By Ebele Orakpo
Nigerians in different fields of endeavours are constantly coming up with new inventions and innovations; yet, the nation still has a very long way to go in the area of technological development. There is a problem no doubt, which government and corporate organisations must address if Nigeria must be reckoned with technologically.
In this chat with Dr. Umar Buba Bindir, the Director-General, National Office for Technology Acquisition and Promotion (NOTAP) in Abuja recently, he spoke on his inventions and said Nigeria is not advancing technologically because of the huge gap between research results/development and industrial application. Excerpts:
DR. Umar Bindir is an Agricultural power and machinery engineer who has made so many inventions tailored towards making the life of rural dwellers more pleasant.
“My qualifications lean more to mechanical engineering for rural development than the hardcore engineering, so I am not a pure mechanical, civil, or electrical/electronics engineer. My training has a lot of leverage on mechanical engineering because I am a design engineer for agricultural machines and systems.
“In agricultural engineering, you deal with designing and developing equipment and facilities for animals and crops. You also have experience in what I call soft engineering to ensure that the animals are comfortable; something that mechanical or civil engineers are not very good at. We have a lot of things that affect rural development so you have to be jack of all trades,” he said.
Smoking kiln for fish and meat:
“In trying to help rural dwellers, Bindir had to study traditional technologies and modernize them. “You see how our people store their food in rural communities. My mother used to preserve meat in her kitchen for one year without spoiling and we eat it throughout the year.
“I noticed that the roof of the hut where they cook is normally high because they know that hot air goes up so smoke is always going up and because thatched roof breathes, allowing air and smoke to escape while preventing water from getting in, therefore it became a fantastic smoking kiln. So as they cook, the heat of the firewood goes up and slowly cooks the meat while the smoke preserves it because it has some preservatives.
“I wanted to mordenise this and so I used this local knowledge to design a smoking kiln for fish and meat while in the Pacific and northern Australia. Countries like Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Vanuatu, have communities similar to African communities.
“I was able to affect their lives with this device. We knew how much smoke it generated, how long it took to smoke fish and we came up with a system that was working using firewood. It does not need electricity. We did not patent it because it was a community development project,” he said.
He, however, regretted that in Nigeria, “we have not been able to move it to our communities to become an industrial product used in preserving things, producing very tasteful fish and meat not only for local consumption but for export.”
Groundnut Combine Harvester:
Dr. Bindir strongly believes that Nigeria would still have been one of the world’s greatest groundnut producers if the farmers and researchers were given a little encouragement.
“In the course of my career, I had explored the reasons why the groundnut pyramids disappeared from Nigeria. One, the labour requirement in planting, harvesting and processing groundnut is very high and it is not particularly nice especially if you are not involved in the downstream processing for you to realise a lot of money.
Farmers, therefore, were inclined to move to other areas that could give them more money even at the basic farm. So I investigated this particular production process and brought about superior technical contribution to reduce the labour requirement and ensure that groundnut farming and processing become very interesting to youths so that hopefully, the groundnut pyramids will return.
I studied groundnut so much so that I knew everything about groundnut, the growing environment in terms of soil, the water it requires, how long it takes to grow, the different varieties, the oil content of the seeds, how much is produced per hectare, how many people are needed per ton.”
Having discovered the problem, Dr. Bindir went on to design machines to make the job easier and more enjoyable. “I designed a number of machines – groundnut-digging device that can pull the groundnut out of the soil, another component that can actually hold the plant and take the pods away even when it is not dry.
I realised the difference between farmers in Nigeria and those in the US and Asia is that in Nigeria, we use the top for animal feed because it is high in protein so the machine must be able to preserve it as you cannot leave it to dry to crush it and plough it back to the soil like the Americans do.
So I designed this unique component. Again, when groundnut is harvested, it is usually mixed with soil because it grows in the ground, therefore, I designed a soil-groundnut separation unit and a system that will convey the groundnut, separate the immature from the mature ones and then send them to a bagging device.
I then put everything together to get a tractor-powered groundnut combine harvester so that at the harvesting season, using the tractor hiring units (which were available at the time), farmers could hire tractors, linked with groundnut combine harvester, harvest and bag the groundnut while leaving the top for animal feed. I calculated the time it will take and I produced a prototype.
Unfortunately, this prototype did not mature to become a production machine and the reason is that in Nigeria, we do not have that system to cope with the gap between the result of research and development and industrial application. This gap requires time, money and facilities because for me to have moved it to the next level, I must study it more to see how I can manufacture it quickly, reduce the cost of production, make the machine affordable.
I might even have come up with a machine that can be pulled by animals. All these require money and that money is not available in Nigeria and so it stayed as a prototype but certainly, I have to make progress and I started looking at other things.
That is one of the inventions that had a number of intellectual contributions to the world and also it was the first combine harvester of its type to cope with the Nigerian cultivation methodology on the planet. I was very proud of it. The documentation is there and it could actually be relevant but certainly, it is something that young people could take up to the next level,” he stated.