Posts about Africa

Yacouba Sawadogo – The Man Who Stopped the Desert

Quote from the video

Yacouba single-handedly had more impact on the soil conservation in the Sahel than than all the national and international researchers combined.

Dr. Chris Reij, Vrije University of Amsterdam.

As is normally the case making improvements in the real world is challenging and visionaries often face setbacks. Even when they have success that success is threatened by those that want to take the rewards but ignore the lessons. The clip above is a excerpt from the documentary film on his efforts.

Meet Yacouba Sawadogo – The Man Who Stopped the Desert

The simple old farmer’s re-forestation and soil conservation techniques are so effective they’ve helped turn the tide in the fight against the desertification of the harsh lands in northern Burkina Faso.

Over-farming, over-grazing and over population have, over the years, resulted in heavy soil erosion and drying in this landlocked West African nation.

Zai is a very simple and low-cost farming technique. Using a shovel or an axe, small holes are dug into the hard ground and filled with compost. Seeds of trees, millet or sorghum are planted in the compost. The holes catch water during the rainy season, so they are able to retain moisture and nutrients during the dry season.

According to the rules of Zai, Yacouba would prepare the lands in the dry season – exactly the opposite of the local practice. Other farmers and land chiefs laughed at him, but soon realized that he is a genius. In just 20 years, he converted a completely barren area into a thriving 30-acre forest with over 60 species of trees.

Yacouba has chosen not to keep his secrets to himself. Instead, he hosts a workshop at his farm, teaching visitors and bringing people together in a spirit of friendship. “I want the training program to be the starting point for many fruitful exchanges across the region

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Using The Building of Robots to Engage Students in Learning

Fundi bots has a mission to use robotics training in African schools to create and inspire a new generation of problem solvers, innovators and change-makers. I believe strongly in this type of effort. We waste so much human potential by killing students design to learn. Instead we need to create systems that not only don’t kill that desire but allow it to flourish.

Fundi Bots focuses on the technological process of building robots as a way for students to look at the world around them from a practical, solution oriented perspective. By guiding students through problem identification, brainstorming, collaboration, construction, programming, final deployment and system feedback, we show them how the problems around them can be solved through a technological approach and persistent reductive analysis.

Fundi Made is an effort to create professional grade electronics right in our Fundi Spaces, and deploy the products in five core market segments; home-automation, agriculture, energy, security and health.

Related: Promoting Innovation in Sierra LeoneLetting Children Learn using Hole in the Wall ComputersGiven Tablets but No Teachers, Kids Teach Themselves (Having Never Seen Advanced Technology Before)Teaching Through TinkeringEncouraging Curiosity in Kids20th Annual US First Robotics Competition (2012)

Segun Oyeyiola Converted a Volkswagen Beetle to Use Renewable Power

This Nigerian College Student Built a Wind- And Solar-Powered Car From Scraps

The engineering senior at Nigeria’s Obagemi Awolowo University spent a year retrofitting a Volkswagen Beetle into a wind and solar-powered car, partly made of free scrap parts donated by friends and family. Everything else cost under $6,000.

Not only did Oyeyiola install a giant solar panel on top of the Beetle; he also inserted a wind turbine under the hood. As Preston explains, that allows air to flow into the grill while the car is moving, subsequently turning the turbine’s rotors and charging the battery at the back of the car. Oyeyiola also built a strong suspension system to deal with the weight of the battery itself.

It’s not perfect. The battery takes four to five hours to charge, but Oyeyiola says he’s working on that. The biggest challenges, he says, came from finding the best materials to use, and the people telling him he was wasting his time.

Super cool.

OAU student builds a solar-powered car

Another thing that distinguishes my car from the common ones you see around is that you can know the state of the car through your mobile phones. I wrote a software that you can install which will give you the basic information about the car while in your room.

My message to my fellow students is that Rome was not built in a day. It is better to start anything you want to do now and don’t never, I repeat, never expect someone to believe in your dreams because they may not understand it as you do. Endeavor to follow your heart and do what will make you happy and that which will not affect your fellow being negatively.

