Agricultural technologies swept the competition in Kenya at the American Society of Mechanical Engineers Innovation Showcase, sponsored by The Lemelson Foundation, in May. The winners are GrainMate, a grain moisture sensor by Sesi Technologies based in Ghana, a multicrop thresher by SAYeTECH, also from Ghana, and Mazawiplus, a mobile milk chiller by Savanna Circuit Tech based in Kenya. As expected from the global competition, all three iShow winning devices are low-cost and designed to solve niche problems in underserved communities.
The three agri-tech winners were part of a field of eight finalists in the Kenyan arm of the three-part iShow competition. For one day in Nairobi, eight African startups presented their prototypes and fielded questions about research, designs, competition and business models. ASME’s judges settled on the three, awarding them each with a share of (USD) $30,000 for product development and access to engineering and design consultation services.
The judge panel deserves a mention. They were a unique gathering of academic-, private- and nonprofit-sector experts in engineering and design of essential technologies from Kenya and other African nations. The panel included Dr. Kamau Gachigi at Gearbox, Dr. Robert Karanja at Villgro Kenya, Dr. June Madete at Kenyatta University, Tom Odoyo at Toyota Kenya Ltd., Hino Division, and Sylvia Mukasa at GlobalX Investments Ltd/GlobalX Innovation Labs.
Following are impromptu demonstrations of the winning innovations.
GrainMate, by Sesi Technologies
GrainMate is a low-cost, accurate grain moisture meter to help farmers monitor moisture in grains to reduce post-harvest losses. It costs about $100, which is less than other meters on the market, and its operation is simplified for easy use even by people not accustomed to using many electronic devices.
Why a moisture sensor? Farmers strategize crop sales by storing grains and other produce after harvest to sell in the off season when market prices are higher. Grain that is not dry enough for storage can rot and mold. A moisture sensor can alert farmers to a potential problem and prevent post-harvest loss.
To date, Sesi Technologies has manufactured 300 GrainMate meters, all locally.
“Manufacturing locally is important to us because we believe that a hardware revolution can come from Africa,” says Peter O’Hara Adu at Sesi.
The device is made of two parts, an aluminum probe and a handheld controller. The probe inserts into a bag of grain then gives a readout on the controller. The display shows temperature, relative humidity, moisture content and the name of the commodity being tested.
“It’s very simple to use. There are just three buttons. There is an on button which is red, an off button which is black. Simple. You can easily explain this to a five-year-old or a 90-year-old grandmother,” Mr. Adu says.
Maziwaplus milk chiller by Savanna Circuit Tech
MaziwaPlus Pre-Chiller, by Savanna Circuit Tech, is a mobile solar-powered chilling system that can be mounted on motorbikes for cooling on the go. The device can serve dairy producers and cooperatives for quality control, traceability, and maximized profits.
Developed to reduce milk post-harvest losses, the device bridges a gap in the cold chain that results from a lack of affordable cooling infrastructure. With Maziwaplus on a motorcycle, highly perishable milk can be transported over distances in rural Kenya.
Multicrop thresher by SAYeTech
SAYeTECH has built an 80hp diesel multicrop thresher designed to harvest soghum, maize, millet, rice and other grains common to sub-Saharan Africa. Theodore Ohene Botway uses a custom plastic model for this indoor demonstration of an outdoor machine.
The venture figures that this thresher can reduce post-harvest losses by up to 30 percent. It may also increase income by 50 percent on small-plot farms, while also saving time for farmers.