Hope you’re doing well.
A couple of months ago, I tweaked the structure of the newsletter to have a Q&A with an entrepreneur. I received some positive feedback about that and made a note to try that a few times a year. Today’s newsletter is like that where I’ll be writing about an engineer and entrepreneur in Burkina Faso who’s been developing interesting technologies for food production for more than 20 years.
In case you missed it, here’s last month’s newsletter.
In 1997, while a mechanical engineering student at the Trier University of Applied Sciences in Germany, William Ilboudo started thinking about solar food processing. When he returned to Burkina Faso, he started a small business producing and selling affordable box cookers.
This had mixed success, especially with consumers defaulting on their instalment payments for the stoves. At the scale he was working at, micro-credit institutions also refused to work with him. By the early 2000s, he pivoted to developing community-scale food processing technologies for semi-rural communities with low energy access.
By merging a 16m2 Scheffler reflector — a system of mirrors arranged in the shape of a parabola — with ceramic ovens and gasifiers, his team at ISOMET designed and built units that served as bakeries and shea butter production plants in rural communities across Burkina Faso. The bakery designs were able to produce 300 baguettes every hour.
A few years ago, the country’s government came calling. They were interested in localising tractor manufacturing as a way to make farm machinery more affordable for rural farmers and wanted to work with the ISOMET team to make this a reality. Ilboudo did not think that was the appropriate solution, and subsequently spent time observing farmers in the rural communities his company had installed the food processing units in.
He saw that rural farmers employed the Asia-produced small engine tractors mostly, as this allowed for multiple actions and were handy compared to traditional tractors. These one-cylinder engines are powered by gasoline and require regular maintenance. Driven by this as well as the government’s need for affordability, Ilboudo started thinking of a new design.
A petrol-engine-powered mini-tiller is seen here. Machines like these have become popular for small scale rural mechanization in the last 50 years led by its development and adoption in South Asia. Source: IFPRI.
The design would need the ability to be connected to different energy sources and be small enough to be operated by hand. Searching for inspiration, he reviewed electric tractor designs before arriving at the golf cart whose gearing system ratio fit the need. Named the Rural Energy Assistant (REA), his team developed a solar-powered farm machine that can be articulated with different farm tools.
According to Ilboudo — whose new startup BEAM Sarl is producing the machines —, it can help you plough your field, seed it, besides performing many other applications such as transport, irrigation, crushing, digging. The REA is developed and constructed locally, with the aim of improving the living conditions in the rural area.
William Ilboudo with the Rural Energy Assistant. Source: Siemens Stiftung.
Away from the farm, the REA can also be used at home. When back from the field, the farmer can connect the house energy system to the product and use the battery to power the house: lighting, television, or cooking. The team hopes that the machine will take away difficult work from women and children, while increasing their farm production, income and living standards of the farmers.
In the last three years the team has been rapidly prototyping the product, and has built nine of the REA farm machines, five of which have been acquired by the German Development Agency (GIZ) for women in the rural areas. These five machines were assembled in the villages, and the women trained subsequently on how to use them.
They’ve gotten serious interest from the government since the beginning which Ilboudo credits with their success. BEAM is also raising capital to construct a production unit within the next year with the capacity to produce 500 REA units per year. One thing that they’ve got going for them is the government’s focus on improving the revenues from family farming (smallholder farming on a few hectares usually owned by a family) which employs 80% of the Burkina Faso population. Smaller machines like the REA help because apart from being cheaper than tractors for these farmers trees don’t have to be felled to accommodate the use of tractors which means revenue-producing trees can be kept and/or planted.
The Nigeria Climate Innovation Centre is receiving applications for this year’s edition of the AllOn/NCIC Embryo Incubation programme targeted at early-stage businesses or startups playing in the renewable energy space in Nigeria.
Deadline: March 4
The Association of Mechanical Engineers is receiving applications from early stage hardware companies across the continent for their Innovation Showcase competition. This year’s edition also has a new component called the IDEA Lab for idea-stage entrepreneurs.
Deadline: March 15
The Land Accelerator is receiving applications from African startups in the sustainable agriculture, reforestation and agroforestry spaces for the 2022 Land Accelerator Africa programme.
Opibus is hiring in Kenya for a wide range of roles as they ramp up production of their electric vehicles.
Until next time,
PS: Today is the last day to register for the Welcome To Nigeria Challenge!