Made in the Village: Rural Innovations

8 01 2011

When people can barely afford the minimum standards of living, they often forget about the “basic” needs and all they work for is survival. This is one of the famous stories that people always tell about developing countries and “villages” particularly. And indeed this is true, imagine a village where the nearest health centre is more than 3 kilometer away from the people, with only one primary school and limited access to clean/ safe water!

A few weeks ago I was one of the panelists at the “Villages in Action” conference in Kikuube village located in Masindi, Uganda. This “first” ever village conference, was organized by Teddy Ruge of Project Diaspora.

Almost 50% of all the conferences organized world-wide have the agenda of rural development. However, most of these conferences are hosted in big cities, 5-Star hotels and most of the participants (including panelists) are people who have very limited insight of rural livelihood. This means that the rural people are always under represented.

It is against the above (specific) reasons that I think the “Villages in Action” conference was a very relevant conference to the people of Kikuube village and Uganda at large. This conference took the microphones closer to the rural people (for their voices to be heard) and the cameras closer to their faces (for them to show the world the part of the villages like they have never seen). Orange Uganda (one of the Telecoms) generously sponsored the conference with a dedicated 17Mbs fast internet connection to enable a live video stream of the conference (first of the kind in Uganda).

The young people of Kikuube village show-cased some of their technological innovations: * Radio made out of scrap radio part, * a woofer made out of a calabash and speakers cased in old jerry cans/ boxes and * a motorcycle made out of old plastic parts (and wood) tied together with banana fibers.

At this conference I learnt very many things, but most importantly, I learnt the reasons why many villages have remained backward even though they have a lot of potential to develop. Reasons include:

  • the rural people don’t have access to media,
  • they don’t have access to resources (information and capital) and
  • no mentors

So, without the above (among others) all their potential, good ideas and innovations always go unnoticed.

This festive season I spent 7 days in my home village visiting family and monitor the work done by rural farmers under the Rural Farming for Development project. During my stay in the village, I got a chance to see some of the innovations in my villages. And this time, I took each one of them very seriously.

Mr. Bugembe John is a local folk who has always blown people’s minds since I was a little boy because he is always trying to make something cool out of his ideas and scrap. When I visited my village a few years ago he was developing a Wind turbine which he used to generate some power to light his house for a while. This time I took the liberty to visit him and we had a very short but very momentous chat about locally-made technology and rural development.

“The challenge here (in the village) is, I develop gadgets but I don’t have capital! So, usually it’s a very huge sacrifice for me to keep investing my small finances into all these ideas that I have to implement them”, Mr. Bugembe said with an unhappy face.

“Recently I made a low-cost water pump; over here, let me show you”, he said with a happy face while walking me towards his little pig-sty where he keeps the water pump.

He showed me a demo of how the water pump works – see you Tube Video. When I talked to one of the local farmers about the water pump, he said “yes, Bugembe made a water pump – and its indeed powerful.”

Mr. Bugembe is just one of the many African-Innovators who have the ability to develop technologies that are localized for the African communities, at cheap costs. But these innovators have a challenge of limited access to resources – both in terms of funds and information.

I don’t know about everybody else, but I think Africa is at the point where we can make our own stuff, use it and share it with the world. The major advantage in this is people will get more localized technologies, easy to maintain and at cheap prices because things are made locally. The first step towards achieving this is to promote the rural innovations (and ideas) through the available media, provide mentorship to local innovators and make capital available to those who need it.