Powdered caterpillars and tricycle tractors: meet the R530 000 African Engineering prize finalists

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The Cameroonian inventor of Africa’s first tablet designed solely for medical purposes, Arthur Zang, has been nominated among 12 entrepreneurs for the 2015/2016 Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation award.

Hosted by the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAEng) and currently in its second edition, the award is dedicated to recognising innovation in all engineering disciplines.

Arthur Zang’s Cardio Pad is up against other inventions including a medical supplies theft monitoring system, environmentally friendly bio-briquettes for cooking and an infant and toddler health info system for parents.

Matt Wainwright from Standard Microgrid, makers of a self-contained, community-managed renewable energy power grid for rural areas and Werner Swart, creator of the Drylobag dry grain storage system, are representing South Africa in the contest.

According to a press statement, the other nine finalists are:

Kamata power theft prevention system – Edmand Aijuka, Uganda

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

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.

UjuziKilimo – 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.

FasoPro – Kahitouo Hien, Burkina Faso

FasoPro is a social venture that makes nutritional products from Shea caterpillars. 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, Zimbabwe

Bio-briquettes are a cooking fuel made from leftover corn stalks and leaves. They provide a clean source of energy that burns 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.

Totohealth – Malele Ngalu, 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 the birth of a child. The messages provide information on nutrition, immunisation, hygiene, breastfeeding, family planning and childhood diseases. Totohealth helps parents identify abnormalities and advises the milestones and changes to expect from infants and toddlers.

Illuminum Greenhouse – Taita Ngetich, Kenya

Illuminum is a greenhouse made with local materials. Its solar panel and sensor technology creates a controlled environment in which to grow crops. 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.

Tryctor – Olufemi Odeleye, 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 multi-purpose vehicle which can also be used to transport goods.

Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation awards finalists

All finalists will go through six months of training and mentorship. At the end of the training programme, one winner will be chosen and will receive a £25 000 cash prize (around R530 000) for their business.

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

The winners of the Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation will be announced in 2016.