Yale graduate students win the international Geneva Challenge with an idea to limit air pollution

Four graduate students have won the Geneva Challenge 2021 for their app pitch to help reduce air pollution by providing Indian farmers with a platform to sell agricultural by-products.


01:38, January 26, 2022

Marc Cheung

A team of four Yale graduate students and one Stanford University student won the 2021 Geneva Challenge for their presentation of “Buyby”, an app giving Indian farmers a platform to sell – rather than burn – agricultural by-products.

The Geneva Challenge, organized each year by the University Institute of Geneva, focuses on the theme of “crisis management” and seeks to inspire an interdisciplinary approach to human development. This year, 83 applications were submitted by 333 graduate students from around the world. The winning team receives $10,000. This year’s winning pitch proposed a solution to reduce air pollution in the Punjab region of India, about a third of which is caused by the burning of stubble, the remains of a cultivated field after harvest. The pitch also helps to increase the financial autonomy of farmers by giving them a platform to sell their products directly to large companies.

“We really wanted to create a market-based solution instead of one that relied on government policies because in the past…the government wouldn’t deliver what it said it wanted to do” , Viviana Li SOM ’22, a member of the ‘Project Buyby’ team, told the News. “The government said it would provide money to farmers to use other tools to avoid burning their crops at the end of the season, but was unable to implement this. monetary policy, so the farmers stopped using the tools and burned their crops.”

Li explained that this combustion process produces greenhouse gases, contributing to air pollution. His team’s app provides monetary incentives that connect small farmers to large market players looking to purchase that stubble for various industrial applications.

She said a digital solution to the problem would be widely available to people in the Punjab region due to the increasing access to mobile development as well as low-cost internet devices in rural India.

The ‘Buyby’ app also addresses farmers’ distrust of government by incorporating the ‘Paytm’ e-wallet into their platform, which uses traceable electronic payments to minimize fears of corruption, according to the team’s report. .

Li added that a major problem that the team discovered during its interviews with regional stakeholders was the high rate of illiteracy among smallholder farmers in India; a report by the National Commission for Unorganized Sector Enterprises showed that more than 45% of small marginal farmers in India are illiterate.

To alleviate this challenge, the “Buyby” app uses audio features and moving images to reduce the need to read and write, according to the report. The app also uses artificial intelligence to determine available crops and by-products from images uploaded by farmers.

“There is a growing market for ‘agritech,’ which is at the intersection of agriculture and technology,” fellow team member Venu King ENV ’22 told The News. “We thought a solution in this space might actually be able to shake things up on the ground and even if someone else were to adopt it in India, they could implement it. Moreover, we chose to recognize that this problem exists in many other areas, so we wanted our solution to not only be applicable in India, but also outside of India.

King said the team chose India because its tech industry was growing rapidly, as Silicon Valley and the European Union were outsourcing more to India. This trend, she said, provides a stable basis for the emergence of “agritech”. Additionally, the area was of particular interest to the group given that members of the King family are farmers in the area.

To ensure fair prices, the “Buyby” app sets a minimum level based on by-product prices extracted from publicly available databases and current Indian crop prices.

However, the team struggles to find investors to make the pitch a reality. Li and King said the app is not currently in development, but they hope it will be in the future.

“We’re talking about potentially very low margins and a very distributed market, which makes it tricky for investors to apply,” Todd Cort, professor of sustainability at the Yale School of Management, told the News. “You probably have to negotiate contracts with a lot of farmers to get a big input, so I think there’s probably a scale and cost challenge with negotiating those contracts. The positive side, of course, is that you can offer the biomass at an incredibly low price because there is no other market for it.

Every year, about 84 million tons of stubble is burned in fields in India.

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