African innovation comes in many shapes and sizes. The ones that make the press are usually the high tech software or hardware solutions that have the potential to disrupt a sector on the continent. But there are many other small innovations out there that are building on traditional skills, changing lives, and utilising technology.
In previous blogs, the manufacturing industry has been an important theme. Cottage industries have long been important in Africa, but difficult to scale. African fashion has been popular around the world in recent years, and seamstresses and tailors have been pumping out designs and clothing to be sent oversees. Other industries are not having as much success, but in one instance I found, hard work, innovation, clever usage of social media and a social orientation is reaping great rewards and changing the lives of hundreds of women and men in Ghana.
With the popularity of Instagram and the improved cameras we walk around with on our phones many people seem to think of themselves as models, or photographers, and it is partly this trend that has led to the success of Design Dua.
Design Dua creates beautiful woven baskets for babies, pets and many other uses. Coretta Owusu, the founder, innovator, designer and business woman behind the company, has gathered together a team of 25 people, from the Northern part of Ghana to weave these baskets using a special type of grass. She has gone through a long process in refining the designs and technique, including finding a new way of bleaching the grass so it is white than usual.
Agriculture is an area of tremendous opportunity in Africa. It is also a sector that needs substantial investment, so that Africa can feed itself and lessen the reliance on foreign imports. In a time where climate change is threatening to make farming even more challenging in Africa, and urbanisation is taking the labour force away from rural farm land, innovation is needed to increase productivity and give incentivise the labour force into getting back into farming, and developing their businesses.
We have featured many agricultural innovations on Inventive Africa, many of which continue to flourish, like Farm Drive, who have recently been features on the IPA 2017 shortlist, and have won various other awards across the continent. It seems that every year, there are many more inventive ideas around the sector, and today two more will be features.
Over the past few years, Kenya have been a leading force in African innovation. Safaricom have driven innovation with their introduction of mobile money service M-Pesa, which has changed the outlook of the Kenyan financial sector, connecting many with banking services. There are many spinoffs such as M-Kopa and M-Tiba, which both aim to combat the social issues of health care and demand for electricity.
Now they are venturing into the agricultural sector and aim to help agricultural processing businesses in production planning by opening a communication line with farmers. Connected Farmer, and app, enables farmers across Kenya to digitise their entire end to end operations. It includes, farmer profiling, communication, collection of Continue reading “Did You Know 3D urban farming in Africa is a thing?”→
3D printing is a trend that doesn’t look to fizzle out. It is changing the way industry works and enabling small businesses all over the world. The prices of printers are coming down steadily and it is even possible to scavenge the parts and make one yourself! 3D printers and the availability of effective 3D scanners are giving unlimited opportunities to individuals, businesses and even medical suppliers, as you will see below. There are some negative aspects to this, with security threatened as it is now very easy to scan and print house keys using fairly rudimental 3D printing equipment. But, on the whole, 3D printing will speed up the supply chain and change people’s lives in a positive way.
3D printing has already been drastically changing the lives of some Africans. RoboBeast have been printing prosthetic limbs for people off the back of a Landrover in the African bush. This durable 3D printer is working under tough condition in remote areas and proves how versatile the 3D printing industry has become. It is now even possible to 3D print in metal, which would cut out the transportation fees for many industries. (The metal 3D printers are still very expensive)
ReFab Dar, based in Tanzania, are hoping to take advantage of the increased effectiveness of 3D printing. The aim to create the opportunity to 3D print vital medical supplies across Africa. This would enable Africa to take control, supplying itself with medical equipment it can not do without. They have set up a hacking competition and invited participants to design 3D printed medical tools. The competition focusses on tools that hep prevent HIV and birthing equipment. The submission date was on the 20th, and finalists will be announced on the 31st of March.
ReFab Dar have another innovation up their sleeve, also in the 3D printing sector, killing two birds with one stone! Currently they are taking plastic waste and turning it into the raw material for 3D printers, unlocking its value. Plastic waste is a scourge that plagues the continent. Countries like Rwanda seem to have been able to deal with it, but in many other countries, plastic is seen everywhere throughout the major cities in Africa. Currently, 3D printing is not utilised enough in anywhere in the world to clean up all the plastic waste, but as it becomes more and more effective, and with competitions like ReFab Dar’s for creating medical supplies, it will become more prevalent across the continent. The raw material is just sitting their waiting to be used. It is even possible that the bottling and packaging companies realise that they are missing out on an income and will do more to clear up and recycle the waste after its usage. Check out the video from their website, it is incredible innovation that can change Tanzania and the whole of Africa!
3D printing can be utilised in so may industries. Medical supplies may be one of the most important for the general health of the continent, but equipment for farmers, mechanics, tradesman, like plumbers and electricians, scientific equipment for schools, and even bigger industries such as laptop manufacturers like Positivo in Rwanda, could take advantage of 3D printing to make their operations more efficient.
