Students from San Carlos, a rural canton in Costa Rica, are declared the winners of the Microsoft-IICA Minecraft Education technological challenge
San Jose, 17 November 2023 (IICA). The practice of terrace farming to ensure more efficient soil use and prevent erosion; the collection of rainwater in semi-circular basins dug in the ground in steep and arid areas, to retain water in the soil; and the construction of a hydroelectric dam to generate electricity and supply the population with water were some of the virtual solutions developed by three eighth grade high school students from San Carlos, a rural canton in Costa Rica, to win the Minecraft Education Challenge for Agriculture, which was jointly organized in Costa Rica by Microsoft and the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA).
Santiago Pacheco, Matías Gutiérrez and Jorge Luis Segura, eighth grade students from the Colegio Agropecuario in San Carlos (a region of significant agricultural and livestock activity) were the members of the winning team. The technological challenge for high school students, tasked the participants with devising a solution in the Minecraft Education world to address the current global challenge of how to increase agricultural production by utilizing natural resources more efficiently, within the context of a growing population, reduced areas for cultivation and climate change.
Only five of the 37 participating teams reached the finals, where students defended their project in front of a special panel of judges. In total, there were 107 participants between 12 and 18 years of age, representing 15 public and private schools in Costa Rica.
The finals and awards ceremony of the competition took place at IICA Headquarters in San Jose.
Santiago Pacheco commented that, “This was a very valuable experience – the knowledge we gained from the research that we had to do for the project and the teamwork. It was a lot of fun to meet and share with other people, to learn from the other solutions presented and to evaluate ourselves. This experience will be very helpful for the future, and it will encourage us to continue pushing ourselves, to participate in similar challenges and to develop the solutions that our planet needs”.
Margarita Morera, Director of Education for Microsoft Central America remarked that, “I am very proud of what we achieved in this first Minecraft Education national challenge. Our aim is to scale up this Challenge to other countries in Latin America and the Caribbean to develop the abilities of youth in the region in the areas of science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM)”.
On the other hand, IICA Director General, Manuel Otero, stressed that digital technologies are increasingly important in agriculture and therefore young people should enjoy and apply them.
Otero said, “I am extremely pleased with this Challenge that we organized with Microsoft and other institutions. You are the future, the next generation. You represent the joy and hope for agriculture – a sector that is fundamental for the planet, leaving no one behind and ensuring greater inclusion of women and youth. Agriculture must be the bridge between rural and urban areas”.
In the view of Emmanuel Picardo, Manager of Information and Communication Technologies and Digital Agriculture at IICA, “Proposing solutions to real-world problems, based on digital technologies, heightens the imagination of youngsters and in turn develops their capacities to innovate, overcome obstacles and work in teams, which are the skills needed to transform agriculture in the Americas and ensure the shift towards global sustainability”.
In developing the challenge Microsoft and IICA received support from the company, Intevolution; Cedes Don Bosco and AGRO-INNOVA – a project implemented by IICA and the European Union.
Creativity, invention and critical thinking
Employing a tool based on the Minecraft Education game, this first edition of the challenge sought to develop the digital and soft skills of the young participants to assist in bridging technological and gender gaps; foster critical and collaborative thinking, creativity and invention; empower them as agents of change in their academic centers and communities; and involve them in the development of solutions with a fresh and dynamic perspective.
During the five months of the challenge, the students received virtual mentorship and training sessions on the use of Minecraft (28 of the 107 participants did not know how to use the tool) and on agricultural issues, to equip them to build the solutions. They also were also given guidance on effective presentation skills and on how to develop impactful presentations.
The second and third place winners of the Challenge were two teams from the Colegio Científico del Atlántico in the province of Limón.
The second-place solution involved the creation of a virtual greenhouse for the production of potato, wheat, carrot and beet, fed by a drip irrigation system to ensure efficient water use, reduce production costs and prevent the growth of fungus on the leaves of the plants, due to moisture.
The solution also incorporated the use of natural insecticides and fungicides, such as garlic; pepper; mint; oil with water and soap; rue and onion extract; an economic solution to transport food from the farm to the city via a zipline; and the underground storage of products, to more effectively control temperature and moisture and to manage pests.
The third-place winners created a sustainable society adapted to the needs of citizens and self-sufficient in food and energy production. The solution featured the generation of biomass-based biofuel, solar panels, hydroelectric energy modules for the use of urban communities and rural areas, a mix of apiculture with agriculture and a natural reserve to preserve and protect ecosystems, while also serving as an ecotourism attraction.
The fourth-place team were students from the Colegio Técnico Profesional de Puriscal, the Colegio de Orientación Tecnológica de Barbacoas and the Liceo Nuevo de Puriscal, in the province of San Jose.
Their Minecraft world included an economically accessible two-story greenhouse, whose crops were irrigated with river water, using a special system to ensure the efficient use of this resource; a dome that protects crops from being damaged by climatic events, such as storms; disinfection areas for plants that are most prone to diseases and the effective management of a barn that produces chickens, cows, pigs and sheep for sale to the respective local markets.
The fifth-place winners of the Challenge were a team from the Colegio Técnico Profesional de Turrubares (San Jose province), who created a virtual greenhouse with fruits, vegetables and wheat, equipped with walls that are resistant to all types of weather conditions and that protect the crops from pests. The greenhouse also included solutions such as special tanks to harvest rainwater for fish farming, crop irrigation and human consumption; solar panels to generate electricity; and a stable of animals for the production of beef, poultry, pork and mutton products, while using the animal waste to produce manure for the plants.
Fourteen special education students from the Centro de Integración San Felipe Neri, in Desamparados, San Jose also entered the contest and were presented with an honorable mention award, given the Microsoft-IICA initiative’s promotion of inclusion. Two students from the Center, accompanied by their mothers and two of their teachers, received the award at the closing ceremony at IICA.
This team’s solution was based on generating compost from organic waste for use in coffee production, reducing waste and decreasing the loss of crops from climate change. It also featured a “fog net” to capture water from dew or rain.
The first- and second-place winners were awarded an Arduino Student Kit with sensors and the third-place team received an Arduino Student Kit. The kits include an online course for each student, with a view to encouraging innovation and creativity in these young people.
The teams all received products from IICA’s Natura shop and a Minecraft memento of the activity, generated with a 3D printer.
Institutional Communication Division.