Ethan Zuckerman’s online home, since 2003

Killing flies with bacteria

Kenyan scientist Dr. Moses Makayoto begins his talk by telling us “Africa must stop talking – Africa must do practical solutions.” He’s a great example of an inventor who is creating key, practical solutions for the problems of the world’s slums. He reminds us that slums are characterized by poor sanitation and lack of access to water and sanitation. By 2020, 1.4 billion people worldwide will live in slums like Kibera, Mathare, Korogocho and Kawangware. Refugee camps also suffer from poor sanitation and the problems that result from them.

Dozens of diseases are carried by “filth flies” who breed in human waste in slums and refugee camps. Dr. Makayoto is attacking the flies with a bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensis, which he’s extracting from organic materials, like cow and chicken waste, blood meal and horn and hoof material. The bacterium is distributed in a formulation that floats on top of waste water and targets mosquito and fly larvae. He tells us that it is “simple, pragmatic, five times cheaper than chemicals, and environmentally friendly.” The product has been extensively tested using international methods. He reminds us, “There’s no such thing as African science. There’s no such thing as american science. Science is science.”

Dr. Makayoto is also researching artemisinin plants, a natural solution to malaria problems. The plant is not native to Africa, but has been imported from Asia – the goal now is to get sufficient people to grow it and the proper preparations to distribute it on the continent. He’s also researching Sunguprot, a native plan in Kenya which is patented as a food supplement. His research suggests that it is a powerful immune booster for HIV/AIDS patients.

He ends his talk with some concerns about the difficulty of innovating in Africa: – Prototype development is not easily done
- Lack of IP policies
- Open questions about who owns native plants and knowledge
- A lack of African risk takers
- Low absorbative capactiy for new technology
- Low entrepreneurial culture
- Lack of appreciation of our own technology
- No formal R&D like multinational pharma companies

Africa can take a stand through patent mining, research on native plants and knowledge. “African scientists must stand up and be counted,” he tells us, and Africa must industrialize, not just in part, but across the continent so that we can be happy, healthy and match the wider world in development.

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