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. Continue reading Young entrepreneurs help Guinea’s farmers access postharvest innovation

Drying beads help Bangladesh farmers access better seed

In humid Bangladesh, finding reliable vegetable seed can be a challenge — a situation that can ruin a crop before a farmer’s hard work even begins. But Bangladesh seed companies are rapidly adopting a new technology that can improve seed germination and plant vigor, through improved seed processing and storage. Called “drying beads,” this reusable tool can help seed companies provide farmers with higher quality seed, improving the local seed industry and helping farmers maximize the potential of their own hard work.

Many of the country’s leading vegetable seed companies have adopted drying beads through a multi-part training led by Rhino Research and supported by the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Horticulture, based at the University of California, Davis. Participating organizations include Lal Teer Seed Limited, Metal Seed, Getco, A. R. Malik & Co., Ispahani Agro Limited, Bangladesh Agricultural Development Corporation and others.

“We concluded that these beads are drying our seeds faster and deeper, obtaining a better quality that results in a longer storage potential, and all this with lesser costs,” said Tabith M. Awal of Lal Teer Seed Limited in Bangladesh. “Therefore Lal Teer made the executive decision to move ahead with implementing these beads for all our seeds and crops as soon as possible.”

This year, more than 200 tons of vegetable seed have been dried and stored with drying beads — helping an estimated 100,000 farmers in Bangladesh access quality seed.

The in-depth training, offered for a week at a time and repeated Continue reading Drying beads help Bangladesh farmers access better seed

Ugandan president commends students for irrigation innovations

In Uganda, President Yoweri Museveni attended a graduation ceremony this month at Busitema University, lauding the institution and its students for their work with irrigation innovations.

Students and faculty members at Busitema University are part of a Horticulture Innovation Lab project focused on developing farmer-led irrigation solutions. The project is led by Kate Scow of UC Davis, with additional partners from the Teso Women Development Initiative, the National Semi Arid Resources Research Institute and others.

“I want to encourage you. You’re on the right path, and I will give you all my support,” Museveni can be heard saying in the video from NTV Uganda, below. “A university is the place for innovations and knowledge generation. It is also a place where the future of our youth is forged through education and where our people’s lives are changed through community outreach.”

Among the irrigation prototypes featured at the ceremony (and in the video) was a self-propelled “hydro wheel,” which is designed to pump water from a stream to farmers’ plots. The hydro wheel was designed by Continue reading Ugandan president commends students for irrigation innovations

Sharing postharvest knowledge, from classroom to mango farm

Nick Reitz, UC Davis graduate student who participated in Trellis Fund project in Ghana

Editor’s note: Nick Reitz is a doctoral student in the UC Davis Department of Food Science and Technology, who participated in a Trellis Fund project led by the Methodist University College Ghana. Here Nick shares some details about his trip to Ghana for this project, which focused on food processing for mango farmers. Though Nick did not have previous experience with mangoes, he had a lot of knowledge to share about postharvest practices. Updated Nov. 6: The Horticulture Innovation Lab has extended the deadline for graduate students to apply for 5 new Trellis Fund projects focused on postharvest handling, small-scale processing and food preservation in Africa.

Question: How does your work on this Trellis Fund project fit into your studies and career, as a Food Science grad student?

Nick Reitz: Prior to this project, I knew almost nothing about mangos. However, my background knowledge of postharvest biology and food processing technology mixed with a fair amount of research helped overcome this lack of knowledge. The basic science behind food preservation is the same regardless of what technology is available. If you know the basics, you can find a method and predict what will happen. Adapting my knowledge to the conditions and resources available in Ghana has been one of the most interesting parts of this project so far.

While I enjoy traveling, learning about other cultures, and learning new languages, this is my first time working in international agricultural development. Help from the Continue reading Sharing postharvest knowledge, from classroom to mango farm

Opening a center for horticulture innovations in Guinea

Andra Williams, Horticulture Innovation Lab

Editor’s note: Andra Williams recently completed work in Guinea as a UC Davis staff member with the Horticulture Innovation Lab (see details at the end of this post about our new team member in Guinea). In the wake of Ebola, the Horticulture Innovation Lab was asked to evaluate fruit and vegetable opportunities for West African farmers in Guinea. The resulting “Rapid Assessment of the Horticulture Sector in Guinea” report made several recommendations for ways to provide support to the country’s farmers — and the Horticulture Innovation Lab team was invited to share some of its existing horticultural knowledge by starting a new center in the district of Kindia. Here, Andra shares her experiences and accomplishments from working in Guinea.

Agriculture in Guinea has faced many challenges in recent years, with political instability and health crises, such as the recent Ebola outbreak, limiting agricultural research and farmer training.

In April I was sent to work in Foulayah, Guinea, as a project manager for the Horticulture Innovation Lab, tasked with establishing a farmer service and training center in the Kindia district, at the Centre de Recherche Agricole de Foulayah (CRAF), part of the government’s national agricultural research institute (Institut de Recherche Agronomique de Guinée or IRAG). Our goal was to create a local training center devoted to introducing farmers nearby to horticultural production tools and postharvest technologies by creating training modules for the community, including individual producers, women groups and farming cooperatives.

To get started, I hired four “AVENIR agents” to work with Continue reading Opening a center for horticulture innovations in Guinea