A team of five Ghanaian students have been adjudged winners of the 2021 Wege Prize. They beat four other teams in the final to win the competition.
Wege Prize is a yearly international student design competition that ignites game-changing solutions for the future by inspiring college/university students around the world to collaborate across institutional, disciplinary, and cultural boundaries to redesign the way economies work.
The team of Ghanaian students are known as Agritrade Hub. The students are Sampson Osei Tutu Aggrey and Christiana Oppong Brenya from Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), Linda Mensah from the University of Ghana, Prince-Charles Kudjordji from the University of Energy and Natural Resources (UENR) and Victoria Akwamaa Yeboah from Earth University in Costa Rica.
The competition requires each team to leverage its transdisciplinary makeup to collaboratively design and propose a product, service, business/non-profit organization, or other solution to a wicked problem that can help us transition from a linear economic model to a circular economic model.
Over the course of nine months and four distinct phases, the teams developed their ideas from an informal research plan into a fully-developed solution that can be prototyped and tested in the real world.
Agritrade Hub’s project aimed at addressing the wicked problem of increased logging in Ghana creating wood waste and sawdust – about 97,000 metric tons annually – and the mismanagement of waste disposal. The team’s solution proposes transforming wood waste into nutrient-based substrates for mushroom production, leading to mushroom compost for use in fertilizing and growing forest and ornamental trees, thereby eliminating all forms of wood waste and mitigating environmental impacts.
Explaining how they identified the problem and came up with a solution for it, Christiana Oppong Brenya said:
“The problem that we identified to solve actually aided us to connect with one another and become a team of five and we had a mentor and we still have that mentor and she has been very, very, helpful to us – Mrs Angelina Oppong Brenya-Manu – and she is my sister as well. At her place where she lives… she lived close to the Sokoban Wood Village [in Kumasi]. It is a huge wood industry, and we realized that after every day’s work, the artisans there generate huge sums of sawdust and wood waste and they don’t do anything beneficial with the wood waste, they just discard it by burning it or by just throwing it away haphazardly… And by burning it, it causes air pollution and sometimes too when they leave it around, it leads to choked gutters causing a lot of tangent smells in the vicinity.”
She went on to reveal how the team came together to work towards the project.
“So we found out that this was a huge problem that we had to tackle and then we connected with one another online and also I knew Aggrey already and our mentor also knew Victoria, and Victoria connected us to Linda and then we also found Prince-Charles and then we came up with this solution.”
Explaining how they came up with the solution to the problem, Christiana said:
“And our solution is to transform the wood waste into substrates for mushrooms. So the substrates are like soil to aid the cultivation of the mushroom. So once we harvest the mushroom and the lifespan of the substrates is up, we then transform the spent substrate into organic fertilizers and by so doing, we will be using these fertilizers to grow ornamental plants and trees. So it’s more of a circular economy. Using everything, which is our raw materials very, very well in such a way that nothing goes waste so whatever that goes around comes around and is always within the system and it does not cause anything bad or distructive to the environment.”
After they came up with solutions to the problem, they needed funding to complete the project. The need for funding resulted in their participation in the 2021 Wege Prize.
“After identifying the problem at Sokoban Wood Village, and proposing solutions to it, we needed funds and also we needed insights as to how to make the solution entrepreneurial enough to make it sustainable. So we had to look for competitions that gave grants and we came across Wege Prize which was also in line with this circular economy idea and then we decided to participate,” Christiana said.
“For Wege Prize, we had to prototype our solution, we had to make sure it was feasible, we had to do a lot of research and surveys at Sokoban Wood Village to prove that our solution and the problem was actually true at Sokoban Wood Village. And we had to run some tests on the sawdust and the compost that we did and we had to make sure that our project was in line with the circular economy as well. So we did lots of paperwork, prototyping and all that,” she added.
Agritrade Hub was awarded a cash prize of $15,000 for winning the competition, which they are going to use to continue their projects.
“So with the funding that we have been able to attain at the moment, we are going to use it to further the project and make sure it is sustained and contributes positively to the society,” Christiana said.
According to Sampson, they are currently procuring some facilities and hope to begin work in July 2021.
Watch their pitch presentation below:
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