Agriculture and Metal Fabrication Meet in N. Ghana

Corn seed planter

Corn seed planter

This is a corn planter. It costs approximately $10 (15 Cedis) to make, and it significantly decreases the time that it would normally take to plant corn. This invention came about by taking a look a medical pill dispensing devices and transferring that knowledge to his communities needs.

Shamsudeen (“Sham”) Napara lives in the norther part of Ghana, which is a lot more rural and isolated than the southern part of the country where you find Accra, or the central part, where you find Kumasi. He has a metal fabrication shop where he builds tools, mostly for agricultural needs of those in the surrounding areas.

He was at Maker Faire Africa this weekend and I was completely amazed at both the ingenuity and the quality of his work.

Shea Nut Roaster

Maker Faire Africa: Ghana 2009

That’s not all that Sham has been up to though, in fact, he’s been busy with a couple other projects. Specifically, he’s been working with Amy Herman from the Univesity of Indiana to figure out how to enhance traditional processes familiar to those in Norther Ghana. This means he does a lot with Shea nuts and the processing of them. It is one of the few fields dominated by the women in the community, and a lucrative business, since the processing from raw to refined can net a good margin of profit.

Below is a shea nut roaster – a small version, since the large ones are the size of a table. It costs around $40 (60 Cedi), and it decreases the time and energy normally expended in the work of getting the nuts ready for processing.

Shea Nut Roaster

Shea Nut Roaster

Soap Cutter

Though he has many more inventions in his workshop in Northern Ghana, the last of the three items that he brought to Accra was a soap cutter. It’s a device that has a hinge on one end that opens and closes with piano wires and guitar screws to hold wire tight across the device. As it is closed, it slices the soap cleanly.

A soap cutter

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.

source: African Gardens

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.