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12.01.2005 Feature Article

Ghana`s Research and Economic Development -No invention is too little

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Product Management and Development

The invention of a "fufu" pounding machine was on the news in Ghana, towards the end of 2004. Many people still remember a similar invention in the past, possibly some three decades ago. I am also aware of this, but wish to be corrected, that at least a prototype might have been around that long.

It was on show not only in Kumasi but even at one of our trade fairs, the Accra International Trade Fair or INDUTECH Fair. This is why some will ask what has really changed with the current one? Many Ghanaians who will be expected to use the machine had a lot of other concerns, and one of the most striking was that we had better use a microwave oven to prepare fufu.

Before we discuss the issue of this useful invention, we have to put the role of our Tertiary Education once again in perspective. By this I mean, the Universities and Polytechnics. The three Universities of UoG/Legon-Accra, UST now KNUST/Kumasi and Cape Vars/Cape Coast had their varying but complimentary functional component to our national development.

Permit me to just mention what the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), the inventor, meant to Ghana at the time it was established. The KNUST or TECH as some may prefer to call it had an engineering bias from the beginning, before other faculties were added and continue to be added to it.

The knowledge areas of KNUST are Agriculture and Natural Resources, Rural Development, Art and Social Sciences, Engineering and Mining, Health Sciences, Architecture Planning and Land Management Science and Technology.

In short we are told the University was to train engineers and technically able-minded people to graduate in various capacities. That could assist to build and support the technological base for Ghana`s socio-economic development, industrial take-off and sustained industrial growth, in Africa.

Simply put, the duty of KNUST is to train not only Ghanaians, but also invent or guide anyone both on and outside campus from Africa and Internationally. This should include ideally, ideas from sometimes children or kids, so as to support innovation into real inventions.

I hope we are all aware that some children have invented useful things in Europe and America. This is also to debunk some of the misconceptions that, only professors are inventors and as such the only ones who have the "right" to invent.

We have been rightly informed that, it has not been thirty years in the making for the fufu machine. The time that some of us might have heard of or thought. At least the newly patented KEDOAN fufu pounding machine took 14 years to be built. Which ever is the case, Ghanaians should be grateful for it and give it all the necessary support it deserves.

The essential aspect that could delay the needed publicity for an invention is getting the patent for the product. Patent, is an official right to be the only person or company to make or sell a new product. The patent for an invention has a cost component which should be borne by some entity (institution, person or company).

The patent itself has what is the design component and the utility component. Before all these specifications could be satisfied in the acceptable form requires a lot of time and the almighty cost derivative.

Many of us may be wondering why it too so long for the machine to fruition. We can partly, blame it on our chequered political history, which marred all normal way of living, the way we would have expected after independence. Just, the same way our institutions have suffered.

"The equipment can be operated both manually and by electricity. The mechanism has the ability to pound cassava, plantain, yam, cocoyam, and can also handle a mixture of the various foodstuffs to meet individual taste." It can pound 1.5 kg of fufu within 40 seconds.

The other benefits of the KEDOAN are that, with such a device, there is "little or no wastage of fufu," it is appropriate even if the initial foodstuff is cold or not. Needless to say, that "contamination of the food as a result of unhygienic environment, sweat and injuries during the pounding process is also eliminated."

There is no doubt that "such an innovation has the potential to propel Ghana into an industrialised country." Cocoa as a traditional export could have given us the urge to industrialise, but that has not materialised. Why can`t fufu?

Japanese were able to acquire all the benefits that rice could bring them, in terms of culture, socio-economics, as well as influence their development into an industrialised country. Ghana can easily do the same if we want with this invention for one of our staple foods.

Indeed, we must know how to do it. This means we have to develop the capacity to make the machine impact on our lives. There are various advertising and marketing strategies, that I am aware of, which we could adopt and use.

In ancient Japan, rice was a valuable food used only for special occasions and holidays. Japanese, since the Muromachi Period (1392-1573) up till today, pound glutinous rice (a less bulky ingredient) into "mochi" or fufu, as we are used to in Ghana.

