How Technology is Improving Africa
Africa is the poorest continent in the world with every second person living below the poverty line. From extreme hunger to illnesses and to insufficient agricultural infrastructure, Africa’s population is suffering. Fortunately, groups of researchers and people are continuously creating solutions to change these conditions. Here are four inventions that show how technology is improving Africa.

NEWgenerator Sanitation Systems

Since 2002, a group of researchers at the University of South Florida have been working on a new type of wastewater treatment system that will address sanitation issues in poor countries. They invented the NEWgenerator, which is a solar-powered generator that turns wastewater into recyclable clean water, nutrients and energy. Waste from the toilet enters the tank and it treats the water in a manner that is similar to a coffee filter. As a result, chlorinated water releases that people can use to flush the toilet and irrigate for agricultural purposes. The breakdown of organic material in the waste produces biogas, a form of energy. Lastly, this method releases nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus from the waste that people can use as fertilizer for agricultural purposes.

The NEWgenerator stays inside a container that batteries power, allowing the unit to be completely self-sustainable. Solar power and biogas from the waste power these batteries, making this device completely independent. The NEWgenerator received initial testing at a school in South India, where the invention succeeded in recycling thousands of gallons of water for 100 people per day. In 2016, the NEWgenerator’s lead professor, Daniel Yeh, earned a $1.14 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to install an improved version in Durban, South Africa. The generators will connect to Community Ablution Blocks (CABs), facilities comprised of toilets and showers. This will multiply the NEWgenerator’s ability to produce water by 10 times and serve up to 1,000 people per day. The research group is currently working on this installation and its dedication illuminates how technology is improving Africa.

SafariSeat Wheelchairs

One in 200 people in East Africa has a disability that affects their mobility, forcing them to remain in wheelchairs for the rest of their lives. Janna created SafariSeat and a small group of designers who wanted to help people regain their independence and livelihoods. It is a new wheelchair design that can navigate rough terrain found in South Africa and other developing countries. It works through a lever system, where the person can pump hand levers to control the wheelchair’s speed and power. SafariSeat’s goal is to implement an open-source toolkit in developing countries where the blueprints are free and the resources necessary to build these wheelchairs come from bicycle components at a low cost for local workshops. An open-source toolkit has three components that contribute to its success: the use of diagrams for building purposes, a communication network and a design portal where people can submit ideas for improvement.

In the past two years, SafariSeat set up two workshops, one in Kenya and one in Tanzania. It initially produced the first 50 wheelchairs in Kenya and the first 150 wheelchairs in Tanzania. After these successes, it implemented the SafariSeat Outreach program, which is a team that identifies people with disabilities in Kenya who live in isolation and need SafariSeats. Currently, the founders are working on building a third workshop in Uganda in hopes of expanding their reach and number of wheelchairs. Their ultimate goal is to broaden their impact on the rest of the world, specifically to countries undergoing wars.

Mazzi Cans

Africa has five times as many dairy cows compared to the United States with a total of about 49 million cows. Millions of farmers rely on cow’s milk as their income and source of nutrition for their families. However, if milk does not receive proper handling or storage during the time people transport it to markets, it can develop harmful bacteria that cause illnesses. Since milk contains important nutrients, vitamins, calories and minerals that can fulfill healthy dietary needs, it is necessary for farmers to be able to safely transport their milk. Mazzi is the answer to this problem. It is a 10-liter container system that makes it more efficient for the collection and transportation process. It provides a milking funnel over a durable container stronger than normal Jerry cans and its shape makes it easy to clean, preventing bacteria or soil from accumulating in the container.

Mazzi emerged by partnering with the Global Good, an organization that works with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Intellectual Ventures. Currently, Mazzi is available in Kenya and Ethiopia, with the goal of expanding to Uganda, Tanzania, Somalia, South Sudan and Sudan. It will continue working on making this product more cost-affordable for small farmers.

Lucky Iron Fish

Another technology that is improving Africa is the Lucky Iron Fish which a group of researchers in a Canadian university created in response to the 2 billion people suffering iron deficiency. Iron is a crucial nutrient that helps blood transport oxygen from the lungs to the body. Without a sufficient amount of iron, people experience fatigue, weakness, lack of concentration, shortness of breath and headaches. People can put the Lucky Iron Fish in the pot or pan in which the food is cooking, releasing 6 to 8 milligrams of iron that the food absorbs. This is about 40 percent of a person’s daily iron intake levels. With the return of iron to a child’s diet, they can focus better in school, leading to higher performance results. For working persons, their improved concentration gives them a chance to earn higher incomes.

Once someone buys an Iron Lucky Fish, the organization contributes an equal amount into its Impact Fund. The company uses its Impact Fund to donate Lucky Iron Fish to developing countries and improve educational resources in communities. Women and men receive training to deliver Lucky Iron Fish within these countries and raise awareness about how to solve iron deficiency. In 2018, 54,000 people around the world received a Lucky Iron Fish. Many people (5,175) in Benin, a country in West Africa, were among these individuals. Currently, the organization is looking for more partnerships with NGOs to expand its impact from 88 countries to the rest of the world.

New technology is proving to be one of the crucial answers helping Africa out of extreme poverty with the dedication of numerous research groups and motivated people. These four inventions show how technology is improving Africa each year.

Jane Burgan
Photo: Flickr