Three-wheeled utility vehicles, biogas and soap: new ideas to improve coexistence

An international ideas competition has sought – and found – solutions to improve business between refugees and host communities.

Many refugees are unable to find work that enables them to earn a living. And even if they do find work, it is unlikely to contribute to the economy of the host community. In fact, refugees are often competing with the local population. To find new approaches to these issues, the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH organised an international ideas competition, ‘Call for solutions’. The aim was to develop real solutions for a pilot region in Rwanda.

Start-ups, research institutes, non-governmental organisations and companies from around the world responded to the call with proposals for more than 100 solutions. An international panel of judges evaluated the ideas submitted and picked three winners.

The first winner is the ‘AgRover’, a rugged three-wheeled utility vehicle capable of negotiating rough, muddy terrain and transporting heavy equipment or other payloads to the fields. Refugees and the local population can work together to manufacture and market the AgRover. They can also earn extra income by offering the AgRover as a kind of taxi for agricultural services. All the materials needed to manufacture the vehicle are available locally in southern Africa. The AgRover is already being produced and sold in Guinea, Kenya, Nigeria and Uganda.

The second winner is a solution offering independent biogas production. People have traditionally used wood charcoal for cooking. This consumption of wood results in the trees around refugee camps being cut down. This also causes conflict between camp residents. Simple technological solutions help the local population and camp residents to use organic waste to produce biogas instead. They can then use the biogas as a cooking fuel. This enables both groups to earn additional income and to gain access to an affordable and environmentally sustainable alternative to address their energy needs. Around 250 of these biogas systems have already been sold to local manufacturers in more than 15 countries.

The third winner proposes using some of the local fruit and vegetable harvest to upgrade soap and detergent production. The local population lease land to refugees, who grow cucumbers, tomatoes, lemon grass and onions there. As well as providing food, lemon grass and onions have antiseptic qualities that enrich soaps and detergents. With their addition, the resulting products can be sold for use in both hygiene and skincare.

The three winning solutions are now being developed and will be adapted to local circumstances in an Innovation Lab, a five-day workshop, to be held in Rwanda in January 2019, which will involve refugees and local host communities. The aim of the cooperation is to improve business and social relationships between the two groups. Further information on the winning solutions and all the other submissions can be found online at solutions.giz.de.