Modified farm implements in Kenya

In Baringo one farmer has come up with two rather interesting innovations.

Murray Roberts is in the business of planting restoring grasslands which involves planting grass seeds in severely degraded landscapes.

The primary purpose of ploughing is to turn over the upper layer of the soil, bringing fresh nutrients to the surface, while burying weeds and the remains of previous crops, allowing them to break down. It also aerates the soil, and allows it to hold moisture better.

A traditional plough comprises a series of blades all facing the same direction.

Murray Roberts Modified Plough

Murray Roberts has modified his plough so that it has two blades facing each other. These create a hill and furrow effect which is perfect for grass seeding to improve the trapping rainwater in this semi arid part of Kenya. Normally the rainwater hits the surface and sheets off the ground carrying away the valuable top soil and seeds!

But that’s not all. Ever tried to make a fence using barbed wire – you know how tangled it can get? Well not if you use one of Murray Roberts fencing gizmo, it’s basically a tool onto which you thread the barbed wire so that when you go out into the field to fence a plot, you can release the wire in an untangled manner and under tension.  Simple and obvious and you don’t need a wire tightening tool.

barbed wire fencing gadget

That’s William Kimosop and Princeton University Undergraduates checking it out – don’t ask  me what that dog is up to!

Rim Stoves: Cooking MamaPut Goodness

I love street food. Everywhere I go, from street markets in Russia, to back alleys of Beijing to side streets in Skopje, to the boulevards of Bamako, I make it a point to eat as many meals from roadside stands as possible. Ghana and Nigeria are no exception. In fact, I love me a MamaPut.

Its only where Mama herself is there to put more of her good eats on your plate, that I really feel I’m getting a good meal. Why? Because I can see ever step of its preparation, talk with the chief personally, and share the transcending bond of food with my fellow man and woman.

Now I wouldn’t call myself a street food expert – I’m not discerning enough for that title, but I am observant in the different styles of edibles vendors. In West Africa, I’m particularly impressed by the stock street food cooking apparatus. Simple, cheap, and recycled, I present to you the “Rim Stove”.

.rim stove in action rim stove charcoal.

Using the steel rim off a car wheel as the basic starting point, three metal legs are wielded to the outside of the rim. Inside, a metal grate is added to the bottom to hold in the coals, and some form of pan or kettle stand is wielded to the top.

I’ve seen several variations on this theme, but the basics are always the same – the Rim Stove burns charcoal that’s been ignited in the middle of the rim, fed by air from the bottom and heating a cooking container sitting either on the pot stand or the coals themselves.

During on extending brainstorming session, I even tried to think of improvements to the Rim Stove – how it might burn hotter with less customization. My only solution? Make sure a Rim Stove is cooking chips for your fresh grilled fish.

Recycling: From diving wetsuit to laptop bag

When Dipesh Pabari of Camps International sent me pictures of these laptop bags and bottle can holders, I just knew it would be something you AfriGadget fans would appreciate.

Recycling wetsuits

The fact that discarded waste is converted to something very useful… Its definitely AfriGadget. I asked Sander Den Haring a few questions about these cool products.

Recycling wetsuits

How did you begin your company?

I was born in a small town called Hellevoetsluis in the Netherlands but only lived there till i was 5. At that point my family moved to Yanbu, Saudi Arabia where i grew up and ended up spending 16 years. Yanbu is an industrial town situated on the Red Sea and i believe that a lot of the what, who, why and where i am is as a result of this. From the very beginning of our time in Yanbu my parents began a weekly outing to the beach which my brother and i eagerly anticipated every Friday (weekend is Thursday and Friday in Saudi Arabia). Once at the beach we would go out and snorkel virgin reefs in the Red Sea and be stunned by the serenity and tranquility each and every time. My love for the aquatic realm and the conservation of said realm has derived from these expeditions. It led me to complete a Masters in Marine Biology from the University of Groningen in the Netherlands in 2000 so that i could work in the field of marine conservation.

In 2004 i moved to Kenya where i have lived ever since. I began work for Buccaneer Diving as a base manager and soon added on the role of resident marine biologist. Under this capacity i was able to instigate a snorkeling program for some of the underprivileged local government schools in Mombasa (Schools to the Sea program) and an artificial reef program in the Mombasa Marine Park. Both these projects had local partners involved as well. I eventually finished full time work with Buccaneer Diving in June 2009 as the Operations Manager of Buccaneer Diving Kenya and currently fulfill only a part-time quality control position within all of Buccaneer Diving (Kenya and Zanzibar).

