Richard Turere Lion lights video

Dear all,

Richard Turere, the 13 year old inventor I posted about here, was selected to audition for TED. For his presentation Stefano Cassini and I made  him a video.

Many people have been asking how to reach Richard. I am his guardian, please contact me Paula Kahumbu  on

13 year old Kenyan innovator saves cattle from lions with lights

Richard Turere lives in Empakasi,on the edge of the Nairobi National Park, just south of the City of Nairobi. He is responsible for herding his family the livestock and keeping them safe from predators, especially lions. Being so close the park puts this family’s cattle right in the path of lions and every month they lost cows, sheep and goats. Nairobi Park has the worlds highest density of lions, and they often predate on livestock which are easier to catch.

Bringing the cows home
Bringing the cows home


At the age of 11 Richard decided to do something about his family’s losses. He observed that the lions never struck the homesteads when someone was awake and walking around with a flashlight. Lions are naturally afraid of people. He concluded that lions equate torches with people so he took the led bulbs from broken flashlights and rigged up an automated lighting system of four or five torch bulbs around the cattle stockade.  The bulbs are wired to a box with switches, and to an old car battery charged with a solar panel that operates the family Television set. The lights don’t point towards the cattle, or on any property, but outwards into the darkness. They flash in sequence giving the impression that someone is walking around the stockade.



In the two years that his lion light system has been operating, the Turere family has had no predation at night by lions. To Richard he was just doing his job – protecting the herds. His father is beaming, stock thieves will also think twice about visiting a homestead where it appears as if someone is awake. Five of the neighbours noticed that they were getting hit by lions but not the Turere homestead. Richard has already installed the lion lights system in their bomas too.


For conservation and human wildlife Conflict management, this simple innovation is a breakthrough. The Kenya Wildlife Service report that human wildlife Conflict has cost the government Ksh71 million in compensation in 2011 alone. In Kitengela consolation of several million has been paid to the community for the loss of livestock to lions alone.  This figure will rise dramatically as new legislation comes into play.  Richards little device of four or five lamps, some wires and a few batteries costs less than ten dollars and has saved his father tens of cattle and therefore it has saved donors several thousand dollars in consolation. The alternative being applied elsewhere is the construction of lion proof fences but at the cost of 1,000 dollars just for materials, then there’s the cost of transport and labour it is way out of the price range fore the average pastoralist. Richards invention is cheap, local, cost effective and easy and quick to install and to maintain.


What is extraordinary about this story is that Richard has had no books or access to technical information. He says he does not know where he gets the ideas or the knowledge, and yes, he has given him self plenty of electric shocks.  His father James is proud of his son, and has given him space to tinker and collect bits of gadgetry. Like so many boys, Richards dream has something to do with aircraft – he wants to be an engineer.  When I first asked him about lions he said he hates them, but his invention has saved many as lions are often killed in retaliation for killing livestock. Now we need help on scaling up this idea.


Richards illustration of his invention
Richards illustration of his invention

Richard has just been awarded a scholarship at Brookhouse School where he intends to excel. This was all possible through support from Friends of Nairobi Park (FoNNaP) members, Michael Mbithi, Nickson Parmisa, Neovitis and Elvis, Winnie Khasakhala, Brookhouse School, AAR who have provided full medical cover.

Wood Bark Paper in Madagascar

Yesterday I met a lady who takes the bark from a certain type of tree, pulps it and makes paper. This paper is then sold as a specialty gift paper to tourists and others. It’s an example of Malagasy entrepreneurship, where the whole family is part of, and all supported by, this business. The manufacturing takes place in their backyard, the retail sales from their front porch.

In a rather laborious process, they first pulp the bark, then lay it out on a big sheet and submerge it in water. It’s then taken out after it has settled evenly and is decorated while still wet with flowers. Once dried, they can create everything from cards to boxes. The cards and more elaborate items sell for around $1 each, which nets a healthy profit from the original cost of the bark, which is a couple dollars per kilo.

Poop piki piki for my biogas system

Piki piki means motorbike in Kiswahili

This gadget was created to solve a real problem with biogas – getting the dung to the system quickly and efficiently. Motorbikes are the taxi’s of Africa so why not? Before I tell you about the above gadget I just want to remind you about the problems we have been having to solve to get the biogas to work at home.

Installing biogas at home has a real experience in afrigadget – we have figured out by trial and error how to get the gas under pressure –

At first we tried using water pressure, but when we stepped back and looked at it we realized that it really wasn’t simple or appropriate for bush applications ..

In fact, all we needed to do was to put pressure on the bags.

The pressure wasn’t enough to run the stove until we modified the stove jets by enlarging them slightly.

Next we had to figure out how to get the dung to my digester – you see I don’t own cows but my neighbors who live a few kilometers away do and are selling it at a very nice rate of Ksh 50 (70 US cents) for two large buckets . The owners are happy to see the dung as it  accumulates in the nighttime stockades and attracts annoying flies that carry diseases if left on the land.

The problem I face is common to many folks around here, we rent houses  but we don’t have livestock. But there are huge cattle farms around us. So Dominic came up with a solution that creates jobs and moves poop quickly and efficiently.

So we went to the local juakali welder on the roadside to create a dungmobile ..a trailer designed specially for cow dung!

We tested it with a human load to ensure it is balanced … each bucket weighs about 50 kg.

And the first delivery arrived without a problem! 🙂  Big Thanks to Dominic Wanjihia who seems to always have a simple solution to any problem.

I know you are wondering, if it’s that easy, then why doesn’t everyone use biogas?

