Inventing a low-cost solution to reduce moldy foods

‘DryCard’ takes the guesswork out of drying

DryCard with color strip with color scale and directions for use. Horticulture Innovation Lab product marked with USAID and UC Davis logos
The DryCard indicates whether dried foods are dry enough to store safely.

Update: Days after this article was posted, the DryCard was recognized as a top emerging technology, winning the grand prize at the All Africa Postharvest Technologies and Innovation Challenge, March 31 in Nairobi. 

How do you see dryness? Solar drying is a simple way for smallholder farmers to preserve their harvest, but knowing when food is dry enough to store is complex. UC Davis researchers invented a low-cost, easy-to-use tool that farmers can use to measure food dryness, called the DryCardTM.

In developing countries, mold growth on dried foods is a pervasive problem, which can mean postharvest losses for farmers and unsafe foods for consumers. When mold grows it reduces the market value of dried foods, meaning less income for farmers. But moldy foods can also contain toxins that suppress the immune system, increase disease rates, and cause lifelong stunting in children.

Trip to market inspires a solution

Man with smartphone in crowded market, with woman selling fresh produce and bags of dried goods in Tanzania
Michael Reid takes a photo on the market visit in Tanzania with participants in a postharvest training course, which motivated the eventual design of the DryCard. (Horticulture Innovation Lab photo by Angelos Deltsidis/UC Davis)

Improving the postharvest drying process for smallholder farmers is something UC Davis scientists Michael Reid and James Thompson think about often. As UC Cooperative Extension specialists, Reid and Thompson have a history of working together in California and around the world on postharvest technologies, including a design for a more efficient solar dryer.

Last summer Reid led a Horticulture Innovation Lab workshop in Tanzania to provide training in postharvest handling of fruit and vegetable crops. The class visited the local market and tested the moisture content of some of the dried foods for sale. They found huge variation between the moisture contents of dried foods — over half were insufficiently dried and susceptible to mold.

It was then Reid realized the magnitude of the issue. Continue reading Inventing a low-cost solution to reduce moldy foods

New call for Trellis Fund grant proposals

The Horticulture Innovation Lab invites organizations in developing countries to compete for new Trellis Fund grants up to $4,000 each for 6-month projects, to extend horticultural information to local farmers and stakeholders along fruit or vegetable value chains.

Project proposals may address horticultural crop production, irrigation, plant nutrition, pest management, postharvest practices or marketing issues in relation to fruits and vegetables. Once projects are selected, the Trellis Fund will connect organizations with U.S. graduate students who have related agricultural expertise for project support.

Both new organizations and previously awarded organizations are encouraged to apply. Organizations based in these countries are eligible to apply:

  • In Africa: Ethiopia, Ghana, Liberia, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, Senegal, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia
  • In Latin America and the Caribbean: Guatemala, Haiti and Honduras
  • In Asia: Bangladesh, Cambodia, Nepal, and Tajikistan

Continue reading New call for Trellis Fund grant proposals