close-up of pineapple pieces partially dried on a mesh screen

Young entrepreneurs help Guinea’s farmers access postharvest innovation

A version of this article originally appeared as part of the Feed the Future newsletter

Golden rings of pineapple have already started to dry around the edges, fragrant as they soak up the sun’s heat beneath a sheen of clear plastic — on the way to becoming dried fruit.

Fatoumata Cissoko knows this routine of drying pineapple slices well. At 29, she runs a small dried fruit business in West Africa and has already spent three years trying out different drying methods on her parents’ farm in Guinea. She is confident of the entrepreneurial opportunities that are found after harvest — when excess fruit can be processed, dried, stored and sold later at favorable market prices — and she is working to expand her knowledge and share it with more farmers.

young woman digging with wheelbarrow
Fatoumata Cissoko works to prepare compost for a demonstration garden at the new horticulture training and services center on the IRAG campus in the Kindia district of Guinea. (Horticulture Innovation Lab photo by Andra Williams/UC Davis)

“The best thing about agriculture is being able to harvest the fruit of your work,” Cissoko said. “Farmers are happy when I bring them new things, like the possibility of drying their fruits and vegetables that they cannot sell. And that is a great satisfaction for me.”

She is part of a small team that has started a new horticultural training and services center as a way to boost rural entrepreneurship and agricultural prosperity. This effort is part of the long recovery from the Ebola outbreak. The burgeoning center is housed on a campus of Guinea’s national agricultural research institute, Institut de Recherche Agronomique de Guinée. For this new center, the research institute is partnering with the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Horticulture, led by researchers at the University of California, Davis.

Cissoko is one of four entrepreneurial youth working to turn the center into a hub for rural innovation, who have been trained to extend rural innovation in Guinea with organizations such as Winrock International and Cultivating New Frontiers in Agriculture (CNFA).

Promoting new tools to rural farming communities

Together with her colleagues, Cissoko is helping to build a center that will reflect the needs of the rural farming community in the Kindia district and surrounding region. Eventually, the center will offer training to farmers and demonstrate how new technologies work.

group looking at chimney solar dryer, with sliced fruit visible through clear plastic
Pineapples and other fruit drying in the chimney solar dryer at the new demonstration center, built with help from Cissoko. Here a group from the U.S. Embassy in Guinea visits, including Mamy Keita (USAID/Guinea), Barbara Dickerson (USAID/Guinea) Andra Williams (Horticulture Innovation Lab), and Aboubacar Camara (director of the research center, with IRAG).

To efficiently dry pineapple slices — as well as other fruits and vegetables — the team has built a chimney solar dryer from wood and plastic tarps, designed by UC Davis researchers. To test whether the food is dry enough to store safely without mold growth, the team is making a new dryness indicator called the DryCard™. The DryCard is a new dryness indicator, the size of a business card, that indicates levels of moisture by changing color. It’s convenient for farmers, who can seal a reusable DryCard and a sample of their dried product in an airtight container to test the humidity within.

The team is also demonstrating other postharvest technologies, as well as technologies for horticultural production, such as drip irrigation and plastic mulch. These are all tools that were identified by Horticulture Innovation Lab researchers as significant ways to help support Guinea’s horticulture sector.

The researchers at the center will identify which tools and agricultural services are marketable in the region, with sensitivity to the needs of French-speaking Africa. By bolstering young entrepreneurs like Cissoko with business training and access to these new innovations, the center is not only advancing rural farmers, but also enabling successful youth entry into agriculture. Supporting the advancement of this new generation is critical during a time when unemployment is growing across Africa, particularly among youth.

“We’re providing necessary tools to help the farming community recover, while also bolstering and enriching young entrepreneurs,” said Erin McGuire, associate director of the Horticulture Innovation Lab, at UC Davis. “As the center grows, we see it helping create the next generation of agriculture leaders.”

The Horticulture Innovation Lab is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development and led by UC Davis, as part of the U.S. government’s global hunger and food security initiative called Feed the Future. Find out more about the new center and the horticulture sector in Guinea on the Horticulture Innovation Lab’s website.

Photo at top: Slices of pineapple dry in a solar chimney dryer. (Horticulture Innovation Lab photo by Brenda Dawson/UC Davis)

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