Now that I’ve got biogas running my kitchen I wonder why so few people have done so in Kenya. There are countless articles, publications, websites and people who will tell you that biogas is the most economical and environmentally sustainable way to produce energy. In fact, the benefits of Biogas have been known for tens of years, and hundreds of systems have been built in Kenya. But it hasn’t really taken off –  few of the installed systems are actually working and the uptake of biogas systems at a domestic level has been slower than slow – it’s virtually non-existent.  A review of biogas in Kenya reports that technical breakdowns has discouraged uptake but the main limiting factor is cost.

Here’s a simple comparison of costs – from continuing using charcoal/fuelwood or Kerosene and LPG to using various biogas options.

Options Cost (US$ ) Time to install (days) Labour Maintenance Durability
Fixed dome 1,500 – 2000 21 5 people Low Decades
Floating top 2,000 – 3,500 21 5 people Low Decades
Flexi bag envelope 400 1 1 person Low 10 – 15 years
Fuelwood  or LPG cylinders 200 (per year) 0 0 low Decades

For a simpleton like me these figures are immediately revealing – it takes 2 years to pay off a flexibag digester after which domestic fuel is free for at least the next 10 – 13 years. For the underground systems you have got to be  hugely rich, or suffering from environmental guilt to make the decision to switch to biogas – from an economic perspective it will take 10 to 20 years to pay back. You could grow your own trees and make your own charcoal  in that time frame….

Why is it so expensive for the constructed biogas systems? Because most of the biogas systems  in use are constructed systems requiring engineering and masonry, they are very expensive, take weeks to install, require experts, and intensive follow up. If they go wrong it’s a major engineering task to fix it. This is why we are promoting the flexible bag option for domestic and small industry use.

Congratulations to Skylink Award winning Kenyan  biogas innovators

We would ;like to congratulate Skylink Innovations who have just won a the Ashden 2010 Award for their biogas installations in Kenya.

Skylink recieve the Ashden Award from Sir Richard Attenborough

I thought skylink was an airline… Biogas operated planes???

Human waste digester under construction in Meru Prison

Their industrial scale system costs Ksh 1.6 million (US$ 19,753). Such installations may need to be financed by the Government institutions where they clearly make enormous economic and environmental sense for schools, prisons and other large institutions.

For small scale house hold units, we need solutions that will compete against the cost of installing LPG or using charcoal, firewood or kerosene stoves. When we talked to local Maasai near Nairobi they found the flexi bag systems appealing because they could be purchased with the sale of just 2 or 3 cows, can be rolled up and moved when they migrate, and it saves the women the work of searching for firewood, it’s hygenic because water can be heated for bathing children, while it also removes dangerous piles of rotting cow dung near the homesteads which are breeding sites for biting and disease carrying flies which affect livestock and people.

Solving the flexible biogas digester problems

You’d think that given the amount of cow dung available around rural Africa that biogas would be a big hit right? Well, its actually relatively unknown. The main reason is materials, coast and complicated technology. People in these areas use charcoal or wood for their domestic cooking needs – its not only dirty hard work to collect firewood, but it’s unhealthy and damages the environment. But, it’s free …

We believe that  biogas from cow dung holds huge promise for rural and urban areas as a cheap source of energy that can be turned into domestic use or even business anywhere in rural Kenya….eg. pasturizing milk, making yoghurt, running fridges, generators, hammer mills for grinding corn, cooking, baking, heating water, running machines… and reducing your carbon footprint.

I have recently become the latest guinea pig for Dominic Wanjihias experiments … and it has been quite a learning experience

Problem No. 1.The system needs to be cheap and mobile for communities who don’t own land or who move regularly (pastoralists)

Simply Logic flexi -bag for biogas - small, cheap and made of parts you can find in any hardware
Biogas system on a motorbike in Kenya
You may need a Dominic to help set it up
It can be dirty work - but don't let that discourage you...

After only 2 weeks it will have ballooned like this

After only 2 weeks the bag will have inflated with methane - beautiful biogas
Great party trick: The biogas will burn and amaze

Problem No. 2. The pressure is not enough to light a stove. Nothing ever works as you initially planned that’s why having a fundi like Dominic around to modify, adapt and rethink as you go along helps so much.

To create pressure Dominic got two tanks, and did some juakali pipe connections. One tank was placed above the other. The lower tank was filled with water. Long pipes and short pipes were put through the lids and specially made holes in the tanks …  It’s all about applying simple physics really…

You need a few tools - all available at tusky's or Nakumatt

Then using a pump ..(we’ll be using a modified bicycle pump next time) he was able to move the gas from the flexi bag to the lower tank and displace water to the upper tank. This water creates enough back pressure to get the stove to light.. that’s the theory … here is what happened.

A curious boda boda rider (motorbike taxi) called Victor volunteered to help… Rhoda watched in awe

Victor pumped... others set up the stove

“Houston we have a problem” …Ok, accidents are bound to happen…pressure pushed the pipe off  and Victor got soaked..just water though. The top tank fills with water as you pump biogas into the bottom tank, and the water drains back to the bottom tank as the gas is used

Course all this hard work was not for nothing – we had to make a cup of tea –

It took 15 minutes for the water to boil!

Yes we are very very proud that the system worked so Cheers! a well deserved cup of tea.

We estimate that it took about 1/4 to 1/2 of the gas in one blue tank to boil the kettle – that’s about 1/8th of a cubic meter – and the entire flexi bag contains about 5 cubic meters… which means we have about 10 hours of gas use…..and the stuff is being produced all the time (we had quite some wastage as we fooled around to get the system to work)

Well it all seemed to be going just fine when …pssssssttttt

Houston, we have another problem...we sprung a leak!

Nothing serious but we were losing a bit of gas through one of the lids (holes had been drilled through the  lids to insert pipes) …we  need to fix that before we build up any pressure in that tank.

If you are interested in biogas let us know! Leave a comment.