Going to Pot

July 31, 2008 at 9:58 am Leave a comment

As a high school student, Mohammed Bah Abba was deeply concerned by a number of issues that plagued his rural community in northern Nigeria where many of his people eked out their living sustenance farming. In his region ninety percent of all villages are without electricity. Without electricity there is no means to refrigerate the crops they harvest. Without adequate cold storage, fruits and vegetables spoil quickly resulting in loss of income and health risks.

Though Mohammed Bah Abba would continue to further his education, eventually going on to become a lecturer at a polytechnic college and a consultant for the United Nations, he drew on his experience growing up in a family of potters to help solve the farmer’s dilemma. Applying the knowledge he gained through his studies to ancient techniques, Mohammed used two earthen pots, sand, and water to create a portable cold storage container that requires no electricity.

The pot-in-pot container uses the principles of thermodynamics to create a dramatic cooling effect. The simple design calls for a clay pot to be set inside a larger pot with wet sand packed in the space between. As the moisture comes in contact with dry air the moisture evaporates causing an immediate drop in temperature and cooling the inner pot.

Despite the simple nature of the invention, the container increased the length of time African Spinach could be kept fresh from one day to nearly a fortnight, tomatoes and peppers to three weeks, and eggplant to just under a month – even at desert temperatures. Now farmers no longer need to rush to market to sell their produce and overall food quality and public health is improving.

Abba’s invention created a much bigger impact on rural communities than he could have ever imagined. Beyond increasing farmer’s profits and decreasing the number of food related illnesses, the pot-in-pot cooler has aided in the slowing of the exodus from rural areas, preserving culture and traditions. He has also increased business for pottery makers, even allowing them to take on additional employees to meet demand, thereby improving the chances for familys to become more financially independant.

Mohammed Bah Abba’s efforts earned him the Rolex Award for Innovation and the title Laureate.

Rolex focuses on those people who work outside the mainstream, often people who lack access to funding and resources. Contestants are nominated and their work and achievements are judged by a committee who will ultimately select the winners of the one hundred thousand dollar cash prize (funds to continue and grow their work), a Rolex Chronograph watch, and given the title Laureate.

“The Rolex Awards… [are] aimed at fostering a spirit of enterprise around the world, [they] recognize the pioneering concepts and innovative thought of individuals… The Rolex Awards are presented every two years, and support individuals embarking on new ventures or pursing ongoing projects…”

Since the awards began in in 1976, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the company’s famed Oyster Chronometer – considered to be one of it’s crowning achievements, it has awarded nearly ten million dollars in prize money to ninety-five innovators from thirty-eight countries around the world specializing in the areas of science and medicine, technology and innovation, exploration and discovery, the environment, and cultural heritage. The awards have not only given those individuals who are striving to advance human knowledge and well-being much needed recognition, but also provide them with funding to continue their efforts.

Since he was recognized by the Rolex Awards in 2000, Mohammed Bah Abba has continued his efforts to promote the coolers in regions where they are most needed, but has also worked to oversee educational programs and workshops, and to start a manufacturing and distribution facility. A further option that the Rolex Laureate is considering is setting up a center to exchange information on traditional rural technology via the internet.

“Mohammed Bah Abba won a Rolex Award not simply because he designed the pot-in-pot,” states Rebecca Irvin, head of the Rolex Awards, “He overcame obstacles to produce and distribute it, and also ensured that it could be bought for an affordable price by the people who need it.”

By briansrapier

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Entry filed under: Awards, Emerging Technologies, Energy, Environment, Informational, Starting a Business. Tags: , , , , .

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