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Zimbabwe Research and Intellectual Expo (RIE) Week, 3rd to the 6th of September 2014, Part 1: All we have is what we have…

Resource efficient and portable small scale rural brooder heating system


This week has been a great week for Zimbabwe’s Sunshine City, Harare. Despite the fairly cold mornings lately, this week we have been warming up ourselves with some “hot” ideas at the Research and Intellectual Expo (RIE) currently underway at the University of Zimbabwe. The RIE is an initiative of Zimbabwe's Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education that seeks to showcase the various innovations taking place in the country's universities and colleges.

I decided to dedicate most of my time strolling through the exhibition stalls, sniffing around for some agricultural innovations, especially those that do not kill the “golden egg goose.” My search today was quite successful as I made a stop at the Midlands University stand and met one inventor showcasing what he calls the “portable brooder heating system.”

showing of the brooder at RIE exhibition
The witty inventor, Mr Chiwishi, shows off some
happy chicks in his portable small scale brooder heating
system at RIE on Thursday

The mortality challenge

.For most rural African families, commercial breeding of chickens could be a viable but yet very risky enterprise. In Zimbabwe commercial chicken breeding has become a popular urban backyard enterprise, whilst in countries like South Africa, it is a commonly large scale commercial farming business.

As a way of broadening income sources for the smallholder farmer rural farmers, commercial chicken rearing could be one avenue to increased incomes. However, some of the major challenges faced by smallholder rural farmers include poor access to markets and high mortality rates, especially those related with low temperature and high humidity. 

A resource efficient and environmentally friendly solution

While urban and more sophisticated farmers use electric heating systems, in rural areas, farmers often use fire braziers where they burn pieces of firewood in an open steel drum. The brazier initially burns outside the brooder until only red ambers are left; then the brazier is placed into the brooder.

This conventional process has negative impacts on the environment and is quite wasteful of the earth’s scarce resources. The heavy reliance of the braziers on firewood means we destroy more trees and, the fact that the brazier is initially heated out of the brooder means that some heat energy is wasted. We need a more efficient and environmentally friendly technology because for most rural farmers “all we have is what we have” and hence we need to make the most out of it. As Ghandi said in one of his famous quotes: 
“there’s enough in the world for everyone’s needs, but not enough for everyone’s greed” 
Mr Chiwishi's small scale brooder heating system is an innovation is driven by the need to come up with a “mortality reducing” and environmentally friendly solution for smallholder commercial chicken growers. According to Mr Chiwishi, mortalities of chicks can exceed 50 percent in cases where prolonged cold spells are experienced and the absence of electricity in rural areas only exacerbates this challenge. 

While the conventional braziers make use mostly of firewood, the portable invention makes use of firewood, cow dung and maize cobs.

a lump of cow dung burns with sacks of more
A lump of cow dung burns in the “drum furnace”
(i.e. the cylinder with an open cap)
of the heating system. More cow dung and maize cobs
are besides the system.
the drum furnace is where the fuel (cow dung,
firewood, cobs) is combusted.

The benefits

1. An 80 percent energy save!
The small scale brooder heating system is also said to use about 12% of the energy used by the conventional method of the braziers. There however would be need to estimate the level of emissions as well just to be certain how “Climate Smart” this technology is

2. Just wake up once...
According to the inventor, the farmer would ordinarily fuel the burner once before going to sleep and then would wake up usually once just to check and adjust the temperature. 

So in a simple way, smallholder farmers reduce mortality rates, find alternative income sources and “warm” out of poverty!

3. No fans needed, just the wind will do...
To increase the temperature, the farmer does not need any fan or complicated mechanism. The farmer simply opens the cap on the drum furnace to allow more wind and air to pass through the system. This increases the combustion and heat is transmitted through a round piping element into  the brooder. Any smoke from the combustion is transmitted safely out of the brooder through a little chimney.

The system is currently designed more smallholder farmers rearing more or less than a 100 birds.

Keep an eye on upcoming posts on the RIE...

By the way, on the market challenges, I still have a date with the “rain maker ” who will take us through how he is overcoming the market hurdles by merging digital and physical at “Mbare Musika”, (i.e. Mbare market in English). So we will definitely have that covered in one of the forthcoming blog posts, so make sure you hit the RSS button to follow this blog.

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