Keyhole Gardens

Following a story on BBC News that fellow blogger Sokari of BlackLooks had already picked up earlier in June (as well as Alison), our reader Zeno dropped in an e-mail, asking if we knew more about keyhole gardens.

Keyhole gardens?

Actually, I had heard about those Folkewall installations in Gabarone, Botswana the other day that are used for greywater recycling, but keyhole gardens were indeed quite new to me. Guess this also shows how many smart solutions still exist out there that will need to be rediscovered and put in use.

Keyhole gardens are a technique used to grow vegetables in a dry climate. They are actually a special form of raised bed gardens: circular waist high raised beds with a path to the center. Walled in by stones, there’s a basket made from sticks and straw in the center that holds manure and other organic kitchen waste for compost.
Since they look like a keyhole from above, they are often called keyhole gardens and also promoted under this name in Lesotho, where the charity organisation “Send a Cow” has been promoting the creation of these special gardens for some time now.

So what makes these gardens so special?

  • the surrounding stones retain the rich soils and keep it safe from erosion
  • the round shape retains moisture
  • compact size, even small plots can be used for gardening
  • raised beds enable the sick and elderly to help with the gardening work
  • center in the middle is used for composting and reuse of greywater (= reuse of nutrients)

“Send a Cow” also created a very informative website on their activies and published some valuable How-to-manuals for us to adopt this smart approach. Please also check out this funny animation on YouTube which puts it in plain enligsh comic style 🙂

Now I am only curious to know if we could also mix the greywater with some collected urine and use that as additional fertilizer. In any case, keyhole gardens are a very appropriate “technology” which certainly isn’t limited to countries with a dry climate.

The VIP – an invention from Zimbabwe

Ingenuity, obviously, isn’t only limited to the African continent, as it is especially found in societies where access to resources is limited. While we’ve been able to witness lots of interesting innovations from other regions of the world that were born out of a lack of readily available solutions, we must also not forget that a few smart ideas were actually developed in Africa and have since then conquered the world.

One of such smart ideas is the Ventilated (Improved) Pit Latrine, in short: the VIP – which was developed as the “Blair Latrine” by Peter Morgan, who has been living and working in Zimbabwe for over 35 years, researching and developing water and sanitation technologies.

venting a pit latrine
Diagram showing effect of vent pipe on functions of pit latrine (source)

The major advantage of the VIP over a normal pit latrine is that it comes with a ventilation pipe (covered with a durable fly screen on top) which reduces flies and odour. In the absence of other alternatives, the Ventilated Pit Latrine is considered reliable, which explains the success of this technology: over 500.000+ units of this type have been built in Zimbabwe alone and it has proven to work elsewhere around the world.

The VIP clearly isn’t the solution to sustainable sanitation as it comes with a few limitations, but it does function without water and has very low investment, operation and maintenance costs.

Next to some interesting experiments with different water pump systems such as the Blair hand pump (also known as the Zimbabwe Bush Pump) or the spiral water wheel pump, Peter is also active in the field of ecological sanitation and recently published a very interesting booklet titled “Toilets That Make Compost” where he writes about his experiences with compost toilets such as the Arborloo and the Fossa Alterna.

screenshot from Peter Morgan’s manual on how to build an Arborloo (PDF,~ 3,1MB)

While there’s no single sanitation concept that will work in all places around the world, the VIP for one is a proven technology which has been accepted by its users since 30 years.

the DIY phone booth

Cross posted on Kikuyumoja’s Realm.

I was travelling in an upcountry minibus today when the guy seated just next to me pulled out his new mobile phone he recently purchased in Embu, Kenya.

Safaricom, the biggest mobile phone network provider in Kenya with about 5 million customers, introduced some handsets in the past, which enable resellers to deliver phone services to the public. Such handsets, which look like phones for fixed-lines, often come with an external display that shows the units consumed by customers.

The two (gsm) mobile phone networks in Kenya have become very succesful, as the state owned telecommunications company only provided the country with about 300.000 fixed-lines of which many are out of order or have been subject to vandalism.

Next to providing the public with mobile phone booths, these public phones also offer a great small-scale business opportunity for the owners of such handsets. And for those who obtain their pre-paid scratchcards at a wholesale price, there’s a 5% revenue coming along. These public phone booths are just a perfect way of helping people start their own business where the initial starting costs are quite low.

diy phone 1
(please excuse the poor picture quality)

So, instead of buying a rather expensive Safaricom handset which is specially designed for use with these roadside telephone booths, this guy next to me bought the Afrigadget-solution: This gadget actually is a very cheap MadeInChina fixed-line phone which has been ripped of it’s inwards. The person who modified it ripped an old Siemens C25 phone apart and installed its display instead of the one that came along with this phone. The keypad is soldered to the phone and a rechargeable battery is inside the box with an external power supply.

diy phone 2

The SIM card holder at the back of the phone comes with a dual-SIM-card adapter so that the operator may add another network and switch between both networks by simply switching it on and off.

These DIY-handsets for public phone booths come at a price range of about Ksh. 2.000 – 5.000 /= (~ US-$ 28 – 70) and are about half of the price the “official” handsets are selling for.