Saturday, February 24, 2007

Using Bollywood to Teach Folks About Drip Irrigation

India's International Development Enterprises (IDEI), one of the Acumen Fund's porfolio of companies uses a Bollywood style film to teach people about drip irrigation. They've come out with a new type of drip irrigation system that is affordable. The kits are intended for microenteprises aimed at farmers.

More about this after the jump to Worldchanging...

Cotton Candy FutureFood

Scientists have genetically engineered cotton seed to make it safe for human consumption.

Cotton Candy rocks. It's light, sweet, melts in your mouth, and is fun to eat. Real cotton also rocks, it's light, white, you can cut it up, use it to clean---okay, it's not THAT exciting. Regular cotton also contains gossypol, a poisonous chemical that lowers potassium to dangerous levels and can cause fatigue or paralysis. Keerti Rathore at Texas A&M has removed the gossypol from the cotton. The result is a substance that remains is 22% protetin. According to Rathore, the seeds can be roasted and salted.

The New Scientist reports

Rathore says the kernel of the non-toxic cotton seed can be roasted and salted and has a "nutty flavour". He says the kernel can also been ground into a flour and combined with wheat and corn flours to enrich them with protein.

Danny Llewellyn, a plant biologist at CSIRO in Australia who has also been trying to remove gossypol from cottonseed, says the research will "allow cottonseed to be used more widely as an animal feed…and extend its uses as a substitute for other high-value oils, like canola (rapeseed) oil."

Already, unmodified cottonseed is used in limited amounts to feed cattle, because bacteria in their rumen detoxify it. But the modified seed could make cotton plants more valuable to farmers because they could sell the seed as feed for pigs and chickens, or even human food, once they have sold the fibres around the seeds.

"It will certainly be a useful addition to cotton farmers in developing countries who grow cotton as a cash crop," says Llewellyn. China and India are the world's first and third largest cotton producers, respectively.


BusinessWeek features companies that make nice

I meant to write about this earlier. Catch the January 29, 2007 of BusinessWeek. The cover story features socially responsible practices and the companies that embraces them. Among them, Unilever (also featured in in FP here). Their Bangladesh operation sponsors a floating clinic appropriately called the Lifebuoy Friendship Hospital.

It's a great article on corporate social responsibility, doing business in the developing world, and making some money to boot. Read the full text here.

Interesting in the floating hospital? Click here and here.

Bonus points for those who've actually used Lifebuoy soap---very popular in Tegucigalpa. Full disclosure: Unilever is not a sponsor of LTDC. The naming rights to the blog is still open for bids.

2007 MIT IDEAS Competition

The 2007 MIT IDEAS Competition is in full swing. The teams being formed in and around Cambridge, MA include the following:
  • A specially designed training bicycle for mentally disabled people
  • Portable water distiller
  • System of wound care therapy centers
  • Corn flour milling machine for yummy tortillas
  • Electric generator using a specially designed solar concentrator
  • Many more operating under the radar!
The IDEAS competition at MIT brings togethor projects that focus on community and international development questions answered by novel projects backed by technology and invention. Started in 2001, the competition has propelled many projects that have gone on to become sustainable long term endeavors in energy, water sanitation, microfinance, medical devices, agriculture, and information technology.

Friday, February 16, 2007

The Need for Wheelchairs

Recently, a friend emailed me and drew my attention to the pressing need for affordable easy-to-use wheelchairs. I'm including an excerpt of the email and leaving the names out for anonymity:

"One day I was in the office of N, the U.S.-trained engineer who
adapts and fits wheelchairs for the ISIC patients. A woman came in,
pleading with N for a wheelchair for her husband, who was about
to be discharged from the hospital. Her husband had received free
medical care, but there was no money to pay for a wheelchair.
Afterward I discussed the matter with N. Couldn't this man get
one of the very inexpensive wheelchairs that have been developed for
the third world, basically plastic lawn chairs with wheels? No, they
are not suitable, said N; they allow the patients to be pushed
around, but are impossible for a person to push by himself. Besides,
at $40, they are prohibitively expensive. So, I asked, how much would
a good wheelchair cost? Oh it's very expensive, about $120.
Nekram pointed out that the need is very great with thousands of
people in this man's position. But Vicky and I were impressed that so
little money and just a little encouragement could go a long way to
empower these patients."

Needless to say, I started poking around online .. and lo and behold, I discovered the Wheelchair foundation. This organization was started by Ken Behring in June 2000. Wheelchair foundation estimates that there is a need for 100 million wheelchairs, and their near term goal is to get 1 million wheelchairs to people in 5 years. A key observation that I made was that they are able to get a wheelchair that costs $1700 in the US, to someone in a developing country, for about $150. Read more about it here

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

L.E.G.S.: LeTourneau Engineering Global Solutions

My friend Alissa recently informed me about this project that is going on at Le Tourneau. An excerpt from their website...

The LeTourneau Engineering Global Solutions initiative was formed in early 2004 through the vision of Dr. Roger Gonzalez at LeTourneau University with the aim of providing low cost, high-quality prosthetic limbs for people in developing nations. The initial team consisted of five undergraduate engineering students under Dr. Gonzalez's direction. With the goal of creating a lower-limb prosthesis for people with amputations above the knee, the initial design phase involved significant research and evaluation of needs. The project focused on developing a high-quality polycentric knee and an energy-returning foot as the key components of the project.

Friday, February 2, 2007

Bubblicious: Teen uses BubbleWrap to Enhance the Texture of Prosthetics

Grayson Rosenberg has invented a way new use for Bubble Wrap: a cost effective cosmetic skin covering for prosthetics.

Rosenberger was able to turn a basic artificial leg into a more realistic one using a heat gun to mold Bubble Wrap cushioning around the steel rod of a prosthetic limb to give it muscle-like tone and shape. He said his invention should benefit amputees in Africa who are viewed strangely because they have to "walk around with an open metal rod" as a leg.

I learned two things:
1. There is a BubbleWrap competition for Young Inventors
2. BubbleWrap is trademarked. I think the generic name is "protective packaging".

Naturally, this qualifies as another great Little Device That Could. Rosenberg's background has taken him to missionary trips to Ghana where he gained insight into a way to give amputees some dignity regardless of their country's economic status.