A team of Nigerian technology innovators has made it to the top 20 shortlist of $1 million Hult Prize, making them the only African team left in the competition.
The 2018 Hult Prize theme: ‘Harnessing the Power of Energy to Transform Ten Million Lives’, began from the campus level to regional level until it got to the global stage, while hundreds of participants/teams from many world-class universities participated.
Speaking to journalists in Jos, the Plateau State capital, on their chances and challenges in the competition, the prime mover of the innovation, Faisal Sani Bala, said their work is a technology that boosts irrigation farming like never before and also provides light for rural communities without electricity.
He said together with his colleagues, they formed the ImpactRays enterprise and their projection beyond the competition is to impact over 5 million lives in three years, pointing out that their technology has already being piloted in Waya Dam, Bauchi State, where local farmers are enjoying the irrigation technology, which also provides electricity for their household.
Bala, a graduate assistant lecturer at the Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University (ATBU) Bauchi, who is currently pursuing a Masters in Mechatronics Engineering in Malaysia, however, stressed that the challenges they are having in the competition is finance, and that the other teams were being financed by their governments while theirs was from their personal pockets which has not been easy.
He explained that the Malaysian Government almost took up sponsoring them in the competition but later withdrew owing to the thought that the beneficiaries of the technology would be Nigerians and not Malaysians.
Another challenge, he said, was that he and one of the team members were yet to obtain their United Kingdom visas to attend the final six shortlist programme coming up in about two weeks’ time.
“Some of us have engaged in dry season farming as students, and have been faced with the challenge of manual flooding irrigation, high cost of fuel, high cost of labour involved in watering, fertilizer wash-off and water shortage. These problems motivated me and Aliyu Dala Bukar to design, implement and patent a smart solar-powered irrigation system to ease irrigation farming through cutting the cost of labour and eliminating the use of petrol.
“Our innovation makes it possible for farmers with the challenge of water shortage to have three cycles of irrigation, while eliminating environmental impact of greenhouse gases released by petrol powered irrigation pumps. The technology also provides light to rural communities without electricity, and local farmers, where the project was piloted, have started enjoying its irrigation benefits as well as the household lighting benefit.
“Regarding the Hult Prize competition, the ImpactRays won the 1st position at the campus level and proceeded to the regional finals in Kuala Lumpur. At the regional finals, there were 60 teams and 200 participants from some of the best universities across the world, including Canada, Australia, India, Indonesia, Japan, Taiwan among others. We still scaled through at the regional level to make it to global level, upon which we are among the 20 shortlisted and the only African team remaining in the competition,” he said.
He added that the Hult Prize Competition is about creating market ready solutions to pressing needs of humanity, while maintaining balance between profit and social impact, adding that the competition goals are in line with the sustainable development goals of the United Nations.