Gabin Koto N’Gobi’s research focuses on water. But it was the lack of water in the semi-arid northern region of his home country, Benin, which really motivated him. As part of his doctoral studies at the Université d’Abomey-Calavi, Koto N’Gobi designed a prototype for collecting dew – a design so innovative in the region that it won him a $15,000 Adaptation H2O graduate research award from IDRC’s Climate Change and Water program.
Koto N’Gobi admits, “At first I wasn’t that interested, and then I saw that this issue meshed so well with my background in atmospheric physics and could be very applicable for West Africa where people are so vulnerable to drought. I fell in love with the issue.”
Increased drought, increased vulnerability
Rainfall varies considerably between seasons in northern Benin, threatening agricultural productivity – the foundation of the country’s economy and local livelihoods. Consistent with climate change predictions, droughts have become a common occurrence and affect communities across the West African Sahel. Since the 1960-1970 droughts, rainfall in Benin has decreased at an average rate of 3.9mm per month or 3.5% per decade. Reduced rainfall has lowered ground water levels by 15% to 20%, and dried up lakes and main rivers such as the Niger and Oueme.
One drop at a time
Koto N’Gobi sought to address this challenge by harvesting dew. Dew forms when relative humidity – the amount of water vapour in the air – is high, and the air meets with a cooling surface, causing the vapour to condense. Dew can often be seen in the early morning or later evening on grass, leaves or other exposed surfaces.
While artificial dew collection methods already exist, Koto N’Gobi developed a prototype unique to his study region. His model consists mainly of a condenser, which functions as a giant funnel to collect moisture from the atmosphere. The condenser can be built with local materials, making it an accessible technology for communities and farmers. Because dew is abundantly available, the condenser can provide water even during the dry season.
Meeting local water needs
Koto N’Gobi conducted his research in the water-stressed village of Guene where the closest water source, the Niger River, is 30km away. The region only has one rainy season lasting 3 to 4 months. Any interruption to the rains can mean the loss of an entire year’s crop.
When asked how people cope when the rain stops short, Gabin Koto N’Gobi is blunt: “How do they deal? If it’s lost, it’s lost. Those that can will go to regions where the harvests are more productive and they will buy food, and others will just have to cope. It’s very hard.” The good news is that the condenser harvests up to 4L of water per night – enough to meet a farmer’s water needs during a dry spell between rains. The prototype is supplemented by a rooftop rainwater catchment and storage system, which collects extra rainwater. The invention has implications beyond its intended use for agriculture. “In this area, some have no access to water, “ notes Koto N’Gobi. “For example, at the Guene primary school, there is no water point for the students. Life is difficult.” But now thanks to the prototype, the local elementary school has a new source of drinking water. A condenser equipped with a filter has been installed to supply potable water. Students participated in the construction, installation, and operation of the condenser. Koto N’Gobi hopes this experience will offer them a deeper understanding of how climate change affects their region, since they are its future caretakers.
Thirsty for more
One day, Gabin Koto N’Gobi hopes to own land. He would build a condenser production plant and continue providing renewable water for local use. In fact, he’s already thinking of ways to improve his design. “My prototype is just on a small scale […] But the size and number of condensers could be multiplied and this could help to supply some of the water that people are lacking…I want the success to be bigger.” Source: article by Pomme Arros, IDRC