Adopting Better Science and Technology Key To Improving African Agriculture


by Txchnologist staff

In Kenya, a company called Solar Wind East Africa is building five solar-powered stations to pump water and make electricity for rural livestock farmers. In Benin and Tanzania, byproducts of making agricultural goods like palm oil and cocoa are being fed into new mini-grids that generate up to 50 kilowatts of electricity for homes and businesses. And in Uganda and Mozambique, the sun and biogas are fueling refrigeration systems desperately needed by small-scale farmers to bring crops and milk to market.

Across Africa, homegrown and international technology trials are sprouting up to help farmers make more income and grow more and better food. Which of these will end up being widely adopted is still anybody’s guess, but there can be no doubt that focused agricultural innovation and education efforts will unlock huge dividends around the continent.  

Africa holds about 60 percent of the world’s arable land, a natural resource that, if managed well, could easily provide the continent with enough food and more income from increased agricultural exports. Improving agricultural practices means a major upgrade in quality of life for many Africans due to the sector’s huge footprint around the continent. The World Bank says the typical farm economy for each country below the Sahara represents up to 40 percent of gross domestic product and 70 percent of the labor force. 

“Agriculture is a proven driver of transformational change,” said the World Bank’s Juergen Voegele, head of the organization’s new Agriculture Global Practice.

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Seaweed is my garden wonder drug

- It provides a broad spectrum of soil nutrition: both the standard NPK, and a whole swathe of micronutrients.
- It doesn’t contain weed seeds, or diseases that can spread to land plants.
- It contains the remains of little sea creatures that provide slow-release calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium to the soil.


Fresh seaweed can be fermented into biogas, or a nitrogen-heavy compost tea leachate. It can be piled in order to provide passive heating via a biomeiler. It is also the saltiest, so it should be rinsed before use.

Fermented seaweed has been exposed to a season of rainfall, and is therefore not salty. It makes an excellent nutritive mulch.

Dried seaweed is often bleached, as a result of having been on the beach and exposed to sun for more than one season. It makes an excellent carbon-heavy decorative mulch, weed-preventative soil top-dressing, or water-retentive soil mix additive.


The best thing about seaweed is, however, that it’s free (at least for those of us who live on the coast)!

Ontario is a pioneer in green energy in North America. We want the planet to take notice. OnSeptember 24, join us for Ontario’s first Green Energy Field Day, a grassroots surge that begins in your community and builds. That date was chosen to link up with the Moving Planet action day, when people in countries around the world host events to move the planet beyond fossil fuels.

Schools, community centres, businesses, farms in Ontario are all invited to host a “doors open” event to celebrate community-based green energy solutions. Be a champion in your community!

Biogas has been collected for years by major first-world agricultural entities, landfills and manufacturers, but now families in developing countries and environmentally at-risk sites also are finding the collection of methane gas byproduct can fuel lamps, ovens, and hope.

Moses and Miriam Sabiika live 20 miles from the Ugandan capital of Kampala, and the shores of Lake Victoria. Nearly a dozen years ago they received a gift of livestock via a Heifer International program, to supplement the crops that barely sustained them, their five children, and two grandchildren.

Put Wind in Your Tank—Vroom!


The planet’s first hybrid power plant on the grid in Germany

Yes, it can make hydrogen from wind power to fuel automobiles—and more.

Germany’s ENERTRAG has developed a hybrid power plant that converts wind power to hydrogen. The hydrogen can be stored for use in fuel cells to power automobiles or in other applications to produce heat or electricity.

The hybrid power plant went online yesterday in Prenzlau near Berlin in Germany. It is a €21M joint project of energy supplier ENERTRAG, oil company Total, power company Vattenfall, and railway Deutsche Bahn.

The hybrid power plant combines three proven energy technologies: wind, hydrogen, and biogas. You can see the components depicted in the photo below. The large tanks store biogas and the smaller ones store hydrogen.


How does it work? The heart of the hybrid power plant is a 500 kW pressure electrolyzer that generates hydrogen with a technique that uses the plant’s three wind turbines—they are connected to the grid too. The generated hydrogen is then stored in large tanks where it waits to be used.

The stored hydrogen is used in two ways: it is supplied to fuel pumps for use in hydrogen powered automobiles, and it is supplied to the plant’s biogas component. The stored biogas is used to produce heat or electricity.