It is so great to read what creative engineers all over the globe are able to accomplish.

Related: Oyeyiola Segun on TwitterPromoting Innovation in Sierra LeoneInspirational Engineer Builds Windmill from TrashClay Water Filters for GhanaHelp Science Education in Tanzania

Webcast: Examining the Scientific Basis Around Exercise and Diet Claims

Tim Noakes is the Director of UCT/MRC Research Unit for Exercise Science and Sports Medicine, Department of Human Biology, Faculty of Health Science, University of Cape Town and Professor, Discovery Health Chair of Exercise and Sports Science, University of Cape Town.

Tim examines some questions on science and exercise and health in the webcast. He shows the problem with drinking too much during exercise and the correlation of hospital admissions correlated to the sport drinks marketing and changing of the official drinking guidelines. He also discusses the outdated ideas related to lactic acid and muscles.

He is currently studying the science of food and human health and is skeptical of low fat health claims: “No evidence that dietary fat is related to heath disease.” He is certainly more knowledgable than I but I would still be cautious of completely accepting that premise. It does seem to me there is lots of evidence that claims of causation between eating a high fat diet and heart disease were too strong (many other factors were critical – such as weight, exercise, genetics, unsaturated fat v. saturated fat…).

Tim Noaks: “50% of what we teach is wrong; the problem is we don’t know which 50% it is. Our job as educated people is to spend our lifetime trying to figure out which 50% is which. Until it is disproven accept that for which the evidence appears solid and logical and is free of covert or overt conflicts of interest, because unfortunately industry is driving what you believe in many many things. But don’t ever dismis lightly that for which there is credible evidence… and there is such clear evidence the diets we are eating are horrendous.”

As I have said before, scientific literacy is critical to allow us to make those judgements about what is credible evidence and what are outright lies, foolish claims or highly suspicious claims tainted by conflicts of interest.

Related: Can You Effectively Burn Calories by Drinking Cold Water?Static Stretching Decreases Muscle StrengthLack of Physical Activity Leads to 5.3 Million Early Deaths a YearScience Continues to Explore Causes of Weight GainStudy Finds Obesity as Teen as Deadly as Smoking

Clay Water Filters for Ghana

Pure Home Water, Ghana manufactures and distributes AfriClay Filters in an effort to bring clean water to 1 million people. So far they have delivered filters to provide 100,000 people clean water.

The process is simple. Water is placed in a clay filter and gravity pulls the water through the pores left in the clay during firing.

Sediment and bacteria are filtered out in several ways:

  • Physical straining: the particles are too large to fit through the pores in the clay
  • Sedimentation or adsorption: particles come to rest on or stick to the clay
  • Inertia: friction in the pores keeps the particles from passing through

Bacteria are also killed by a coating of colloidal silver (a disinfectant), which we apply to all filters that pass our quality control tests. While sediment and bacteria are filtered out, the molecules of water are small enough to pass through the pores in the clay.

The filters are sold to those who will use them. The effort has shown a willingness to pay by villagers in remote Northern Ghana (those earning < US$1/day). I imagine (I am just guessing) the prices are subsidized; in the last decade more (most?) appropriate technology solutions will have those benefiting pay something for the benefits they receive. My nephews are working on a similar effort in India, using bio sand filters, I plan to post more on that later. There is current a campaign to help fund the delivery of water filters to Indian villages.

Related: Solar Powered Water Jug to Purify Drinking WaterElectric WindStudent Invents Solar-Powered FridgeReducing Poverty

Given Tablets but No Teachers, Kids Teach Themselves – Having Never Seen Advanced Technology Before

In a repetition of an experiment I have posted about here on the Curious Cat Science and Engineering Blog before (Letting Children Learn – Hole in the Wall Computers): Given Tablets but No Teachers, Ethiopian Children Teach Themselves

The experiment is being done in two isolated rural villages with about 20 first-grade-aged children each, about 50 miles from Addis Ababa. One village is called Wonchi, on the rim of a volcanic crater at 11,000 feet; the other is called Wolonchete, in the Great Rift Valley. Children there had never previously seen printed materials, road signs, or even packaging that had words on them, Negroponte said.

