Wege Prize competition receives grant funding; Kendall College announces 2021 winners

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AgriTrade Hub won first place at the 2021 Wege Prize competition. The team tackled the issue of wood and sawdust waste created by the Ghanaian logging industry. Courtesy KCAD

Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University’s international Wege Prize competition was awarded grant funding to extend the annual competition for five more years through 2025.

The grant will allow KCAD to execute a growth plan to increase the prize purse by over 100% to $65,000 to double its pool of judges and to begin exploring future extensions of Wege Prize to serve more students and communities.

The Wege Prize competition gives students at colleges and universities across the world the opportunity to develop solutions to global challenges, benefit from a collaborative process that transcends disciplinary, cultural and institutional boundaries.

Since the competition began in 2013, participants have addressed the challenges of climate and environmental impacts, social and economic disparities, and cycles of waste, hunger and poverty. Many of those students have taken their solutions and joined incubators and earned startup funding.

Gayle DeBruyn Courtesy KCAD

“Wege Prize teams are inspired to reframe the way we produce and consume by collaboratively developing products, services, business models and other solutions that address systematic issues,” said Gayle DeBruyn, KCAD professor and Wege Prize organizer. “The participating teams also help chart paths to transition from our current linear economy — in which we take, make and dispose — to a circular economy that’s regenerative and restorative by design. We need to champion more of these creative, daring problem-solvers.”

Thirty-five teams competed in the 2021 Wege Prize Award competition, which was held online this year. The teams represented 29 countries, 88 academic institutions and 114 academic disciplines.

The winner of the competition was team AgriTrade Hub, which was made up of students from Costa Rica’s EARTH University with three universities in Ghana. They tackled the issue of wood and sawdust waste created by the Ghanaian logging industry. The team developed a solution to turn those waste materials into agricultural and economic value. Among the nutrient-giving byproducts of the proposed solution is a mushroom compost ideal for fertilizing newly planted forests and ornamental trees.

“Our solution is geared toward supporting the local economy and contributing to food security and nutrition through the production of nutrient-rich oyster mushrooms,” said AgriTrade Hub team member Victoria Akwamaa Yeaboah, a student in agricultural science and natural resource management at EARTH University. “With our focus on ensuring that nearly all the resources are used up, we’re contributing to a circular economy that helps redefine the universal issue of wood waste.”

The winners of Wege Prize 2021 are:

First Place ($15,000) – AgriTrade Hub

Institutions represented: Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, University of Energy and Natural Resources, University of Ghana and EARTH University in Costa Rica

Disciplines represented: Biological science, agricultural science, natural resource management, geological engineering and political science

Solution: Addressing the wicked problem of increased logging in Ghana creating wood waste and sawdust — about 97,000 metric tons annually — and the mismanagement of waste disposal, the team’s solution proposes transforming wood waste into nutrient-based substrates for mushroom production, leading to mushroom compost for use in fertilizing and growing forest and ornamental trees, thereby eliminating all forms of wood waste and mitigating environmental impacts.

Second Place ($10,000) – Sutote

Institutions represented: EARTH University in Costa Rica, Nkhoma University in Malawi, Hubert Kairuki Memorial University and the Water Institute in Tanzania

Disciplines represented: Medicine, business management, agricultural science, natural resource management, water resources and irrigation engineering

Solution: Synthetic pesticides are a wicked problem the world over, extremely harmful to health and the environment. In Tanzania, pesticide residues have been detected in the samples of irrigation water, and this team is devising a closed-circle production system for tomatoes using organic pesticides from the Mexican sunflower (Tithonia diversifolia).

Third Place ($5,000) – The Chilensis

Institutions represented: Pontifical Catholic University of Chile and University of Santiago de Chile

Disciplines represented: Integral design, physical engineering, chemical engineering, business administration

Solution: With overcrowding already a wicked problem in Santiago, Chile, the pandemic in 2020 has only aggravated the impact. The Chilensis is developing sound isolators using discarded palm leaves waste to improve the quality of life by providing privacy. Old palm leaves are treated as waste, but they have significant sound isolation properties and help address the challenge while creating a circular economic opportunity.

Two other finalist teams — Team Musana and Banga Na—were each honored with a $1,000 finalist award.

Team Musana, comprising students all from Uganda, addressed head-on the issue of using wood to fuel stoves for cooking, which contributes to more than 80% of biomass fuel use and widespread deforestation in Uganda.

This team helps solve this problem by creating a stove using solar power and water to fuel cooking, eliminating the need for wood fuel and helping reduce deforestation in Uganda. In addition, their solution includes a model to buy or repair used stoves to reuse raw materials.

Banga Na, with students from Ghana and Tanzania, tackles the high-waste problem of cashew apples causing bugs, environmental and economic problems for local farmers in Ghana.

For this problem, the team’s solution of adding value to cashew apples by converting the fruit to wine, juice and organic fertilizer, generating income and employment from waste and improving food security and economic growth in the country.

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