Of course, that’s a simple explanation. You can find more detailed technical information here or by clicking on the infographic below.


The developers, and the German government, are bullish on this new hybrid power plant technology. It addresses both storage and baseload challenges that must be met for renewable energy to continue to be successful.

Imagine, some Germans will soon be driving into a filling station and saying “fill ‘er up”—with fifty liters of wind.



learn how to make a biogas digester with Berlin farm Lab!

Make a Biogas Generator to Produce Your Own Natural Gas

For food waste, chop material into 1-inch or smaller bits. The author set up a chopping station in his garden using an old sink and garbage disposal attached to an extension cord. Other options include using a blender or chipper-shredder.

Illustration by James Provost, Courtesy Storey Publishing

Space Exploration, Fueled by Human Waste

…engineers in Florida have developed a anaerobic digester process that can turn organic waste into biogas—a mix of methane and carbon dioxide. Additional processing can also create water and oxygen.

“The idea was to see whether we could make enough fuel to launch rockets and not carry all the fuel and its weight from Earth for the return journey,” said Pratap Pullammanappallil, an associate professor of agricultural and biological engineering at the University of Florida in Gainesville, in a press release. “Methane can be used to fuel the rockets. Enough methane can be produced to come back from the moon.”

…NASA supplied scientists with a waste package that included chemically-produced human waste, simulated food waste, towels, wash cloths, clothing and packaging materials—the estimated waste from a human mission to the moon.

Pullammanappallil and his then-graduate student Abhishek Dhoble figured out how to extract 290 liters of methane per crew per day from the waste. Their digestion process could also potentially generate 200 gallons of non-potable water from the waste each year. Such a process could also potentially prove useful on Earth if it’s efficient enough. Methane fuel could help heat buildings, generate electricity or act as fuel for vehicles.


I’ve just skipped across Kenya from Kisumu to a place called Nyumbani Village, a self-sustaining community that serves orphans and elders who have been left behind by the “lost-generation” of the HIV pandemic. It’s well-resourced village with a population of about 950.

I’m here with 40 other students, taking a permaculture course over the next two weeks. We arrived under the heat of the afternoon sun and had a tour of the site. The first stop was an aquaponics experiment consisting of two big tubs filled with baby tilapia fish. These fish are fed excess worms from a wormery which excrete nutrients into the water. Using a basic solar powered bilge pump, the nutrient rich water is pumped into several containers, made from split barrels. These barrels are filled with rocks and stones out of which vegetables are being grown. Because of the constant trickle of nutrients passing through the stones, vegetation can grow without the need for any soil. The water is flushed back to the ponds once the tubs have filled to a certain level. Very cheap to build and a potential technology for areas lacking in any soil.

Next we visited a biogas system which converts cow dung into cooking gas for the kitchen. Then onto a womery, here’s a little fact, with enough medium (kitchen scraps etc) they double in population every 20 days. Love it.

The latrines here separate the urine from the poo. The urine is diluted with water and used to support growing. The poo is processed in a separate enclosed area where it is broken down and used as a source of manure for tree planting. The village has a 5 acre plantation of native Melia Trees - about 28,500 trees. These trees will provide a high value timber, which can be a sustainable fuel source

Altogether an interesting place. Tomorrow the permaculture course starts properly. More to come.

Engineering Boosts Biogas Production in Microbes

In the on-going effort to develop advanced biofuels as a clean, green and sustainable source of liquid transportation fuels, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)’s Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) have identified microbial genes that can improve both the tolerance and the production of biogasoline in engineered strains of Escherichia coli.

Aindrila Mukhopadhyay, a chemist who directs the host engineering program for JBEI’s Fuels Synthesis Division, led a study in which transcriptomic data and a synthetic metabolic pathway were used to identify several genes that not only improve tolerance but also production of isopentenol in E.coli. Isopentenol is a five-carbon alcohol that is a highly promising candidate for biogasoline, but, like other short-chained alcohols, is toxic to E.coli at commercial levels of fuel production.

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Millions of Chinese peasants in Sichuan produce their own cooking and lighting gas.The Chinese are very relaxed and open about handling human excreta. They are the only people in the world who are. It’s been their main source of fertilizer for centuries. They have a variety of ways of handling it, collecting it, fermenting and sterilizing it, like no other country. Read the whole article.