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Lacuna Fund Announces its First Round of Funding that will Unlock the Power of AI to Accelerate Pioneering Agricultural Solutions in African Countries

Agricultural AI projects across Africa receive funding to produce labeled training datasets for machine learning that will help alleviate food security challenges, spur economic opportunities, and give researchers, farmers, communities, and policymakers access to superior agricultural data.

NEW YORK, NY | January 13, 2021 – Lacuna Fund announces its first cohort of supported projects in the agricultural AI for social good domain. Funding recipients will produce labeled datasets in Eastern, Western, and Southern Africa. Projects will address a range of agricultural needs, including livestock and fisheries management, as well as crop identification, yield estimation, and disease detection in crops that shore up food security efforts in the region—namely cassava, maize, beans, bananas, pearl millet, and cocoa. Learn more about each individual project here.

With over 100 exceptional applications from, or in partnership with, organizations across Africa, it’s clear that the demand for high-quality, reliable, and representative labeled training data is high, and the expertise, capacity, and groundwork needed to produce it is growing by the day. All datasets produced will be locally developed and owned, but they will be openly accessible to the international data community.

  • “I am very proud of the efforts we are seeing here, these are phenomenal projects,” said Mutembesa Daniel, Research Scientist at the Artificial Intelligence Research lab at Makerere University and a member of the Technical Advisory Panel. “And I look forward to seeing the glass ceiling between francophone and anglophone parts of Africa being broken, to seeing data scientists from these different parts of Africa starting to work with each other across regions.
  • “We managed to reach a consensus on a well-balanced portfolio, both in terms of geography and type,” said Youssef Travaly, Executive Chairman at AllSightsAfrica and also on the Technical Advisory Panel.  “This is a great step forward toward more inclusive AI.”
  • As Abel Ramoelo, Regional Ecologist/Remote Sensing Specialist with South African National Parks, after working to help select proposals, said, “If you provide the right platform, there is a lot of innovation from local communities. Let their voices be heard.”
  • Reflecting on how the datasets will be used, Celina Lee, Co-Founder & CEO at Zindi and a funding recipient, had this to say: “We are looking forward to working with the Lacuna Fund to increase the representation of agriculture datasets in Africa. We will be calling on the amazing data science talent from across Africa and around the world to crowd-source a machine learning solution for correcting location errors, which are a common problem in agriculture datasets. This solution will allow us to correct and publicly release one of the most expansive crop cut yield estimation datasets for maize in Eastern Africa.”
  • “Land use management and resource sharing is very vital in land based economies,” said Mizeck Chagunda, Professor at University of Hohenheim. “This becomes even more apparent where livestock are a major part of the crop-livestock mixed systems. With the support of Lacuna Fund, we are very excited and optimistic to contribute to the land use planning process through a data-driven and evidence-based tool”.
  • “We co-founded Lacuna Fund recognizing that AI has the potential to increase food and financial security for vulnerable populations around the world but that the only way to achieve this is through community-driven innovation,” said Evan Tachovsky, Director and Lead Data Scientist at The Rockefeller Foundation. “Lacuna Fund exists to support the AI community across Africa as they build tools for farmers, extension workers, and policy makers. This exceptional cohort of projects is a testament to their ingenuity, expertise, and commitment to impact and we look forward to seeing them build and open source these critical datasets.”
  • “The goal is open datasets. But this is bigger than just creating the datasets,” said Daphne Luong, Director of Engineering at Google AI Research. “We want to create innovative, scalable and replicable data protocols, so they can be applied to different data domains as well as other geographical regions. Eventually we hope that more representative and accessible data will allow machine learning to better serve communities worldwide.”

Lacuna Fund began as a funder collaborative between The Rockefeller Foundation, Google.org, and Canada’s International Development Research Centre. With secretariat support from Meridian Institute, it has since evolved into a multi-stakeholder engagement composed of technical experts, thought leaders, local beneficiaries, and end users. Collectively, we are committed to creating and mobilizing labeled datasets that both solve urgent local problems and lead to a step change in machine learning’s potential worldwide.

 


 

About Lacuna Fund: Lacuna Fund is the world’s first collaborative effort to provide data scientists, researchers, and social entrepreneurs in low- and middle-income contexts globally with the resources they need to produce labeled datasets that address urgent problems in their communities. Lacuna Fund launched in July of 2020 with a pooled fund of $4 million to support the creation, expansion, and maintenance of datasets used for training or evaluation of machine learning models, initially in three key sectors: agriculture, health, and languages.  Learn more at http://www.lacunafund.org.

About The Rockefeller Foundation: The Rockefeller Foundation advances new frontiers of science, data, policy and innovation to solve global challenges related to health, food, power and economic mobility. As a science-driven philanthropy focused on building collaborative relationships with partners and grantees, the Foundation seeks to inspire and foster large-scale human impact that promotes the well-being of humanity throughout the world by identifying and accelerating breakthrough solutions, ideas and conversations. For more information, sign up for our newsletter at rockefellerfoundation.org and follow us on Twitter @RockefellerFdn.

About Google.org: Google.org supports nonprofits that address humanitarian issues and apply scalable, data-driven innovation to solving the world’s biggest challenges. We accelerate their progress by connecting them with a unique blend of support that includes funding, products, and technical expertise from Google volunteers. We engage with these believers-turned-doers who make a significant impact on the communities they represent, and whose work has the potential to produce meaningful change. We want a world that works for everyone—and we believe technology and innovation can move the needle.

About Canada’s International Development Research Centre: The International Development Research Centre (IDRC) funds research in the Global South to promote growth, reduce poverty, and drive large-scale positive change. As part of Canada’s foreign affairs and development efforts, we are a Crown corporation that provides leading thinkers the resources, advice, and training they need to implement and share their solutions with those who need them most. In short, IDRC increases opportunities — and makes a real difference in people’s lives.

About Meridian Institute: Meridian Institute is a mission-driven nonprofit that has helped our clients and partners develop and implement solutions to complicated, often controversial problems—big and small, global and local—for over two decades. Meridian serves as the secretariat and fiscal agent for Lacuna Fund. Learn more at merid.org.

 


John Spangler
+1 304-320-3883
JSpangler@rockfound.org


Jennifer Pratt-Miles

Lacuna Fund Secretariat
+1 970.389.2442
JPrattMiles@merid.org

 

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