This traditional method of pounding "mochi" is also the most popular. With the advent of modernisation and life-style change, they adopted various methods for their "omochi" preparation.

It is important to note that the Japanese do not consider any of the preparation methods superior to the other. To them it is a matter of convenience (time), culture, essence, preference, occasion, spiritual, style, situation, taste and type.

They have "mochi" made by traditional method through pounding (mochitsuki or mochi-zuki). Then they have the machine, microwave and boiling methods too.

Through the different methods they are able prepare all types of "mochi" (or fufu), like the "an mochi," the ozoni Tokyo style, "sekihan" and zenzai. Ordinary sekihan which I wish to differentiate from "Sekihan," is just the rice and beans. This is what we also call "waakye" in Ghana.

Ozoni is the traditional soup served on New Year's Day, with rice cakes (mochi). It is the first food to be savoured after the traditional "sake" (rice wine) toast on New Year's morning.

In view of the above I believe that we all realise that for various reasons some our us will be killing innovation by saying "I, and others like me, will take a microwave oven and fufu powder over a fufu-pounding machine and cooked cassava and plantain."

There are also some Ghanaians who for one reason or the other, do not or can not eat fufu at all. There are others who will insist on a particular mode of preparation. "I'll stick with my powder and microwave oven."

Microwave oven was invented in 1946 by Percy Spencer. A microwave oven bought today has improved tremendously. It is so light and digitally operated. We all know that Ghanaians begun to use microwave to cook their fufu just recently. Probably, only after someone turned plantain and cocoyam into flour or "farina."

I see a potential for the industrial take off, and the marketing of the KEDOAN fufu machine locally. We will be able to export to trans-boundry (border) states in the sub-regional, to Africa, to international and global markets.

Let us also remember that "couscous" is an icon food in North Africa. It is also consumed in the Middle East, and in almost every country in Africa. Most visitors (tourists) to Africa will want to eat something African. So, may lose their appetite if they saw the drudgery involved in our traditional fufu pounding method.

Many non-Africans I have met have heard of and others have eaten "couscous" not fufu. I always have to explain the two are different foods. Couscous is made from wheat or other cereals (barley, sorghum, corn, millet, or minor grains) with the capacity for long-term preservation.

Can our new machine narrow the gap between the "couscous" prepared from flour and fufu prepared from chunks of cut and boiled cocoyam, yam, plantain and cassava? What we have to be good at is, to know how to brand, package and distribute or sell our products.

This is a call again to all compatriots and people in the diaspora, not only businessmen, also "very important for entrepreneurs to take advantage of the technology and assist in producing them in large quantities."

There is another dimension to the marketing of fufu, which could be looked into an noticeable in Japan. There is also "mochi" ice cream and a confectionery "mochi," known as "dango."

Hardened or dry and refrigerated "mochi" cakes (rectangular and square-shaped mochi) are sold in almost every supermarket (grocery type) all year round.

Whereas, Japanese favour the use of mortar and pestle which they call "usu" and "kine" respectively. They have also developed a pounding machine for their "omochi." The "kine" more often than not is not a straight stick like we have, but a heavy wooden mallet.

The "omochi" machine looks like a washing machine but it about the size of a microwave oven without any glass parts, or about a quarter-sized, of a 5.5 kg loading capacity washing machine.

Finally, allow me by popular request and with all courtesies, to include the photo sourced from the KNUST exhibition. I therefore, hope it benefit those who might not have seen it yet.

It is appropriate to mention that the KNUST team today has, after their then UST predecessors, passed the product management and development phases.

They should look more seriously into the remaining three phases of manufacturing, marketing and distribution. These will form the second part of my research. Thank you and have a Blessed Day. Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

James W. Doe
James W. Doe, © 2005

The author has 15 publications published on Modern Ghana. Column Page: JamesWDoe

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author(s) and do not neccessarily reflect those of Modern Ghana. Modern Ghana will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."

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