12 African innovators you need to know about

The UK’s Royal Academy of Engineering has announced the 12 finalists for its 2015/2016 Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation. The finalists are responsible for innovations across a wide variety of fields including systems to stop electricity theft, food supplements made from caterpillars, and mobile technologies which guide parents through pregnancy and connect heart patients to cardiologists.

The Africa Prize, now in its second year, is the continent’s largest prize dedicated to engineering innovation. It covers all engineering disciplines from mechanical, civil and computing to agricultural, biomedical, oil and gas, mining and electronics.

The twelve entrepreneurs are affiliated with African universities and research institutions. They will be encouraged and supported to grow a business from their innovation through six months of training and money-can’t-buy mentoring from business development and engineering experts. An overall winner will be announced in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in May 2016. The winner will receive £25 000, with £10 000 awarded to two runners up.

“Innovations emerging from Africa show that engineering has the potential to shape our future economy,” says Liesbeth Botha, Africa Prize judge. “The Africa Prize shortlist is a showcase of ingenuity, and this is the kind of entrepreneur we should be supporting across the continent.”

“We see a massive benefit from engineering innovations designed specifically to meet local challenges,” said Malcolm Brinded CBE FREng, chair of the Africa Prize judging panel.

“We are thrilled to see so many innovations aimed at tackling the biggest problems faced by communities in developing regions, including access to energy, nutrition and healthcare. We look forward to supporting these 12 excellent entrepreneurs as they learn to commercialise and scale up their innovative ideas, and seek to grow profitable businesses which make a positive impact on many people’s lives.”

Kamata power theft prevention system
Edmand Aijuka and team, Uganda
Electricity theft causes financial losses and disrupts access to power for homes and businesses. Kamata is a system designed to notify power utilities when meters are manipulated or tampered with. It cuts the power supply and sends the location, meter number and type of interference to a control centre. It also enables the control centre to restore power after an incident is resolved.

Cassava harvester
Emmanuel Bobobee, Ghana

Cassava is a food crop that grows across sub-Saharan Africa. It is eaten by more than 800 million people globally, and also used as a biofuel. The labour intensive harvesting of cassava is the biggest constraint to its commercial production. The mechanical cassava harvester is an affordable tractor-mounted implement which turns up the soil to expose the root vegetable without damaging it. It takes five to ten minutes to harvest one cassava plant manually, depending on the softness of the soil. The mechanical harvester can uproot one plant every second.

Brian Bosire and team, Kenya

UjuziKilimo is an analytical system that measures soil characteristics to help farmers understand and quantify soil qualities. Information is collected by an electronic sensor inserted into the ground, which sends it to a central database for analysis. Farmers receive a text message with a guide on the soil, and personalised advice on preferred crop breeds, pest control, current market value of crops, tools required and where to find them. UjuziKilimo has a central database which collects agricultural information from research institutions, universities, and financial markets in order to provide this advice to farmers.

Kahitouo Hien and team, Burkina Faso

FasoPro is a social venture that makes nutritional products from Shea caterpillars. It is based in Burkina Faso, where half the population live below the poverty line. The shea tree is known for its nuts, which are used in foods and cosmetics. The ‘chitoumou’ caterpillars which feed on the tree are traditionally harvested for three months of the year as a high-protein food rich in Omega 3. FasoPro has developed a breeding system to ensure a year-round supply of the caterpillars, which it processes into a powdered meal supplement to combat malnutrition. FasoPro products also help to protect shea trees by making communities more aware of their value.

Managing medical supplies
Bukhary Kibonajoro, Tanzania
This web-based monitoring software is designed to combat the theft of medical supplies across the Tanzanian hospital network. By monitoring medicine inventories at the national medical store and in hospitals, and reporting discrepancies to the Ministry of Health, it cuts healthcare costs and helps ensure medicines are available to those who need them.

MotoCharcoal Briquettes
Mercy Manyuchi and team, Zimbabwe
Bio-briquettes are a cooking fuel made from leftover corn stalks and leaves. They provide a clean source of energy that burn with the same calorific value as charcoal, and could help prevent deforestation by reducing the use of charcoal or firewood.

Zimbabwe produces about 480 000 tonnes of corn waste every year, from which bio-briquettes can be produced as an affordable and environmentally-friendly energy supply.

Malele Ngalu and team, Kenya
Totohealth is an information system that guides parents through pregnancy and childhood by sending them vital maternal and child health information via text-messages. Text messages are sent to parents twice a week based on when they registered their pregnancy or birth of a child. The messages provide information on nutrition, immunisation, hygiene, breastfeeding, family planning and childhood diseases. Totohealth helps them to identify abnormalities and advise the milestones and changes to expect from infants and toddlers. Parents are registered for the messaging service by hospitals, clinics, community workers or NGOs.

Illuminum Greenhouse
Taita Ngetich and team, Kenya

Illuminum is a greenhouse made with local materials. Its solar panel and sensor technology creates a controlled environment in which to grow crops. In doing so, it addresses many of the challenges faced by Kenyan farmers, including climate change, unpredictable weather, pests, crop diseases and old technology. The sensors collect data on temperature, humidity and soil moisture and send this to farmers via text message, allowing them to monitor and regulate their greenhouse without having to be on the farm. Irrigation can also be turned on and off via text message. The system works on all types of phones and the use of solar power makes Illuminum ideal for rural areas with poor access to energy.

Olufemi Odeleye and team, Nigeria

The Tryctor is a three-wheeled mini-tractor for small-scale farmers. It can also be used as a mobile generator. Using low-cost local components, it is affordable, easy to maintain, efficient and simple to operate. The three-wheeled Tryctor is manufactured in Nigeria and aimed at small farmers and cooperatives. Its size to power ratio makes it a multipurpose vehicle which can also be used to transport goods.

Standard Microgrid
Matt Wainwright and team, South Africa
This innovation is a self-contained, community managed renewable energy power grid for rural areas. Power generated by a renewable energy source is stored in batteries and distributed to consumers through the Standard Microgrid. Rather than paying a utility company for electricity by the kilowatt unit, a local Microgrid manager is provided simple tools to manage the grid and distribute subscription credit to community members connected to the grid. Standard Microgrid is able to balance supply and demand to ensure no electricity is wasted and that the system is reliable.

It does this without needing highly trained personnel to monitor the grid. The system is low-maintenance and robust, which makes it an ideal business model for rural African electrification.

Werner Swart, South Africa

The Drylobag is designed to dry and store grain. Wet grain goes mouldy, but the Drylobag prevents this by reducing the grain temperature and drying it evenly, even in the high humidity typical of Africa’s most fertile regions. In doing so, the Drylobag prevents loss of food stocks and enables farmers to harvest earlier. This reduces the risk of weather damage and crops being eaten by wildlife, and helps farmers get crops to market earlier.

Arthur Zang and team, Cameroon
Cameroon has 50 cardiologists for its 22 million citizens. The CardioPad is a medical tablet that enables heart examinations and diagnosis to be done remotely by doctors and nurses. The CardioPad produces a digitized electrocardiogram (ECG) to assess heart conditions and a patient’s heartbeat. This information is sent by a mobile phone network to a cardiologist, who can interpret the data and send their diagnosis and instructions back to the local doctor or nurse.

Image: Royal Academy of Engineering.



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