Good luck to all those taking part in the ReFab Dar 3D printing hack. We can’t wait to see the results! If you know of any other 3D printing solutions and innovations in Africa, or you want to be a guest blogger get in contact with us on Twitter @InventiveAfrica or via email, and please share the blog with your network on Twitter and Facebook. Also, we have a new Facebook page! Please like it, and carry on the dialogue about African Innovation there!
Health as an on going trend, which has run throughout Inventive Africa from the beginning. Innovation and technology has the ability to change lives in many way and in the health sector it can improve them, and save them. Mobile phones are giving more people access to specialist treatment, Uber style ambulances are taking patients to hospital, and solar power is creating a more reliable and safe setting for patience to be treated.
Often, patients in Africa can not access treatment because of the sheer price of certain procedures.(although this problem is not exclusive to Africa!) It is not necessarily the price of the doctors time that is costly. Machinery, like MRI scanners come at a hefty price. In Uganda, just to use the MRI scanner, before all the treatment that may come after usage, costs more than Shs 700,000 (£156). For some, this is simply out of their reach. People who should be getting treatment, are not even going to the hospital. I here of shocking deaths in Africa, which come out of nowhere and inexplicable. Many of these, I can only assume, is because people didn’t recognise their symptoms, and/or didn’t want to go for treatment, because of expense.
But, like many instances in Africa, when there is a problem, a solution is just around the corner. Johnes Obungoloch, who lectures at Mbarara University of Science and Technology, found a way of bringing the cost down of MRI scanners, which will therefore pass on the saving to the patient. MRI scanners use strong magnetic fields and radio waves to produce detailed images of the inside of the body. They are expensive machinery due to the strong magnetic field, its technical and infrastructural requirements, and at 5 tonnes, their massive weight.
One of our predictions for this year is that there would be a lot of new technology around the agricultural sector. Agriculture is the backbone of African society. Currently, Africa is a net importer of food, leaving it vulnerable to international market prices and also making it difficult for farmers to compete against products that have often been subsidised. Crops like rice in many parts of the continent can not compete against American rice, even though it is far more nutritious.
Governments have a role to play in giving power back to the African farmer, but the likelihood is that this will be a slow process. So, building up the agric sector is a job for tech and innovation. Already, last year there were a number of technologies that are being aimed at small holder farmers to increase their capacity and capability. We wrote of the Tryctor, farm crowdfunding, #Cowfunding, Livestock insurance, mobile tech for agriculture and many many more over last year. And the trend is not about to stop now!
Funding for projects is hard to come by throughout the world. There are so many innovators and only a certain amount of angel investors to go around. Even if your idea is incredible, it can be down to being at the right place at the right time in order receive your initial funding to get your project off the ground. If you fail at this stage, the next step is approaching the bank for a loan, and in some cases this can be successful, but for many, banks will not take the risk on an idea when there is nothing to offer as collateral. This is even more of a problem for small business owners in Africa who have very few assets and banks are not very supportive of. There are possibilities for them to be part of cooperatives, which should help with personal development, but many of these often end up just paying for funerals.
The internet, and crowdfunding has offered these small business owners new ways of getting much needed funding to either build their businesses or develop personally. Most of us will have heard to Kickstarter and similar platforms. Some innovations on these sites receive enormous amounts of money, but sadly, some slip under the radar and don’t come close to their monetary needs. These platforms are not the right place for small business owners who just need a few hundred dollars to either purchase stock or equipment or even books to get through university.
It is hard to forget the images from the devastating drought in East Africa in the 1980’s. LiveAid held its big concert to raise money for the victims of this enormous natural disaster and images flooded our TV’s of emaciated Ethiopians, desperate for food and water. This is an image that Africa has been trying to shake for decades, but still drought persists. This year el Nino has taken a toll on East and southern Africa, with many countries once again facing the devastation of drought, if solutions are not found.
Livestock farmers are among those most at risk from drought, as it becomes harder and harder for their cattle to find vegetation to feast on. Cattle have long been a currency of sorts in parts of the continent and to this day still represent wealth. (Hence the popularity of CowFunding in South Africa) When a farmers animals die through starvation, it takes a long time to rebuild that wealth, if it ever can be rebuilt. Often it is more important than wealth as we saw in the 80’s when so many people died due to drought.
At first thought, it seems that insuring against such a risk would be impossible. Index-Based Livestock Insurance (IBLI), is doing exactly that, and in an innovative way! Their program uses satellite data to protect livestock herding communities in the Horn of Africa. By offering them insurance against the demise of their livestock, the communities are empowered and protected against the impact of climate change.