African ingenuity: Meet the 10 nominees announced for the 2016 innovation prize for Africa award

This years' nominees showcase new breakthroughs in public health burdens, smart solutions for farmers and dynamic energy initiatives.

The African Innovation Foundation (AIF) today announced the top 10 nominees for its landmark programme, the Innovation Prize for Africa (IPA). 

Now in its 5th year under the theme “Made in Africa”, IPA  has attracted more than 6,000 innovators from 50 African countries. It offers a grand share prize of $150,000 and incentives to spur growth and prosperity in Africa through home-grown solutions.

This year African ingenuity showcases new breakthroughs in malaria and other public health burdens, smart solutions for farmers and dynamic energy initiatives.

Meet the 10 brilliant Africans that have been nominated for the prize:

Eddy Agbo is a molecular bio-technologist from Nigeria, and Chairman/CEO of Fyodor Biotechnologies. Urine Test for Malaria (UMT) was developed by Eddy. It is a rapid non-blood diagnostic medi cal device that can diagnose malaria in less than 25 minutes. Africa has the highest number of malaria cases worldwide; more often than not, when fever is detected, anti-malaria medication is administered. However, the inability to quickly diagnose and commence malaria treatment can lead to various complications including kidney failure, build-up of lung fluid, aplastic anaemia and even death. UMT uses a dip-stick with accurate results in just 25 minutes. The technology detects malaria parasite proteins in the patient’s urine with fever due to malaria. The UMT is simple and affordable, and a potential game changer in managing malaria and saving lives across Africa.


Andre Nel is a South African whose innovation, Green Tower, is an off-grid water heating and air conditioning solution based on solar power that uses advanced thermos-dynamics to create up to 90% savings in electricity consumption. Water heating and air conditioning systems can account up to 60% of energy consumption in a home or building. There are a number of heating and cooling systems in the market, but few that have demonstrated consistency in efficiencies regardless of weather conditions. The Green Tower improves efficiency of a solar heat pump with solar thermal collectors, low pressure storage tanks and heat exchangers. With Africa’s middle class rapidly growing and demand for energy outstripping supply, this initiative has the potential for large scale roll out. Green Tower can conserve limited energy resources, diverting them from heating and cooling systems to more productive industries.


Nigeria’s Godwin Benson created Tuteria, an innovative peer-to-peer learning online platform that allows people who want to learn any skill, whether formal or informal, to connect with anyone else in proximity who is offering that skill. For instance, a student needing math skills can connect online with someone in their vicinity offering remedial classes in mathematics. The tutors and the learners form an online community that connects them, and once a fit is established, they meet offline for practical exchange. Both tutors and learners are thoroughly vetted to ensure safety, accountability and a quality learning experience. Globally, conventional methods of education and learning are transitioning from centralised to distributed, and from standardised to personalised. Such trends have resulted in better learning outcomes. Tuteria fits in well with this model, and has been highly recommended by the IPA judges for the African continent.


Imogen Wright is a South African scientist whose innovation, Exatype, is a software solution that enables healthcare workers to determine HIV positive patients’ responsiveness to ARV drug treatment. According to WHO, 71% of people living with HIV/AIDS reside in Africa. Until now, governments’ response has been to ensure access to treatment for all. However, a growing number of people on ARVs are resistant to drug regimens, leading to failure of the therapy, exacerbating the continent’s HIV/AIDS burden. Exatype processes the highly complex data produced by advanced “next-generation” DNA sequencing of the HIV DNA in a patient’s blood. Through a simple report, it detects drugs that are resistant to the patient, then highlights the need to avoid these to ensure successful treatment. Exatype has the potential to contribute towards effectively managing HIV/AIDS in Africa, and also holds promise in helping detect drug resistance for other disease burdens such as Tuberculosis (TB) and malaria.


A professor of structural engineering at Cairo University, Youssef Rashed created the Plate Package (PLPAK) a robust software solution that assesses the architecture of building plans or technical drawings, determining structural integrity of the end design. PLPAK applies the boundary element based method to analyse and view practical design on building foundations and slabs. This enables engineers to represent building slabs over sophisticated foundation models easily, building information modelling techniques and eliminating human error. With the rapid growth of African cities, there is increased demand for infrastructural developments to support the growing population. The infrastructure system in Africa, especially building architecture, tends to go untested due to huge associated costs in verifying structure integrity, and can lead to the collapse of buildings with many deaths. PLPAK addresses this through its low-cost, easy to use but world class tool.


