Mohammed Bah Abba And His Pot-in-Pot


So what's modern+green about a couple of terracotta pots? Nothing and everything. The oldest known African earthenware has been found in Nigeria, so that ain't exactly new. What does brings it up-to-date is the incredibly simple application of two pots, one inside another. Fill the space between the two with moist sand, and you have a most ingenious fridge. (That's very modern if you live in one of the 90% of villages that don't have electricity.) The water in the sand naturally migrates towards the outer pot, where it evaporates causing a temperature drop around the inner pot.* The principle is not new - we've mentioned the coolgardie safe before, as just one such rendering on the concept. No, what is remarkable here is that Nigerian teacher, Mohammed Bah Abba, did not merely reinvent the idea, he made it a reality for tens of thousands of impoverished Nigerian women and farmers. By setting up the local production facilities to provide the pot-in-pot for $2 (since lowered to just 40c), he allowed perishable food to extend their spoilage rate. "Eggplants, for example, stayed fresh for 27 days instead of three, and tomatoes and peppers lasted for three weeks or more. African spinach, which usually spoils after a day, remained edible after 12 days in the pot-in-pot." Being able to store crops, and family food, without need of electricity increased incomes and reduced levels of disease. In recognition for his part in bringing this amazing technology to people in need, Mohammed was awarded a $75,000 Rolex Award. Having funded the first 7,000 pots from his own purse, he now used the award funds to distribute a total of 91,795 pot-in-pots by 2005.

It was a simple idea, but one with massive repercussions. For example, young women who had to hawk food before it perished, now have the opportunity to attend school and gain an education. The downstream results of which are simply immeasurable. Mohammed has also been asked to consider "adapting his cooling device in Eritrea, where it could preserve insulin vials for diabetic patients in remote rural areas, India, Haiti and Honduras." And he has been requested to facilitate workshops in Brazil. Already the pots performance has seen the Darfur's Women's Association for Earthenware Manufacturing produce their own version, known as a zeer pot, with resulting incomes for women increasing by 50%. So well worthy of being listed a Time magazine Invention of the Year (2001). Oh, and The Shell Award for Sustainable Development too.

As we keep saying around here, never believe that myth that one person cannot make a difference. We all affect the whole around us, Mohammed is but one example of how positive that change can be.

::Rolex Awards.

* Garrett Rueda, a student in California scientifically tested (PDF) the system, and found that the average temperature difference between the pots was a very significant 14°C (23.5°F) !