Earlier this year, OLPC workers dropped off closed boxes containing the tablets, taped shut, with no instruction. “I thought the kids would play with the boxes. Within four minutes, one kid not only opened the box, found the on-off switch … powered it up. Within five days, they were using 47 apps per child, per day. Within two weeks, they were singing ABC songs in the village, and within five months, they had hacked Android,” Negroponte said. “Some idiot in our organization or in the Media Lab had disabled the camera, and they figured out the camera, and had hacked Android.”

Nicholas Negroponte has tendency to overstate the fact from what I remember. I don’t think what he claims as “hacking Android” here is what a real scientist would claim as than is a write up of the results of the experiment. He could well mean they updated a setting or some similar thing. It is a shame to mislead when the bare facts are so cool. And possibly he isn’t misleading – I just am worried he is.

Also what does 47 apps per day mean? I can’t understand how you can usefully (including entertainment do that in any sensible way) – I doubt I use 15 applications in a month and I use the computer hours every single day. Makes me worry that “using” is not a very enlightening piece of data – instead just trying to make it seem like using 47 must mean they are engaged; it seems more likely to me to mean they are not used successfully so they have to go try something else or they are counting “used” in ways we wouldn’t.

Once a week, a technician visits the villages and swaps out memory cards so that researchers can study how the machines were actually used.

These kinds of experiments are very cool. They show how intrinsically curious we are are. Sadly our schools often beat the curiosity out of kids instead of engaging it.

Related: What Kids can Learn (look at the same idea in 2006)Providing Computer to Remote Students in Nepal (2009)$100 Laptops for the World

Promoting Innovation in Sierra Leone

Another inspirational kid that shows that the potential for human good is much greater than the talking heads and politicians that litter the TV screen so often.

In the video Kelvin says, “That is my aim: to Promote Innovation in Seira Leone, among young people.” See another video as Kelvin explains his homemade battery.

Support these young engineers in Sierra Leone via innovate Salone.

Related: Inspirational Engineer Build Windmill Using TrashSupporting the Natural Curiosity of KidsWhat Kids can Learn If Given a ChanceI was Interviewed About Encouraging Kids to Pursue Engineering

A single spot in the Sahara that provides huge amounts of nutrients to the Amazon

The Bodélé depression: a single spot in the Sahara that provides most of the mineral dust to the Amazon forest

About 40 million tons of dust are transported annually from the Sahara to the Amazon basin. Saharan dust has been proposed to be the main mineral source that fertilizes the Amazon basin, generating a dependence of the health and productivity of the rain forest on dust supply from the Sahara. Here we show that about half of the annual dust supply to the Amazon basin is emitted from a single source: the Bodélé depression located northeast of Lake Chad, approximately 0.5% of the size of the Amazon or 0.2% of the Sahara. Placed in a narrow path between two mountain chains that direct and accelerate the surface winds over the depression, the Bodélé emits dust on 40% of the winter days, averaging more than 0.7 million tons of dust per day.

Even understanding how connected the global ecosystem is, research like this provides amazing reminders of those connections.

Related: The Amazon Rainforest Would Not Be Without Saharan Dust (podcast interview)Ancient Whale Uncovered in Egyptian DesertNigersaurusThe Sahara Wasn’t Always a DesertElusive Saharan cheetah and Sandcat

Elephant Underpass in Kenya

photo of elephant preparing to walk under a highway

Elephant Underpass Reuniting Kenya Herds

The first of its kind for elephants, the underpass will ideally provide a safe corridor for the large mammals to move throughout the Mount Kenya region, where highways, fences, and farmlands have split elephant populations…

Without the underpass, animals that try to move between isolated areas often destroy fences and crops—leading to conflicts with people.

Since its completion in late 2010, the underpass has been a “tremendous success”—hundreds of elephants have been spotted walking through the corridor, according to the conservancy.

