Student challenges 2023-2024 – LDE Minor Frugal Innovation for Sustainable Global Development

kick off Annually, the LDE International Centre for Frugal Innovation organises an exclusive educational initiative tailored for third-year bachelor students hailing from Leiden-Delft-Erasmus Universities. This distinctive minor includes a theoretical part and a 12-week internship (in the Netherlands or abroad), during which student teams leverage their multidisciplinary academic backgrounds to address challenges pertaining to crucial issues like climate change, food accessibility, clean water provision, health support, and waste management. Internship providers are mostly located in the Global South and consist of non-profits (Dutch and local), non-governmental organisations and academic research centres.

This year, students had the opportunity to choose from a diverse array of 18 distinct projects. In December 2023, for the sixth consecutive year, a group of 31 enthusiastic students, divided in groups of 2 – 4 students, embarked on internships in Kenya, Rwanda, Saba, India, Nepal, Ghana, and South Africa. We highlighted three of them: 

NEPAL / the Mountain Living Lab

Figure 1 The Mountain Living Lab in the region Godavari, Nepal
The Mountain Living Lab in the region Godavari

Availability and access to water in mountain areas in Nepal, vital for rainfed and irrigated farming, face challenges due to climate and other changes. Common irrigation methods involve tapping surface water and harvesting rainwater in centuries-old catchments and dams. Various technologies, such as solar-powered irrigation, hydro-powered systems like the Barsha pump, and the hydraulic ramp pump, address water scarcity. The hydraulic ram pump, demonstrated in the Living Mountain Lab, is a popular technology that lifts water using the kinetic energy of flowing water, offering potential benefits for upland communities. However, improvements could be made on the production costs, efficiency, and simplification of manufacturing for easier maintenance and repair. Apart from access to water, isolated and peri-urban areas face difficulties in accessing fresh and safe food. Efforts in sustainable livestock, agriculture, and fisheries aim to ensure food security and improve livelihoods. Aquaponics, an innovative system combining plant, fish, and bacteria growth, ensures water efficiency and intensive production without chemical inputs. However, challenges with current models include high costs, sophisticated operation skills, constant monitoring, and the need for reliable backup systems and electrical support for uninterrupted operation.

The student team was challenged to explore frugal options for water circulation, designing and improving the hydraulic ramp pump and monitoring aquaponic systems, to cut costs, improve efficiency and simplify manufacturing processes.

Stakeholder: ICIMOD’s (International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development) Living Mountain Lab. The Living Mountain Lab has been designed and structured to help ICIMOD promote the development of an economically and environmentally sound mountain ecosystem, and to improve the living standards of mountain populations in the Hindu Kush Himalaya.

INDIA-ROORKEE / India Institute of Technology

Figure 2 The Roorkee student team with supervisor Dr Bibhuti Ranjan Bhattacharjya (Assistant Prof IIT)
The Roorkee student team with supervisor Dr Bibhuti Ranjan Bhattacharjya (Assistant Prof IIT)

The sugarcane farmers of India use traditional, age-old tools and devices. Those tools’ productivity and efficiency are low and health issues like finger cut, back pain, musculoskeletal disorder, etc. are frequently reported. The majority of the farmers in the Roorkee region, and in India in general, are financially poor. Another major constraint is the poor infrastructure (e.g. inadequate supply of electricity). Within this resource constrained environment, the student team faced the task of desiging and developing frugal solutions collaborately with sugar cane farmers to tackle issues related to the adoption and utilisation of technology. Through interviews with local farmers - to understand their challenges and needs - the team uncovered a prevalent issue: farmers were predominantly grappling with the existing method of weeding, which caused severe back problems. For a real-time glimpse into their internship experience, check out the Instagram student page.

Stakeholder: Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Roorkee is a technical institute in Roorkee, Uttarakhand, India. The institute is considered one of India's top-ranked technical institutes, with a QS ranking 364. Since its inception in 1847, the institute has been playing a vital role in the technological and societal development of the country.

KENYA-KISUMU/ Safe Water and Aids Project SWAP

Image 3 SWAP Team
The Student Team in the field, promoting clean drinking water from the Sola Maji at the Ahero site.

The Safe Water and AIDS Project (SWAP) is a Kenya registered NGO operating in Western Kenya since 2005 with programs, research and emergency response. SWAP’s mission is to provide innovative solutions for improved health and economic status of communities. SWAP started in 2005 with a distribution model of health products which were sold door to door by trained community health volunteers and people infected or affected by HIV to generate income and improve health. Through this intervention they became useful members of society and self-reliant. Social marketing of health products is further done to stakeholders and partners, especially supporting flood and COVID-19 response. In 2007 SWAP established a research department with a water laboratory.

SWAP hosted three students from Leiden and Delft for a field assignment that addressed challenges in the distribution model of health products and the provision of safe water through Solar Powered Water Disinfection Units (SPWDUs) in rural communities in Kenya. In this challenge the students had to apply their frugal innovation knowledge in a severe resource-constrained environment, exploring sustainable and cost-effective delivery models without compromising affordability and access for poorer customers. 

Update: video's of this year's internships have been released