Industry is not renowned for jumping at the chance to do something philanthropic. It should come as no surprise then that some ingenious British inventions to clear land mines should have met with a cool response from the kind of engineering company with the clout to put the kit into production.
Devices like Nick Kirk’s Minelifta or Professor Stephen Salter’s Dervish, detailed in Clearing the Killing Fields on page 23, deserve careful scrutiny. Firms that approach this kind of equipment with the mindset of suppliers to the armed services will dismiss it as unsuitable. The Minelifta is an attachment to a mechanical digger, while the Dervish looks like a spindly pyramid powered by a Honda scooter engine. The military would never consider using such equipment. They prefer more robust – and bullet-proof – machines like the £250,000 Aardvark in action in Bosnia.
But look at Minelifta or Dervish (which costs £7,000 to build) as something akin to agricultural equipment, and the potential market is more obvious. Before writing off any kind of backing for the development of these devices, UK firms should take a look at the likely demand for these cheap life-saving solutions among the farming cooperatives of formerly war-torn states such as Angola or Cambodia. The profit will not be enormous, but sales could open the way to future business. And the halo effect, as marketing people say, would be enormous.