Predicting Wheat Rust in Ethiopia with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Cultivated by about five million households, wheat is an important crop in Ethiopia as both a source of income for small farmers and a source of food and nutrition for millions of Ethiopians. Despite the country’s huge potential to grow wheat, the average wheat productivity of 2.5 tonnes per hectare is lower than the global average of 3 tonnes per hectare. This is due in part to recurrent outbreaks of a fungal disease called wheat rust that causes devastating pre-harvest losses.

Several international development agencies have been supporting scientists to study the spread of wheat rust as part of their efforts to increase agricultural productivity and reduce hunger and poverty for millions of farming families in Sub-Saharan Africa. However, it can be challenging to even know where wheat rust croplands are located in Ethiopia, as the field survey data that exists is incomplete and costly to collect.

Given advances in satellite imagery, we wondered – is it possible to detect wheat rust from space so that an early warning system could be developed to predict and prevent future outbreaks?

Last August, we held a DataDive with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to tackle this question and more. Using a combination of survey data, remote sensing data and satellite imagery, a DataDive volunteer team was able to develop a proof of concept statistical model using survey data to distinguish severe yellow rust from no rust (of any type) with about 82% accuracy. A model like this could enable governments, funding agencies and researchers to better detect the spread of the disease and evolution of new strains of pathogens, and more quickly deploy protective measures to help farmers and their communities.

We’re pleased to announce we’re continuing our work with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and will be kicking off a long-term multi-phase project to develop a more accurate predictive model using a combination of satellite imagery, multispectral imaging and computer vision techniques. The goal of the first phase of the project is to find a way to automatically detect wheat cropland.

Satellite Imagery Experts, Join Us!

We’re looking for a team of volunteers, including satellite imagery and machine learning experts, to help work on this project over the next several months. If you have significant experience in these areas and would like to contribute, email Sina Kashuk, DataKind’s Data Scientist managing the project, at with details on your background. 

Source: DataKind – Predicting Wheat Rust in Ethiopia with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Get Involved – Monthly Roundup!

Eager to flex your data skills for good? Each month, we do a roundup of volunteer opportunities through DataKind and other organizations around the world!

Don’t see anything in your area? Check out DataLook’s definitive guide to doing data science for good and our Data4Good Kit for help getting started.

DataKind Opportunities 

Satellite Imagery Volunteers – We need your help on our newest project launching in December with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation! Email to get involved.

Web Developer Volunteers – We need a front-end web developer to help on one of our DataCorps projects. Email to get involved.

SAVE THE DATE! DataDive – March 3-5, New York City
New York – it’s high time for a DataDive! RSVPs to open in January – stay tuned.

SAVE THE DATE! DataDive – April 28-30, North Carolina
We’re co-hosting our first ever North Carolina DataDive. RSVPs to open in February – more details soon!

Upcoming Events and Conferences 

DataKind’s Jake Porway at Stanford Social innovation Review (SSIR) Data on Purpose/Do Good Data conference – Feb 7-8, Stanford, CA
Join Jake and other data experts, academics, practitioners, and social sector leaders for two days of skillfully-led sessions on topics ranging from aligning practice with policy to creating a culture of data, and how Silicon Valley is facilitating data practices in civil society.
Learn more >

Beyond DataKind – Our Top Picks To Get Involved 

Data Science for Good: Support America’s Warrior Partnership – Dec 9, College Park, MD
Join Immuta for a Hackathon to support the America’s Warrior Partnership (AWP). AWP works to help communities to empower veterans by providing a community based program offering a proactive approach to serving Veterans. Bring your data skills and get ready to dive into datasets to assist AWP in forwarding its vision and goals. Help AWP organizations effectively find Veterans in an area, identify factors that lead to more successful outcomes for Veterans, better predict needs for follow up actions, determine the probability of success related to various services, and help prevent homelesenses.
Sign up >

beyond.uptake Data Fellows Program – Dec 9 Deadline
Social enterprises are attacking some of the biggest problems in the world. But there is a lack of professional development and mentoring for data professionals at social enterprises. To help, beyond.uptake has introduced a four-month Data Fellows Program designed to connect data leaders in nonprofits to experts in data science; providing them with the opportunity to hone their data skills and network with like-minded data for good professionals. Apply now!
Apply >

Become a Data & Society Fellow! – Dec 19 Deadline
Our friends at Data & Society are assembling its fourth class of fellows to further its mission of producing rigorous research that can have impact, and supporting and connecting the young but growing field of actors working on the social, cultural, and political effects of data.
Apply >

IBM Watson AI XPRIZE – Jan 19 Deadline
How can artificial intelligence solve the world’s grandest challenges in health, learning, energy, exploration and global development? The IBM Watson AI XPRIZE, a $5 million global competition to develop life-changing human + AI collaborations launched by IBMWatson and XPRIZE, aims to answer this question. Take the challenge!
Register >

The Measured Summit: Measuring the Impact of Social Design on Human Health – Jan 24, New York, NY
Does human centered design lead to better health outcomes? Does it make patients smarter and more informed? Can it make health care companies more innovative and successful? Can it improve delivery of products and services? Find out at The Measured Summit. Join leaders in philanthropy, business, healthcare, research and design as they create a shared approach to understanding how design can become a more powerful tool for systems-level transformation.
Get Tickets >

Become a Data Science for Social Good Fellow! – Jan 31 Deadline
Another friend, University of Chicago’s Data Science for Social Good program, is now recruiting its next class of fellows. Join as a fellow, a mentor, a project manager, or partner!
Apply >

DrivenData Machine Learning Competitions (virtual) – Ongoing
Check out DrivenData’s online challenges, usually lasting 2-3 months, where a global community of data scientists competes to come up with the best statistical model for difficult predictive problems that make a difference.
Sign up >

Source: DataKind – Get Involved – Monthly Roundup!