Mobah Rural Horizons (July 6) (2)

Mobah Rural Horizons
On the real condition of the majority of northern Nigeria’s rural poor:
I saw the agony and helplessness of the people who produce what was not enough to
sustain them yet, lose them as they spoil. I discovered that their major problem was their
inability to store the crops (particularly the perishable ones) they have produced which
made them to sell at give away prices to avoid their spoiling. I saw girls who ought to be in
school hawk food and perishable farm products around communities. At times, when they
have nobody to buy them, they spoil and still have to live with the odour and the health
effects. After much agonizing, I thought of and found a way out to help these people. My
vision of what I could do is the mission of Mobah Rural Horizons.”
–Mohammed Bah Abba, Founder and CEO of Mobah Rural Horizons.
(Oluwasolo, 2011)
As suggested in the opening , Mobah Rural Horizons emerged as a
response to painful social and economic conditions which hampered
rural development in northern Nigeria at the beginning of the new
millenium. For instance:
– 81% of rural households did not have access to electricity and, by
extension, modern refrigeration. (Oluwasolo, 2011)
– The few roads that could link farmers to urban markets were reported to
be in deplorable conditions. (Ibid)
– Farmers were eager to sell their products at a cheap price because their
food would easily spoil. This meant they earned reduced earnings. (Ibid)
– According to research by the International Food Policy Research
Institute, over half (54%) of rural households continued to live in poverty
(ie, they could not afford a basic basket of goods) in 2004. When looking
at Northern Nigeria, in particular, this number jumped to over 60%
(Omonona, 2010).
Established in 2001, Mobah Rural Horizons is a for-profit
[organization] which relies on local resources to develop and
distribute valuable technology for rural development.
Mallam (Scholar) Mohammed Bah Abba.
– He was born in 1964 and raised into a family
of pot makers in Northern Nigeria.
– He studied biology, chemistry, and geology,
before becoming a lecturer in business
studies at Jigawa State Polytechnic in Dutse,
Nigeria in 1990. He then became a regional
consultant for the UNDP in Northern
Nigeria, responsible for evaluating and
monitoring microcredit to rural workers.
– His work with the northern, rural population
gave him first-hand exposure to the
economic and social hardship and decline
that grew out of rural poverty. It led him to
ask “How can I help?” and to identify food
spoilage as a key contributor to poverty.
– From 1995-1997, he began testing an idea to
use evaporative cooling and his
grandmother’s earthenware pottery to
refrigerate foods in the desert climate.
– His tests revealed that fruits and vegetables such as eggplants were preserved for up to 10
times longer. This was the first evidence of success of his highly regarded invention, the
zeer, also known as the pot-in-pot refrigerator or desert cooler.
(Rolex Awards, 2005; Worldaware, n.d.; Ashoka, 2008)
Mohammed Bah Abba paid out-of-pocket for much of the early marketing,
production and distribution of the zeers with some additional support from the
UNDP, the regional government, a local women’s development group, and his
brother. He distributed 5,000 zeers for free during his first distribution campaign
and later supplied another dozen local villages with 7,000 zeers, again at his
expense. (Rolex Awards, 2005).
With successful trial runs and marketing, he established Mobah Rural Horizons the
next year in Kano, Nigeria.
How the Zeer Works
As the moisture
separating the pots
evaporates, the
temperature drops in
accordance with the
physical process
known as evaporative
Images taken from:
mergencyPreparedness/EmergencySupplies/Zeer_Pot.pdf. See
Final Slide (Technical
Information Links).
(For more details on the
physical process, see
links on technical
information section of
Since the beginning, Mobah Rural Horizons has been about mobilizing local
ressources and local energy.
– By revitalizing the use of traditional earthenware pottery which had been
brought to near extinction by the widespread use of aluminum
containers and other contemporary products.
– By employing skilled pot makers and local labour to produce the pots.
– By spreading technology to rural women (see next slide).
– By using local entertainers during the initial marketing campaign: Abba
devised an educational campaign tailored to village life and the illiterate
population, featuring a video-recorded play by local actors who
dramatise the benefits of the desert refrigerator. Abba began showing the
video in villages using a makeshift cloth screen and a portable projector
and generator. "Nightfall is best," he comments, "because this is when
farmers head home and are keen to watch an entertaining presentation."
(Rolex Awards, 2005)
The success of these activities affirm Abba’s conviction that the ressources in
Northern Nigeria could be mobilized to help generate and spread rural
Despite elements of hardline patriarchy
in northern Nigeria, Abba has also
worked to expand the technology and
practice to women in northern Nigeria.
From Worldaware: “One of
his aims is to improve the
situation of married women
who, traditionally, cannot
leave their village. He runs
education centres for them
and has found that his
desert coolers help them
earn the money to buy soap
and other things they need.”
