Ivorian chemical engineer designs biowaste equipment for smallholder farmers

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Chemical Engineer Noël N’guessan has won the Royal Academy of Engineering’s 2021 Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation for a biowaste equipment

The equipment would help smallholder farmers in West Africa, manage and generate income from biowaste. (Image source: Royal Academy of Engineering)

The equipment would help smallholder farmers in West Africa, manage and generate income from biowaste. N’guessan is the second Ivorian to win the Africa Prize, and the first to win for an Ivorian-based innovation.

N’guessan and his team designed and patented Kubeko, to assist smallholder farmers and their cooperatives, so that they are able to generate more income from the by-products of their harvests, without any additional labour. Kubeko is a set of low-cost biowaste processing equipment, with a composter and biodigester, specifically designed to ferment agricultural post-harvest by-products into solid and liquid compost, and cooking gas.

“Biowaste represents two to five times the quantity of crops or produce sold, amounting to 30 million tonnes of waste disposed of annually in Côte d’Ivoire,” said N’guessan. “By repurposing this waste, Kubeko can help Ivorians generate extra income, dramatically improving the lives of thousands of farmers and their families.”

N’guessan has won US$34,812(approximately), at the virtual awards ceremony, where four finalists delivered presentations before Africa Prize judges, and a live audience voted for the most promising engineering innovation.

“We really appreciated the professionalism of the APEI, adding value to our businesses. It was hard work, and share this Award with our entire team,” said N’guessan.

Since being shortlisted for the Africa Prize, the Kubeko team has made progress in reducing its production costs from US$800 to US$700, making their products affordable. The team has installed two biodigesters running on cassava farms, with 50 composters installed to date on cocoa, palm oil and mango farms. Kubeko has also been commissioned by the Ministry of the Environment and Sustainable Development in Côte d’Ivoire, to train stakeholders on the use of Kubeko, as part of the department’s national composting and biowaste strategy.

“We were very impressed with the Kubeko solution which has huge potential to impact many lives of farmers in West Africa,” said Africa Prize Judge Ibilola Amao. “We believe Kubeko will contribute greatly to sustainable energy and farming in the region.”

The three runners up, who received US$13,924 each (approximately) are:

Indira Tsengiwe from South Africa, for BlueAvo – a digital platform on which African creatives can collaborate and sell services as an agency-alternative that is rich in diversity, and places African creatives at the world’s fingertips

Juka Fatou Darboe from The Gambia, for Make3D Medical – uses 3D printing to create customised orthopaedic equipment for medical institutions and their patients.

Faith Adesemowo from Nigeria, for Social Lender – a financial services solution that uses social reputation scoring to provide credit scores to those who would otherwise not qualify for formal financial services

The Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation, founded by the UK’s Royal Academy of Engineering in 2014, is Africa’s biggest prize dedicated to engineering innovation, and has a proven track record of identifying successful engineering entrepreneurs. The Africa Prize also exposes and connects the shortlist to individuals and networks in the UK and across Africa, who can accelerate their business and technology development – from fellow entrepreneurs and mentors to potential investors and suppliers.

Sixteen shortlisted Africa Prize entrepreneurs from eight countries in sub-Saharan Africa received eight months of training and mentoring, conducted virtually, during which they developed their business plans and learned to market their innovations. The group received coaching on communicating effectively, focusing on customers, and approaching investors with confidence.

In addition to the main prizes awarded, the remaining 12 innovators from the 2021 shortlist pitched their innovations to a live audience, who voted for the pitch that showed the most promise and potential for impact. Yusuf Bilesanmi was selected as the inaugural winner of the Africa Prize’s One-to-Watch Award of US$6962 (approximately), which recognises the potential of Bilesanmi’s innovation- ShiVent, a low-cost, non-electric and non-invasive ventilator for patients with respiratory difficulties.

ShiVent does not require electricity, is easy to install, non-invasive and oxygen efficient, and our belief is that it can help save lives when more expensive or oxygen-intensive technologies can’t get to patients,” said Bilesanmi.

To date, the 101 Africa Prize alumni businesses have raised more than US$14mn in grants and equity, and created more than 1,500 new jobs, with more than 50% of these going to women and a significant proportion to disabled people and youth.

The other candidates shortlisted for the Africa Prize 2021 are: 

Jacob Azundah from Nigeria, for Aevhas – a high-efficiency machine used to process cassava roots into the West African diet staple, garri.

Armelle Sidje from Cameroon, for creating a biopackaging solution– a sustainable manufacturing process that transforms banana and plantain stems to biodegradable paper packaging products.

Elohor Thomas from Nigeria, for CodeLn – an automated tech recruitment platform that supports software engineering recruitment, by connecting companies with talented people in the field and helps test their coding abilities. 

Tshepo Mangoele from South Africa, for Dissolv Bioplastic – a bioplastic made from plant waste material, which is compostable and dissolves in water at pre-determined rates.

Marie Ndieguene from Senegal, for I3S – a sustainably made and affordable storage space solution made from diverted landfill waste, to solve the problem of post-harvest loss in agriculture.

Eyram Amedzor from Ghana, for Jumeni Field Service Software – software that assists service-based businesses, by providing a three-part cloud-based application, to help increase the productivity of their field teams.

Dr Atish Shah from Tanzania, for Mkono-1 – a 3D-printed prosthetic hand, available locally, that provides an affordable solution for people living with upper limb amputations.

Pazion Cherinet from Ethiopia, for Orbit Health – a digital health platform that manages and stores patient data and dispenses medication.

Olugbenga Olufemi Olubanjo from Nigeria, for Reeddi – an energy system used to provide clean, reliable and affordable electricity to households and businesses, operating in energy-poor communities.

Taofeek Olalekan from Nigeria, for RealDrip – an intravenous therapy solution combining the Internet of Things and AI to monitor dosages, flow rates and intake time.

George Boateng from Ghana, for SuaCode.ai – a smartphone application that uses artificial intelligence to teach coding remotely.

African Farming

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