Sunday, November 13, 2005

Simple innovation: Zeer Pot

In 2000, Nigerian teacher Mohammed Bah Abba received the Rolex Award for his invention of the zeer pot. The zeer pot is a refrigeration device for that is amazing in its simplicity: it consists of two terra cotta pots. A smaller pot sits inside a larger pot and the space is filled with sand that is kept damp. The sand insulates the inner pot and evaporation of the water keeps it cool.
Abba’s first trials of the pot-in-pot proved successful. 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.
In hot areas without electricity, the inexpensive pots can not only keep food from spoiling, but help preserve the levels of vitamins and other nutrients.

The introduction of the pots has had wide-ranging social effects.
The impact of the pot-in-pot on individuals’ lives is overwhelming. "Farmers are now able to sell on demand rather than ‘rush sell’ because of spoilage," says Abba, "and income levels have noticeably risen. Married women also have an important stake in the process, as they can sell food from their homes and overcome their age-old dependency on their husbands as the sole providers." In turn and, perhaps most significantly for the advancement of the female population, Abba’s invention liberates girls from having to hawk food each day. Instead, they are now free to attend school and the numberof girls enrolling in village primary schools is rising.

These factors, coupled with the effect that the pot-in-pot has had in stemming disease, are, in Abba’s words, making "the pot-in-pot a tangible and exciting solution to a severe local problem."
The device has had similar success in war-torn Sudan after it's introduction in 2002.

Living in a wealthy country where electricity and access to healthy food are the norm, it is hard to imagine living without refrigeration. However, the recent natural disasters created by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita show that we shouldn't take our comfort for granted. It is important to remember that sometimes the simplest solutions to a problem are the best.

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