Student entrepreneurs design prize-winning app to predict and prevent rainforest wildfires

Published by  Communications

On 5th Jul 2022

Change Makers winners Erwin Pardo Toledo and Fu Yu Tan

Pictured above: Erwin Pardo Toledo (left) and Fu Yu Tan (right)

 

Two pioneering University of East Anglia (UEA) students have received funding for a project to give Bolivian citizens the tools to fight wildfires in the Amazonian rainforest, as part of a new prize fund for budding student entrepreneurs. 

The ‘KAA IYA’ app has been developed by two student friends Fu Yu Tan (MSc Environmental Sciences) and Erwin Pardo Toledo (Climate Change and International Development) who won UEA’s Change Makers competition, which rewarded the business with a total of £7,000 to kickstart its concept. 

The app, which translates as ‘protector of the forest’ in Guarani, an indigenous language in South America, aims to give Bolivian communities the ability to track where local wildfires are occurring, and also predict where they might happen in the near future. 

Figures for 2020 show that over one million hectares (nearly three million acres) of Bolivian forest were destroyed by fire, with devastating impacts on the nation’s biodiversity and the livelihood of thousands of its citizens, as well as lasting effects on the planet’s CO2 levels. 

KAA IYA will use machine learning algorithms to predict the risk of these wildfires occurring, meaning the response to them will be more proactive and allow firefighters and Bolivian citizens to identify and tackle a wildfire before it forms or is allowed to spread. 

The duo were given a significant boost on funding their business by the Change Makers competition, run by UEA’s Student Enterprise team, for projects that benefit ‘people, planet or community’. 

The competition offered a £2,000 start-up fund to each of its 11 finalists, which were chosen by the public based on a 60-second video pitch. All 11 then took part in a four-week accelerator programme to test and develop their ideas, which ranged from a sustainable vodka made from bread to an online platform providing menstrual cycle education.  

All the budding entrepreneurs took part in a Dragon’s Den-style pitch earlier this month, before a panel of judges determined KAA IYA to be the winner of an additional £5,000 grant prize. 

Fu Yu and Erwin have already begun working with private and governmental organisations in Bolivia to test and develop the second prototype of their app, and Erwin, who was born in Bolivia and has worked there, is also planning to travel to South America to test it with the citizens and communities who will directly benefit from it. 

Erwin said: “I’m so glad that climate change solutions are being supported as a social enterprise to allow us to create a positive change in society. Having witnessed in person the devastation that wildfire can cause, this is an issue close to my heart and our aim is to empower indigenous people to protect biodiversity and livelihood for themselves, as well as for future generations. 

“The lack of an early warning wildfire system in Bolivia is costing thousands of people their livelihoods, and millions of animals their habitats and homes. But this is not just a local problem, rainforest destruction is a global issue and we want to be want KAA IYA to be a solution born in Norwich that helps people all over the world.”  

Fu Yu said: “We’re delighted to have won Change Makers, and the extra funding will allow us to expand our network, achieve greater recognition and receive support for our idea. The accelerator program has allowed us to gain access to mentors who have provided us with invaluable advice for our business direction and we’re grateful for the opportunity to develop KAA IYA further. 

“If we’re able to implement the technology successfully in Bolivia, then longer term we’d like to expand to another South American countries who also have wildfire problems, such as Brazil, Paraguay or Argentina.” 

Finbarr Carter, Student Enterprise Officer and organiser of UEA Change Makers, said: “Part of the reason we decided to run the Change Makers programme is because we know that young people have boundless invention and creativity to tackle real problems facing our planet. 

“KAA IYA is the perfect example of that; two talented and compassionate young students who want to make a difference and have come up with a concept to solve a huge problem on the other side of the world. It was just one of a fantastic line-up of budding businesses that we’ve helped to support as part of Change Makers, and I’m really excited to see where they can all take their concepts in the future.” 

A beta prototype of KAA IYA is currently available on Android devices (used by around 95% of the Bolivian population) and can be accessed via the Google Play Store by searching ‘KAA IYA’. 

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