It is great to see such solutions put into place. Animals that come into conflict with people (whether it is farmers in Africa, ranchers in the USA or villagers in India) often lose. There is a reason humans dominate the globe. We might be easy to beat in a one on one battle when we can prepare. But when we get frustrated and decide it is time to take action, that is bad news for most mammals (bacteria are only in trouble with our scientists and manufacturers get together and even then the bacteria might not lose).

What we need to do is find ways for the animals to live without too severely impacting people. Because if we don’t eventually the people will take action.

I have been to the game parks in Kenya twice, it is amazing.

Related: Monkey Bridge in KenyaInsightful Problem Solving in an Asian Elephantunderwater highway bridgeA Group of Wild Mountain Gorillas Strolling Through Camp Observing Humans Observe the Gorillas

Breakfast with Cheetahs, Lions and Gazelles

Breakfast with cheetahs

For ten days I’ll be touring wildlife camps in Namibia and Botswana, accompanying researchers as they gather data on big cats, black rhinos, and elephants. Ecotourism – trips where travelers help preserve the communities they visit – is the fastest-growing segment of the tourism industry. A growing number of small U.S. travel firms have found their niche creating trips that combine some element of giving back with comfortable accommodations that don’t stress the environment.

One company is Classic Africa, which arranges small group trips to wildlife camps in Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. The firm was founded by Margaret and Pierre Faber, who provide custom trips for about 500 clients a year

I have twice gone on safaris in East Africa (photos from my Kenya safari). They have been absolutely wonderful experiences getting to see vast expanses of natural wildlife is like nothing else I have done. They are costly but if you can afford it they really are quite amazing. While the TV shows exploring these location don’t equal a visit they are pretty great also.

Related: Water Buffaloes, Lions and Crocodiles Oh MyPhotos of Rare Saharan Cheetah, Sand Cat and Other WildlifeCheetahs Released into the WildLeopard Bests Crocodile

Nice Interaction with a Group of Wild Mountain Gorillas Strolling Through Camp

An amazing encounter with a troop of wild mountain gorillas near Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda. The reality is that these many natural environments will be maintained only with economic incentives. A certain amount of wilderness can be maintained with economic support from outside (government, charity…). But reasonable accommodations to find ways to make retaining natural wonders economically viable are likely a key to saving much of these environments for the future. Unfortunately there are big incentives to destroy nature from those rich tourists who don’t follow the rules and push their guides to break the rules (guides often do this as they have seen great monetary rewards [in tips] for breaking the rules (bothering animals, going too close, going to off limits areas…). It is sad how often tourists at national parks show utter disregard for nature and preserving things for later generations.

It seems like this video wasn’t about that type of behavior though. Instead it is just an example of how cool nature can be at times. Animals are not quite as predictable as some believe. Like this group that wandered into the camp (as they do a couple times a year) animals often stray from their normal behavior.

Providing good jobs and sharing revenue from tourists with local residents (paying for schools…) is a very good way to encourage residents to support natural heritage sites. This is true in Africa and also near park in the United States, or anywhere else. Here is an example of an organization doing that: Conservation Through Public Health.

I am a huge fan of tying in economic benefits to natural parks and resources. I think this is part of making them not environmentally sustainable but economically sustainable. If the areas do not make a contribution to the economic well being of those living there, there is a danger the land will be tapped for uses that will damage their natural heritage value. We do have to be careful as often these economic interests can turn into greedy people just wanting whatever they can get now (I am saddened by how often tourists behave in this way at natural wonders).

People are going to determine how land is used. We can hope that purely altruistic motives will result in long preserved natural habitats. But I don’t think that hope is as sustainable as creating a situation where it is also in people’s economic interests to maintain the environments. A combination of altruistic, long term thinking and economic interest is more likely to preserve natural environment (in my opinion).

Related: Massive Western Lowland Gorilla Population in Northern Republic of CongoGrauer’s Gorilla (Eastern Lowlands Gorilla)African Parks (a business approach to conservation)Travel photos from National Parks

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