Quote of the Day: Where the world sees trash, Africa recycles – Erik Hersman of Afrigadget

Erik Hersman at Better World By Design
Erik Hersman at Better World By Design. via White African’s Flickrstream

One of the best things about conferences is when you get to meet people who’s work you enjoy/admire in real life. Erik Hersman of Afrigadget documents low-tech entrepreneurialism in Africa. Specifically he looks at ingenuity born of necessity, “tech that keeps economies on life support”. Raised in Sudan (until the war got bad), Kenya, and then again Sudan, he’s a bit of a tech anthropologist searching for Africans solutions to African problems.

Because I haven’t done an appropriate tech roundup for a long while and because Erik’s Better World By Design talk showcased tech featured in his blog, I’m just going to pick my fave 10 posts from Afrigadget.

  1. Farming Innovations in a Slum

    Rubbish dump
    The former rubbish dump

    Installing irrigation
    Installing irrigation

    Spinach patch
    Spinach patch

    [A] local organic farming company Green Dreams has been documenting the progress of transforming a garbage dump [in the Kibera Slum] to an organic farm on the Green Dreams blog. They are working with a local youth group comprising reformed criminals in converting garbage into organic manure, and garbage dumps into organic farms.

    Not to be a wet blanket, but I do wonder what sorts of chemical may have leached into that soil.

  2. GSM/GPS based elephant tracking at The Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya
    Young Elephant

    A pilot project placed an electonic collar containing GPS and GSM units on Kimani, a bull elephant who was the last surviving member of a 5 elephant group with a penchant for raiding farms to eat crops. This collar allowed park rangers to track the elephant’s movements using Google Earth / Google Maps. The project also allowed park authorities to monitor animal locations at all times and acted as a deterrent against the poaching of this important resource.

  3. Bio Latrines in Kenyan Slums

    Just the other day on a visit to Kibera Slum I came across this interesting bio gas latrine which is being set up for Kibera people as a response to lacking community toilets. The sanitation situation in Kibera is really really poor! There are a couple of community toilets which where set up after the shooting of the Constant Gardener but only a few years later these are in bad shape! Again, they cost 3/= per visit which is really above of what a typical Kibera inhabitant can afford. Just sum up what it will cost for 5 visits per day for a family of five! So the bio gas latrine is a really good option, since it will generate a little income to make the toilets free of charge.

  4. Mobile Phone Based Auto Security System (Video)

    Morris Mbetsa, an 18 year old self-taught inventor with no formal electronics training from the coastal tourist town of Mombasa on the Indian Ocean in Kenya, has invented the “Block & Track”, a mobile phone-based anti-theft device and vehicle tracking system.

  5. Hardware Hacking: Handmade Tools in Africa
    Hardware Hacking: Handmade Tools in Africa
  6. Rural Bio Gas Generator in Kenya
    Biodigester in Rural Kenya
  7. Philip’s Model Plane at International ArtBots Show (Video)
    Philip Isohe and his gorgeous model airplane
    Philip Isohe and his gorgeous model airplane

    Phillip Isohe is a metal fabricator in the jua kali, non-traditional industrial sector, in Kenya. In his spare time he builds models of airplanes and buses. This seems to be an extension of what many of us did while growing up in Africa – building wire, or tin can, cars. What’s most interesting is the excruciating attention to detail that he puts into each one. In fact, they each have motors with working lights, steering, engine and interiors.

  8. Africa’s Modular Machines
    Paint Machine
    Paint Machine
  9. Home Made Welding Machine

    This DIY welder in no way looks safe, but it is intriguing.

  10. AfriGadget: the story behind the stories.

    Duration: 53 sec

    Because I’m one of those people who love director’s commentaries and behind the scenes sneak peeks.

How does Afrigadget find all these innovations?

People send them a lot of stories, but also the Afrigadget bloggers walk into a welding shops, go scouting in industrial areas and pay close attention to what others might not see. It would be a very interesting/useful exercise to try out in Haiti or Guatemala.

A very noteworthy thing Erik mentioned is that folks are working on a Maker Faire Africa in Ghana in 2009. Maker Faire is a 2 day festival of arts, crafts, wild inventions and amazing sculpture that takes place in the Bay Area and Austin, Texas every year. The African version would have a slightly different focus however.

Emeka Okafor of Timbuktu Chronicles proposed the idea of holding the event in Africa:

The aim of a Maker Faire-like event is to create a space on the continent where Afrigadget-type innovations, inventions and initiatives can be sought, identified, brought to life, supported, amplified, propagated, etc. Maker Faire Africa asks the question, “What happens when you put the drivers of ingenious concepts from Mali with those from Ghana and Kenya, and add resources to the mix?”

According to Afrigadget:

The focus here is not on high-tech, but on manufacturing. Specifically, fabrication, the type of small and unorganized businesses that pop up wherever an entrepreneur is found on the African continent. It gets exciting when you think about gathering some of the real innovators from this sector into one place where they can learn from each other and spread their knowledge from one part of the continent to another.

Related posts:
Video: Into Africa – Innovation for Developing Regions [DEMO Conference]
William Kamkwamba in the Wall Street Journal
Afrigadget at TED Global
Cat’s Picks for 10 Must-Read Non-green Blogs