February 17, 2018
Made in Guatemala: Clean Water and Nutrition Technology in Central America
contributor: Mayarí Pérez
Guatemala is a Central American country with great opportunities to innovate. Despite immense natural resources such as rivers, lakes, and mountains, a great portion of the population lack access to sufficient water. The sources are not reliable and in most cases it is not clean, safe water. In urban areas, 89.1 percent of the population has access to clean water, while in rural parts of the country it’s only 64.4 percent. An aggravating factor is the contamination of water. Currently it is estimated that 95 percent of the water has some degree of contamination. To date, there has been no law regarding water treatment and proper waste disposal. A legal initiative has been presented this year to address such issues.
Another challenge in Guatemala is nutrition. According to UNICEF, 43.4 percent of children are chronically malnourished. Chronic malnutrition strikes indigenous children hardest. These children commonly live in rural areas and account for as many 80 percent of those who suffer malnutrition. Malnutrition causes lower school attendance, less productivity, propensity for sickness, and can even affect a child’s IQ (intelligence quotient). In response, Guatemalans have developed some water engineering solutions to address the issues of clean water access and malnutrition.
These are made-in-Guatemala solutions to problems that are found all around the world, but that are acute in this lush Central American country.
Founded in 2012, Bici-Tec is a social business focused on the design and implementation of bici-tecnología (bike-related tech) to solve common day problems. Bici-tecnología is human-powered technology that can save effort. It is used mainly in rural areas. Some of the designs include pedal-powered water pumps, corn shellers, washing machines, taxis, and coffee pulpers.
Bici-máquinas (bike machines) are made to order. The most popular ones are the water pump and the corn sheller. The main advantages of bici-máquinas are that they work without electric power, they have a long lifetime of six or more years, they are easy to use and require little maintenance. Users have indicated that they save a lot of time and effort using the bici-máquinas and they like that they are easy to use.
Bici-Tec’s founder, Carlos Marroquin, has more than 20 years of experience with bici-máquinas. He has been recognized internationally by his work and invited to teach in MIT D-lab, CalTech, Uniterra University, San Carlos University and others. Once a year he runs a workshop at Bici-Tec with international students to teach them about bici-tecnología and to develop new bici-máquinas. The bici-máquinas that come out of this workshop are usually donated to families with few resources.
For details please see Bici-Tec’s Facebook page.
Similarly, see the Maya Pedal Bicycle Mill in our Solutions Library. The Mill can grind up to 3 pounds per minute of any type of grain. Its users in Guatemala tend to grind yellow maize, soy beans and coffee.
Ecofiltro is a ceramic “pot” water filter, intended mainly for homes and schools. The filter is made of clay, sawdust, and colloidal silver. Ecofiltro uses an innovative social business model where they offer different presentations of the filter from simple plastic to fancy hand-painted ceramic. Sales in the urban sector create enough revenue to offer the basic version at an affordable price in rural areas.
Ecofiltro has received several awards for the product effectiveness as well as the distribution model. Some of the awards include: Schwab Entrepreneur of the year, G2012 México 20 challenge winner, AGG (Manager association of Guatemala) manager of the year, IPMA (international project management association) achievement award, etc.
To date, 250,000 filters have been distributed in Guatemala. The company has expanded to México, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Srilanka, Myanmar, República Dominicana, Cuba, Ghana, Sudán, Bangladesh, Yemen, Kenia, Camboya, Colombia, Tanzania, Senegal, Canadá, Benín, Somalí Nigeria, Bolivia, among other countries. Moreover 26 Ecofiltro factories have been installed worldwide.
In the 1950’s INCAP (Instituto de Nutrición de Centro América y Panamá) developed a nutritional supplement called Incaparina to address malnutrition in Guatemala. Incaparina contains corn flour and soy flour fortified with vitamin A, calcium, and riboflavin, among other vitamins and minerals. It can be found in powdered form to be prepared at home or as a liquid ready-to-drink beverage, it comes in vanilla, chocolate, original, banana, and strawberry flavors. It can also be used to prepare several recipes such as vegetable soup, beans, tortillas, ice creams, cakes, cookies, pancakes, etc.
In 1959 INCAP presented the product and sold the license for mass production to Corporación Castillo Hermanos. A longitudinal study was conducted from 1969 to 1991 proving that children who consumed Incaparina since conception (through the pregnant mother’s alimentation) throughout their third year were taller and had higher weights in adulthood. Moreover, they had a bigger proportion of muscular mass, 6.4 kg in men and 5.4 kg in women. The study also showed an improvement in children’s scholarship; men tended to stay 1.8 years more in school and women 1 year more in comparison to the general scholarship average. In the rural communities were the study was conducted, each additional year of scholarship translates to a 6% increase in income.
For more please see Incaparina’s website.
Kingo was founded in 2013 by four entrepreneurs looking to improve human capacity by providing off-the-grid electricity at a low cost. The business model combines new technologies and services. Users can buy energy using a prepaid service, just like buying credit for mobile phones. They can purchase it by the hour, by day, week or month making it more accessible. Users can buy credits from local salesmen directly or in designated stores, Kingo also provides tech support and after sales services. The energy they buy comes from solar generation systems (called Kingos) so it´s clean energy, it is delivered to the end user using a cloud-based software platform called Ant. Using the Ant platform Kingo is able to reach their users, including people who live in remote areas without internet connectivity and cell phone coverage.
Kingo’s customers can have financial savings up to 92 percent, by eliminating candles and kerosene expenses as well as the inconvenience of paying third parties to charge their cell phones. Other reported benefits include: 96 percent of the users increased productivity because of the extended light time; 81 percent of households that have children have improved their education performance; avoiding burns related to candles and kerosene.
Kingo has made its mission to light up 1 million homes by 2021. So far it has operations in Guatemala and has expanded to South Africa and Colombia. In 2014 they were awarded by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for being entrepreneurs under 35 years creating a social impact.
For details please see Kingo’s website.
Mayarí Pérez is a former E4C Research Fellow pursuing a B.S. degree in mechanical and industrial engineering at Universidad del Valle in Guatemala. She’s a member of Rotary International and likes working with local communities in Guatemala through volunteering and academic projects.