on Friday, 28 February 2014. Posted in maths, science & technology

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The Innovation Prize for Africa  (IPA) was started in 2011. It was an initiative started by the African Innovation Foundation to honour and encourage innovative achievements that contribute towards the development of new products, increase efficiency or saving costs in Africa. The idea was further to recognise through the prize, technological breakthroughs in manufacturing and service industry, health and well-being, agriculture and agribusiness, environment, energy and water, and ICTs. More specifically, the prize is focused on:

  • Mobilising leaders from all sectors to fuel African innovation
  • Promoting innovation across Africa in key sectors through the competition
  • Promoting science, technology and engineering as a rewarding career path among African youth.
  • Encouraging entrepreneurs, innovators, funding bodies and business development service providers to exchange ideas and explore innovative business opportunities.

Since its inception, the IPA has helped to validate the work of innovators on the continent. Without such recognitions, the motivation to create and develop new technologies may diminish, which would have adverse effects for innovation on the continent. As the founder of the African Innovation Foundation Jean-Claude Bastos de Morais stated: ‘Africa has many good innovators and innovations but the challenge is trying to get an investor to buy into an idea and help turn it into something that could benefit communities and the rest of the continent. It's very difficult to find the adequate money to back an innovative idea.’

For a continent with high levels of poverty and unemployment, innovation has the potential to help people out of poverty and create employment. This has been the pattern in BRICS countries such as Brazil, China and India. This development, however, can only happen when there is investment in science and technology for the purpose of innovation.

The prize winners of the 2013 IPA, include the first prize winners AgriProtein Team from South Africa for their nutrient recycling invention. Second was the Zero Blade Wind Converter by Tunisians Hassin Labaied and Anis Aouini. While third place Senegalese Sanoussi Diakite won with his Fonio Husker Machine.

The AgriProtein Team developed an innovative approach to nutrient recycling. This method uses waste and fly larvae to produce natural animal feed. The AgriProtein solution collects biodegradable waste, feeds it to flies that in turn produce larvae that are ground into protein to provide a more ecologically friendly, naturally occurring type of animal feed. This approach improves the nutritional value of meat and lowers the cost of animal feed for African processors and farmers.

AgriProtein Team researcher Jason Drew said: ‘We have seven billion people to feed today, nine billion by 2050, and one billion of those extra people will be on the African continent, we cannot continue to take fish from our seas, it's not sustainable. We can use nature to take our waste, convert it using flies and make a perfectly natural food for chicken and for fish.’

Hassine Labaied and Anis Aouini from Saphon Energy created a bladeless wind convertor. The Zero-Blade Wind Convertor is largely inspired by a modern sailboat – it has no blades and does not rotate.  Instead, the wind is harnessed by a sail-shaped body which follows a back-and-forth 3D knot motion. The wind energy is first converted to mechanical energy via pistons then transfers to hydraulic energy and then to electricity.

The converter’s use of a hydraulic system allows the conversion of the mechanical energy into hydraulic pressure which can either be directly converted to electricity or stored to provide power later when there is not wind. Ultimately, the Zero-Blade Wind Converter provides a unique and cost-effective new African energy solution.

For the 200 million people in West Africa who are facing food insecurity and malnutrition, fonio cereal – grown in 16 African countries from Cape Verde to Chad – is one of the best solutions to improving health and nutrition. Sanoussi Diakite’s third place was for developing and diffusing a thermal powered machine that husks 5 kilograms of fonio – a West African cereal – in just 8 minutes. The Fonio Husker Machine allows producers and consumers to scale production of fonio, an important African grain. The Fonio Husker Machine effectively husks and cleans the fornio grains as they pass through the shifting and flexible paddle, which is set on a vertical axis and on top of a fixed plate. The separation of grain and husk is done simultaneously by an incorporated system of ventilation. This process requires just 1.5 kilowatts for power increasing yields by more than 65 percent. This innovation provides the opportunity to promote fonio as a nutritious and healthier food across West Africa.

These prize winners are an example of the importance of home-grown solutions to development in Africa. Technology and innovation has to include business and production methods if it is to make a difference in the African context. Through investment into technology and innovation, the platform for development in Africa can only strengthened. 

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