which helps farmers identify and treat plant disease.

His company, Okuafo Foundation, was among 10 winners of the 2020 prize who will share a combined total of $3m in funding.

A delighted Mustapha held his head in his hands as his project was announced a winner at the Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week in the capital.

‘No one in my family owned a computer,’ he told Dubai newspaper The National. ‘But I realised technology had the ability to change critical issues like drought and hunger.

‘Mark Zuckerberg started Facebook from his dorm room and now connects more than two billion people.

‘I thought, “I can do that”. Maybe I can connect four billion people.’

Growing up in a slum in Ghana, Mustapha said he had always been inspired by big tech entrepreneurs like Zuckerberg.

Spending his days at computer cafes in his local town, he said many teenagers around him were using the internet to ‘scam people and commit fraud’.

‘I just taught myself to code via YouTube videos,’ he said.

In 2018, the aspiring entrepreneur developed a mobile app to help improve the lives of local farmers.

Many he spoke to were losing significant crop yield due to harmful pests like the fall armyworm, an insect common to North and South America and first reported in Africa in 2016.

Using artificial intelligence and data analytics, Mustapha’s app helps to mitigate widespread damage to farm produce.

‘It basically predicts and detects crop diseases and infestations, then offers scientific solutions in real-time,’ he said.

‘Farmers can act and limit the impact on crops much quicker through smart technology.’

With the $600,000 cash boost from the prize, the innovative youngster said the next phase of his project was to reach more farmers.

‘Through our project, we select farmer leaders who help us to promote the work we do,’ he said.

‘Using the money, we can travel to hard to reach communities and engage and support more farmers about crop safety.’

Since 2008, the UAE’s Zayed Sustainability Prize has been at the centre of a global effort to harness new technologies to change lives for the better.

Launched by Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, it has grown to become one of the most significant awards worldwide for affecting positive change.

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