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[NAIROBI] A solar-powered oven, a cheap, eco-friendly pesticide, and a clean-burning charcoal briquette are among the innovations honoured last month by the 2005 World Bank Development Marketplace Awards.

The awards, announced on 24 May, carry funding of up to US$150,000 to support the continuation of innovative projects that reduce poverty and create sustainable livelihoods.

Among the winners were scientists in India who devised a cheap and effective method of killing a caterpillar called Helicoverpa armigera, which attacks nearly 200 types of crops, including pigeonpea and cotton, in the semi-arid tropics.

The researchers at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) — in partnership with the Hyderabad-based Center for World Solidarity — developed their 'biological pesticide' by feeding H. armigera caterpillars leaves infected with the nuclear polyhedrosis virus (NPV).

The virus multiplies within the caterpillars, eventually killing them.

The scientists then collected the virus in larger quantities from the caterpillars' dead bodies.

When this biopesticide is sprayed on crops, it kills H. armigera, reducing infestation by up to 85 per cent without harming other species.

ICRISAT will use its US$150,000 award to set up 100 community-based rural NPV production facilities.

William Dar, ICRISAT's director-general, says the award recognises the institute's pursuit of science with a humanitarian goal. "While we pursue scientific excellence, we ensure that it results in the improved well-being of poor and marginal farmers of semi-arid tropics."

"ICRISAT's aim is to provide the poor farmers of the semi-arid tropics with a broad package of practices to increase agricultural productivity and income," Dar told SciDev.Net. "The NPV production technology is an important option for farmers to sustainably deal with [H. armigera] attack."

According to project leader G. V. Ranga Rao, Indian farmers' traditionally shake plants vigorously to dislodge larvae. These are now collected and used to produce NPV.

A Kenyan project that aims to reduce energy costs and waste by buying discarded charcoal dust and transforming it into low-cost, clean-burning briquettes also won a World Bank award.

A company called Chardust Limited teamed up with a non-governmental organisation that runs a garbage collection programme to encourage inhabitants of Kibera, Nairobi, to act as 'carbon collectors'. As well as offering residents an income, the project's cleaner burning briquettes are 40 per cent less costly than charcoal.

The project produces more than 2,500 tonnes of briquettes annually, with customer demand growing at more than 25 per cent a year.

With further development the project aims to reduce widespread logging for firewood and charcoal production, which has hampered forest conservation efforts.

Meanwhile in Costa Rica, the National University won US$133,000 for a solar-powered oven that can produce temperatures of 180–200 degrees Celsius needed to sterilise biological waste in hospitals.

The oven protects both environmental and human health because, unlike fuel-based ovens, it does not produce toxins. It is also cheap to maintain and durable — lasting approximately 30 years.

The oven can be used on-site, enabling hospitals to make waste biologically inert for safe disposal. This also eliminates risks of transporting waste.

More than 2,600 applicants from 136 countries applied for the awards.

Click here to read more about the 2005 World Bank Development Marketplace awards.