Our previous two blogs featured the Next Einstein Forum, which took place in March. The event seeks to promote African scientific excellence to the rest of the world, and to find the next brilliant scientists and mathematicians from the continent. It is such an exciting and important initiative, that this blog will be the third in the series of blogs about this year’ NEF. We will once again feature some of our favourite innovations from the Challenge of Invention to Innovation (Ci2i), an innovation challenge that shortlisted 16 finalists from over 130 entrants.
For a general overview of the happenings of the event, including the inauguration of a new African scientific journal, and our thoughts on why it is such an important theme, you can check out this blog. Do see other featured innovations from the Ci2i, see this blog
Molepse Bio oil/powder
We say it often, but it important to note that agriculture forms the backbone of many African economies, and, whilst there are often other greater sources of income, farming is vitally important. If it is not supported and developed, then the African continent will continue to rely on food imports. With the available land, this is simply not necessary, if the sector is managed properly.
Part of the process of ensuring that farms maximise their yields, and send a maximum amount to market, is to make sure that crops are stored properly after harvest. Post harvest losses are one of the major reasons for food insecurity. If Weevils enter a crop they can completely decimate it, so farmers need to take measure to protect against this. After four years of research, Donatus Njoroge of Kenya found the perfect mix of locally growing weeds, which are then mixed and turned into oil or powder. This has been found to be extremely effective by local farmers to repel major insect pests, such a Weevils. Farmers were able to store their maize for 6 months, which means it can reach until the next season.
Apart from being a natural product (and it is important to create natural products) another reason that they are more effective than artificial pesticides is that different pests effect different crop types. Molepse was effective with all types of pests. The affordability, as well as the fact that is natural, could change the fortunes of many farmers across the region.
Rachel Sibande, from Malawi, is already a renowned African innovator. Some may even call her an innovation celebrity! In 2013 she established the first innovation, mHub, in Malawi. She has also won various other awards, including one from Google.
At this years NEF, she showcased her idea to use Maize cobs as a bio fuel. Up cycling has been quite popular world wide, and finding new uses for waste products takes that to a new level, especially in the energy sector. Maize is a staple food throughout much of the continent, and therefore that an millions of cobs available, which usually go to waste. Sibande plans to use the to run a gasifier based electrical system, which will be able to be utilised by local communities, schools, health centres and local businesses for their energy needs. It is not only power which will be generated, rather like Ecovon, they will create new building materials from the ashes from the power system, to create cheap housing, as well as boosting employment.
Sibande’s innovation is upcycling upcycling! Power is a problem in many communities, as are building sustainable affordable housing. She is solving the problem by using a waste product that is found all over the continent. This rising star of African innovation will continue to find herself in the limelight with this idea, and surely many more! In fact, she was the winner of the NEF Ci2i, and it is clear that she is great supporter of other women in technology. In her winning speech she said “This is for the daughters of the continent. May they thrive in science to innovate and invent more home grown solutions.” Amen to that!
Education is a big development issue across the continent. Access to schools is for many a major problem. Parents often require their children to help them out with work, or perform many other tasks, many have to walk long distances to school and others simply can’t afford to attend. Within schools there can be other hurdles to jump over. I have seen on occasions sub standard teachers, inappropriate learning environments, and a distinct lack of access to information. And, if there are not things for children to read, they will struggle with basic written and verbal communication, and fail to learn other things.
There are a number of services in Africa that aim to give better access to information for students. But few of them are accessible in local languages with English and French the go to languages. But that also leaves the issue of a cultural disconnect, because local dialect is as important as learning a more widely spoken one. Hadithi! Hadithi!, created by eLimu, is a literacy app for 6 to 8 year olds, which contains stories written in local languages, by local teachers. Languages from Kenya, Uganda, Somalia and South Sudan are currently being used to help young students read and learn. The application covers the local curricula, and contains sentence making, spelling, letter tracing and games.
eLimu also have a number of other products aimed at other age groups. They also help train teachers to integrate technology into schools, and have revision help for students, with past papers and notes accessible online.
In 2020 NEF will have its next edition in Kenya, but in the mean time they will continue to support the best of the best in Africa to become the world’s next generation of scientific excellence. Keep your eyes open for more African scientific break throughs, that now have a platform to tell the world.