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

using tech to help the world's poor
REI shoppers and outdoor lovers are likely familiar with Arc’Teryx. The brand, based in Vancouver, British Colombia, has been selling outdoor survival gear and clothing with top-notch technology for the last few decades. In recent years, the company decided to open some of its profits and expertise to encourage using tech to help the world’s poor.

Solving Problems with Tech

What started as a request for the help of an Arc’Teryx engineer to design insulated shelters for Mongolians has turned into a company-wide passion to apply technological innovations towards helping the poor. Arc’teryx provides significant funding and support to Global Good, a Seattle team of engineers and scientists who travel the world, identify technology gaps that perpetuate poverty and design affordable, situational solutions. The results of their partnership with Global Good has encouraged Arc’teryx to fund similar projects using technology to help the world’s poor; it is currently hosting a Problem Solver tour and campaign to seek out individuals and organizations using technology to help the poor, promising support to these problem-solvers that they deem are really making a maximum difference.

The Borgen Project attended Arc’Teryx’s Problem Solver Tour, where representatives from Arc’Teryx and Global Good discussed projects Arc’Teryx has helped fund in recent years as a way to inspire more activity. Global Good’s goal is to “dedicate energies towards the bottom billion” rather than using technology to develop more “tools and toys for rich people” as Nathan P. Myhrvold, CEO of Intellectual Ventures, explained.

Arc’Teryx Funded Projects

One project is wrapping up the prototype for a one-step, DIY malaria test. Currently, a blood sample is the only means to detect malaria. This innovation by Global Good aims to create something as easy as “a pregnancy test for deadly diseases.” With one drop of blood inserted into the small contraption, the test will alert the user whether the patient has tested positive or negative for malaria. This will save the lives of children whose parents cannot accurately detect whether or not their child is suffering from malaria or a milder infection without having to invest in expensive lab procedures. Researchers in the battle to eliminate malaria will also be able to efficiently and effectively measure malaria’s presence in villages by mass-distributing the tests.

Global Good has been able to make a huge difference in health care in the fight against poverty. Another invention is an insulated thermos, about three feet tall and 1.5 feet in diameter, that is able to keep vaccines for 6,000 people at the required temperature for as long as 40 days in desert climates. The thermos has become essential to inexpensively distributing life-saving vaccines to remote villages. A modification on the thermos has even enabled the provision of Ebola vaccines, which are more difficult to transport due to a lower required temperature.

Arc’Teryx’s Work Continues

The company is always looking for more opportunities to offer its outdoor survival technology to projects working to help people. Alongside that work, it is continuing to fund poverty-fighting organizations and is now conducting a continental search for individuals using tech to help the world’s poor.

– Olivia Heale
Photo: Flickr