(Worldaware, n.d.)
Mobah Rural Horizons is responsible for
several impressive achievements.
By spring 2005, over 90,000 zeers were sold.
Mobah Rural Horizons now sells around
30,000 coolers a year to farmers and others
who seek to preserve food cheaply (Rolex
Awards, 2005; Ayllu & CSTS, n.d.).
Awards for the invention of the zeer and the
work of Mobah Rural Horizons include:
– 2000: Rolex Awards
– 2006: Tech Museum of Innovation
– 2007: Santa Clara Global Social Benefit
– Inclusion in TIME’s best inventions of
2001 list.
(Ayllu & CSTS, n.d.; TIME, 2001)
Food Preservation
The freshness of most
produce is extended by 5
to 10 times thanks to the
Tomatoes: 2 days – 20
Guavas: 2 days – 20
4 days – 17
Carrots: 4 days – 20
(Node Africa, 2010)
Negative health effects due
to the prevalence of
rotting or moderately
spoiled food has also been
Spread of the Technology
Darfuri women training to
produce Zeers (Practical
Action, n.d.) The
technology has expanded
into Sudan with the
support of Practical
Action and local groups.
It has also reached
Cameroon, Chad, Niger,
Ethiopia, and Eritrea
(Tech Museum, 2011).
Earnings and Local Economy
Because vegetables are preserved for longer farmers no longer have to rush as before and can
sell to demand. In the case of Darfur, they can make an additional 25-30% income (Node
Africa, 2010). Money is also saved in that unsold food can be consumed as opposed to thrown
away. Mobah has also provided employment and new local industry for potmakers.
Abba notes that because girls no longer have to hawk
perishable foods “they are now free to attend school and the
number of girls enrolling in village primary schools is rising”
(Rolex Awards, 2005 and Oluwasolo, 2011).
Taken together, the improvements depicted can be seen
as an outgrowth of Abba’s belief that our purpose is to
make good use of the tools given to us by improving the
lives of others:
“I felt we all have obligations to mankind at large
which are not in consequence to any special
voluntary pact, but rather they arise from the
relationships of man-to-man and man-to-God.”
- Mohammed Bah Abba (Social Edge, 2007).
For those farmers who rely on their crops for subsistence
and income, and who have no other means of
refrigeration, the power and value of the invention is
apparent. More generally the case demonstrates that local
ingenuity and social entrepreneurship, even with minimal
recognition or funding in the formative period, can help
alleviate poverty even in difficult, stateless environments.
“For a country like Nigeria which has over 140
million people, government can not be the sole
provider of everything. So people have to act and
act very fast and think of other ways and means
through which people can survive. Traditional
initiatives, cultural initiatives will help as well, of
which the pot-in-pot is one and helping.”
- Mohammed Bah Abba (Rolex Awards, 2005a).
Ashoka: Innovators for the Public. (2008). Mohammed Bah Abba. Last Retrieved July 6,
2012 from
Ayllu Initiative and Centre for Science, Technology, and Society at Santa Clara University
(Ayllu & CSTS). (n.d.). Mobah Rural Horizons: A Power-Free Rural Pot-in-pot Refrigeration
System. Last Retrieve July 6, 2012 from Rolex Awards. (2005). Mohammed Bah Abba. Rolex Awards for Enterprise.
Last Retrieved July 6, 2012 from
Development of a low-cost cooler to preserve perishable foods in countries with arid climates (n.d.) Food
Chain Magazine. Retrieved July 6, 2012 from
Node Africa. (2010). Mohammed Bah Abba Brings Fresh Change with the Zeer Pot (Nigeria). Last
Retrieved July 6, 2012 from
Omonona, B. (2010). Quantitative Analysis of Rural Poverty in Nigeria. International Food and
Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). Last Retrieved July 6, 2012 from
Oluwasolo, O. (2011). Pot-in-pot Enterprise: Fridge for the Poor. United Nations Development
Programme. Last Retrieved July 6, 2012 from
Practical Action. (n.d.) The Clay Refrigerator. Last retrieved July 6, 2012 from
References (cont…)
Rolex Awards. (2005a). Mohammed Bah Abba – Overview [Video file]. Last
Retrieved July 6, 2012 from
rview .
Social Edge. (2007, December 19). Mohammed Abba – Nigeria [Video File].
Last Retrieved July 6, 2012 from .
Tech Museum. (2011, August 18). Mohammed Bah Abba [Video File]. Last
Retrieved July 6, 2012 from Youtube video
TIME. (2001). Best Inventions of 2001. Last Retrieved on July 6, 2012 from,28804,1936165_193
Worldaware. (n.d.) The Shell Award for Sustainable Development – The Winner: Mobah
Rural Horizons. Last Retrieved July 6, 2012 from
Links: Technical Information

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