Femi Odeleye is a Nigerian automobile designer who created the Tryctor - a mini tractor modelled on the motorcycle. By attaching various farming implements, it can carry out similar operations as a conventional tractor to a smaller scale. Farming for most small scale farmers in the continent is tough, laborious and characterised by low productivity. Small scale farmers are constrained by the costs involved in switching to mechanised agriculture and use of heavy equipment. However, through inspired alterations to a motorcycle’s engine, gearing system and chassis, this innovation has made it possible to mechanise agriculture in Africa for small scale farmers in a way that was previously inaccessible. Additionally, the Tryctor is easy to use and cheaper to maintain as 60% of its parts and components are locally sourced. The IPA judges were captivated by the clever adaptation of a motorised solution that is ubiquitous in Africa, largely for transportation to a solution for mechanised farming for small scale farmers.


Safi Sarvi Organics is the name of an innovation by Kenyan agribusinessman Samuel Rigu. It’s a low-cost fertiliser made from purely organic products and waste from farm harvests, designed to improve yields for farmers by up to 30%. Rural farmers in sub-Saharan Africa pay huge costs for fertiliser, which is often produced abroad and imported. Owing to such high costs, farmers can only afford the cheap, synthetic, and acidulated fertiliser varieties. In many areas where the soil is inherently acidic, use of acidulated fertilisers can lead to long-term soil degradation and yield loss, at about four percent per year. Safi Sarvi costs the same as traditional fertilisers, can reverse farmers’ soil degradation and lead to improved yield and income. The product uses biochar-based fertiliser which can counteract soil acidity, retaining nutrients and moisture in the soil. Additionally, the carbon-rich fertiliser removes carbon from the atmosphere by at least 2.2 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per acre of farm per year.


Kit Vaughan is the South African CEO of CapeRay Medical. He developed Aceso, an imaging technology, capable of performing full-field digital mammography and automated breast ultrasound at the same time, dramatically improving breast cancer detection. Annually, there are more than half a million cancer deaths in Africa and these numbers are expected to double in the next three decades. If diagnosed early enough, the cancer can be treated successfully. However, because 40% of women have dense tissue, their cancers cannot be seen on X-ray. Furthermore, a false negative finding can have devastating consequences. Aceso is a single device that can acquire dual-modality images – full-field digital mammography and automated breast ultrasound - at the same time. This world first system is protected by international patents and has been successfully tested in two separate clinical trials with 120 women.


Valentin Agon is from Benin and specialises in alternative medicine. He developed Api-Palu, an anti-malaria drug treatment made from natural plant extract. It is significantly cheaper than available anti-malarial drugs, and has great inhibitory effects on 3D7 strains of plasmodium falciparum the causative agent of malaria. Sub-Saharan Africa is home to 88% of malaria cases and 90% of malaria deaths reported globally (WHO: 2015) with some African governments spending up to 40% of their public health budgets on malaria treatment. Api-Palu manifests as a fast rate of malaria parasite clearance from the blood following short term treatment, with relatively lower doses. It is available in tablets, capsules or syrup. The drug has been approved in Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad and the Central African Republic because of its therapeutic and non-toxic effects.


Johan Theron is a South African electronic engineer who developed PowerGuard, a technology that enables consumers to determine the maximum amount of power supply required for daily operations. Consumers can thus reduce their power demand, especially during peak times, leading to more efficient power supply, and helping to reduce power cuts. PowerGuard addresses electricity fluctuations, and power delivery and supply challenges by reducing the peaks, relieving pressure on the electricity network. Consumers can set their own maximum peak power usage needs. This technology substantially reduces load shedding and power rationing, diverting power to more productive industries. Africa faces a high demand for grid power, but with limited resources and an aging infrastructure, the existence of a smart grid can help reduce the pressure on existing infrastructure while moving the continent slowly towards renewable energy.


The final announcement of the winners will take place on the June 23, at the Gaborone International Conference Centre in Botswana. 

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