A mechanical system to prepare clear banana juice developed by Dr Oscar Kibazohi

Support to get African innovations off the ground

Innovative ideas from 12 African entrepreneurs will receive support from the Royal Academy of Engineering to get them off the ground.

Among the ideas selected to take part in the academy’s Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation are technology to produce clear banana juice, an environmentally friendly precise fertiliser applicator, systems to improve hygiene in urban sanitation and a service that allows mobile phone users to switch between multiple mobile networks.

Following six months of training and mentoring support from top business development and engineering experts, an overall winner will be selected from among the 12 entrepreneurs who are all affiliated with African universities and research institutions to receive £25,000. Two runners-up will be awarded £10,000 each.

“Engineering is crucial to social and economic development across Africa and internationally. During the next six months these successful entrants of the Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation will receive training and money-can’t-buy mentoring from engineering and business leaders,” said chair of the Africa Prize judging panel Malcolm Brinded. “The training will primarily be focused on scaling up and commercialising their engineering proposals.”

Among those innovators selected for support is Dr Oscar Kibazohi, of the University of Dar es Salaam & Makerere University, who is the brains behind a mechanical system to prepare clear banana juice without the addition of enzymes or extraction aids.

The system mirrors the traditional process of kneading a mixture of ripe banana and grass or fibres until the juice oozes out from the pulp and should allow juice-producing banana varieties, which fetch low prices and are being phased out, to be transformed into a more valuable product.

A fence security device dubbed the Draadsitter (Afrikaans for ‘fence sitter’) by its inventor Ernst Pretorius, of the University of Pretoria in South Africa, has also been chosen. It can be mounted to the wiring posts to detect tampering on fences of up to 800m using sound sensors to warn owners of the location and nature of tampering.

Ian Mutamiri, of the University of Zimbabwe, has developed an Android application specially geared for children with reading disabilities that teaches them how to read Shona by improving their syllable-to-sound association.

He will receive support to develop the app, known as NatiV, which focuses on teaching children languages using native speakers whose accent and intonation they recognise. The platform could also be used to teach other languages.

And an environmentally friendly precise fertiliser applicator developed by Musenga Silwawa, of the Zambia Agriculture Research Institute, has also been selected to compete for the grand prize.

Small-scale farmers in Zambia typically apply commercial fertiliser to their crops by hand, which not only results in inconsistent application but is labour-intensive and time-consuming. Silwawa has developed an efficient and consistent fertiliser applicator that eliminates wastage and allows farmers to apply fertiliser to targeted spots with one simple action.

The Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation was established to highlight the importance of engineering as an enabler of improved quality of life and economic development, and celebrate innovation, according to the academy.

For a full list of entrepreneurs involved in the competition visit the Royal Academy of Engineering website.

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