Platform for African – European Partnership in Agricultural Research for Development

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

High performance computing and computational modeling for food security

9 July 2015. Over the last few years a collaborative effort to bolster Africa’s High performance computing (HPC) and networking infrastructure has hit its stride with grassroots and international support. The non-profit organization STEM-Trek is a prominent partner and voice working to facilitate these positive changes.

An article by STEM-Trek founder and longtime HPC community member Elizabeth Leake describes the high stakes. At the 2014 Southern African Development Community High Performance Computing (SADC-HPC) Forum meeting, the authors of a white paper titled “Cyberinfrastructure: An urgent need for SADC leadership to address food security in sub-Saharan Africa,” concluded:
“HPC (with related analytics and decision support systems) is critically important for sustaining people, societies and essential ecosystem functions.(...) The short term gains from the development of a  Cyberinfrastructure (CI) in agriculture are likely to be from leveraging and supporting the proliferation of ICTs being used by producers. ICTs directed to agriculture in developing countries typically include wireless telecommunications that provide farmers with decision support, education, and market information and aggregation. While the widespread adoption of ICTs has revolutionized communications among producers, there has been minimal integration of telecommunications and computers, including the necessary enterprise software, middleware, storage, and audio-visual systems which enable users to access, store, transmit, and manipulate information.
The STEM-Trek article notes that 70 percent of southern African citizens rely on agriculture for their income, and the industry is the largest consumer of water, yet African yields have been in sharp decline and nearly 65 percent of the area’s cultivated lands suffer from over-farming, erosion, compaction, or pollution.
  • In the face of these dire challenges, a study conducted by an international team of researchers employed a bio-economic approach to modeling global agricultural futures to show that it is possible to meet future demands given adequate and sustained global investments in agricultural research and development. 
  • On the medical front, computational modeling is key to addressing policy and transportation bottlenecks that hinder community healthcare measures. 
  • And molecular modeling and protein folding techniques are among the most important tools for combatting deadly diseases, such as malaria, tuberculosis and HIV.
On 10 November 2015, 16 African computational and domain scientists will travel to the U.S. to attend the annual Supercomputing Conference (SC15). The Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC), with support from the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF), will host a two-day workshop where participants can roll up their sleeves, working side-by-side with some of the world’s most experienced HPC technicians, and learn more about the use and management of their shared eInfrastructure.

30 November 2015 - 4 December 2015. CSIR ICC, Pretoria, South Africa. CHPC National Meeting 2015, Theme: Towards an integrated cyberinfrastructure.

In 2013, the University of Texas at Austin, U.S. donated the upcycled supercomputer, formerly known as Ranger, to South Africa's Centre for High Performance Computing (CHPC). Twenty-four Ranger racks were divided into several stand-alone systems that now reside in institutions in Tanzania, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, and South Africa. Each is interconnected via high-speed national research and education networks (NRENs), and creates a point of presence on an interfederated knowledge network where technicians can help each other as new sites are brought online.

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