Peasant farmers are not the first group that come to mind when thinking about innovation but Mr. Frederick Msiska of Nchenachena in the Henga Valley of Northern Malawi is an innovator and in more than just one way. Mr. Msiska, who only attended school until the 5th grade, is a peasant farmer who also happens to be an inveterate inventor and a tinkerer. Among his many creations, he has designed and built a biogas converter for his toilet that he uses to produce electricity. He has also built a cell phone charger of his own design, a fan for his home, both of which use the electricity that he produces as well as a chemical sprayer for use on his farm.
Of his inventions and what it took to make it so, he says “I looked around and I found that certain things were missing in my life so I studied very closely things that the government supplies. I made them myself through trial and error. I just kept trying, trying, and trying until they eventually worked.”
Frederick is also a “lead farmer” – a designation local government gives to thought leaders in agriculture in an area who give advice and direction on best farming practice and techniques. He is also known around his area as the “Doctor of crops” due to his farming expertise and adoption of every sustainable farming techniques he comes across.
Mzamose Gondwe, who runs the blog African Science Heroes spoke to Mr Msisaki and was distraught to learn that he has taken apart his biogas toilet due to (unwarranted) fears about imprisionment after word came out to him about the travails of another rural inventor, Gabriel Kondesi. Gabriel who has invented a radio station using an old cassette player, Nokia cellphone, some electrical components and antennae. What he did not know was that the root reason behind this particular arrest was the running of a radio station without appropriate licensing, an ovresite that the licensing body, the Malawi Communication Regulatory Authority (MACRA) later fixed when the recognized Gabriel’s ingenuity and awarded him a license.
Mr. Msisaki is the picture of humility: when asked about his inventions and achievements, he presents the view that “… farmers do not contribute to national development, it is only those who are educated who contribute to development.” He story and achievements however are truly the epitome of what we profile here at AfriGadget with the focus that we have on the appropriate application of ingenious African technology in every day problem solving.