I really enjoy thinking of ways to create environmental attitudes and the recycled wetsuit product line has been great in achieving this thus far! We are still coming up with new products and refining the existing products. There are no limits barring our creativity.

What was the inspiration for re-using the diving wetsuits?

In the dive industry wetsuits have a finite lifetime after which they become ineffective (have lost their insulating capability), or they become too hole-ridden to use in a professional business. In the past, these wetsuits were discarded. This seemed an obvious waste of material (as for the sake of a few holes, large patches of usable neoprene were being thrown out), so Buccaneer Diving began looking at what could these patches of neoprene be used for. Traditionally we have used smaller bits of neoprene for various “odd jobs” (eg. snorkel holders, buffering/padding material, informal packaging, patch material for other wetsuits), but these “odd jobs” required small amounts that did not need frequent replacement. So we started thinking if there was anything else that could be made and the obvious item was laptop bags. The bottle/can holders soon followed suit as the sleeves and legs of wetsuits already had the obvious shape (they just needed a bottom added). We are currently making the products more of an “item” and also looking into how we can incorporate the production of these products to benefit other charities. these exciting developments will be happening within the next few weeks we hope so definitely watch this space (it’ll be worth it!).

When did you start selling the bags/bottle covers etc?

This is a new venture and its been active for the last seven months, so still very young. We are looking at various other items we can make from the recycled neoprene (placemats and coasters might be possibilities).

How much do the items cost?

Currently the laptop bags sell for Ksh 2500 (about 32 usd) and the bottle/can holders ksh 350 (about 5 usd)

Are they made in Kenya/Mombasa?

They are indeed produced in Mombasa. Again, the story behind the production will unfold in the next few weeks and its worth the wait.

Where can people order? Can they pay by MPESA (Mobile Money)? (Just kidding, but hey!)

These products can be purchased at the Buccaneer Diving base at the Voyager Beach resort, Mombasa. We have not yet explored the use of MPESA in the purchase of these products as they are still young, but who knows what the future will bring. We can also arrange for products to be sent via courier if people are unable to visit the Buccaneer Diving base. Sander can be reached via email sander at green-water [dot] org.

Recycling car batteries in Rural Kenya

Maina, Rhoda and little Winnie are  a typical Kenyan family who live on the outskirts of Nairobi in an area that has no electricity.

But they have solved the problem of getting the daily news

rhoda family2

When I visited their home I was impressed that despite the lack of electricity, Maina has come up with an innovative solution and is able to keep up with whats going on and listen to his favourite Kikuyu music all day long!

taking it down

Here’s a better look at the system – a second hand car battery hooked up directly to his radio

Radio charger

The wiring is simple

maina showing

Fully charged the battery last 2 weeks. To recharge Maina has to take it to a place in town for 24 hours at a cost of Ksh 50 (about 80 cents US. If he were to  use ordinary batteries Maina would be paying several hundreds of shillings per month (15$) and creating toxic waste with their disposal (Kenya has no battery disposal system).  No wonder used batteries are in such huge demand!

bicycle ride2

And no wonder this family is smiling!

I’m wondering how much it would cost to hook up Mainas battery to a solar panel and  some lights. They currently depend on hurricane lamps.  Powered with kerosene these are not only a weak source of light but are dangerous and prone to cause fires.

rhoda lamp

Got any ideas anyone – can we charge a car battery from solar?

Post note:  This story was found while making a video slideshow about this average Kenyan families carbon footprint for WildlifeDirect.

Coconut + Zippers = Handbags

My daughter and I had a lot of fun on Lamu island, off the coast of Kenya, earlier this year. One of the items we came across was this coconut handbag. Some had designs, some were raw, all were incredibly cool.

Coconut + Zippers = Handbags

If I remember correctly, I bargained poorly and bought it for 150/= ($2). The problem was that the merchant new how badly my daughter wanted it so he knew I was stuck. 🙂 This is the one we ended up buying:

Coconut + Zippers = Handbags

Yes, these are mainly for tourists. However, it’s a good showcase of local reuse of what would otherwise be garbage for microentrepreneurial gain.