UC Davis ‘DryCard’ invention wins competition to reduce food loss in Africa

A new invention from UC Davis researchers won a competition as the top emerging technology to reduce food loss and waste across the African continent.

The low-cost tool, called the DryCardTM, shows farmers whether their dried food products are dry enough to store safely, reducing food losses and risks of mold and associated toxins.

The DryCard beat out more than 200 entries to win the grand prize in the “All Africa Postharvest Technologies and Innovation Challenge.” Top technologies and innovations were invited to pitch to an audience of about 600 participants, including private investors and international organizations, at the first All-Africa Postharvest Congress and Exhibition, March 31 in Nairobi, Kenya.

group holding DryCards with prize check
From left, Bertha Mjawa and Elizabeth Mitcham wave DryCards in victory as they accept the grand prize from organizers during the All-Africa Postharvest Technologies and Innovations Challenge. (Horticulture Innovation Lab photo by Erin McGuire/UC Davis)

Elizabeth Mitcham, director of the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Horticulture and a UC Cooperative Extension specialist in postharvest biology for the UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences, represented the DryCard during the competition.

“I have never seen such strong interest in a technology like this,” Continue reading UC Davis ‘DryCard’ invention wins competition to reduce food loss in Africa

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

Event: First All-Africa Postharvest Congress

“Reducing food losses and waste: Sustainable solutions for Africa” is the theme of the first All Africa Post Harvest Congress and Exhibition. The conference will be March 28-31 in Nairobi, Kenya.

The event will address aspects of postharvest management related to perishable crops, perishable animal products, non-perishable food commodities, capacity development, and related social issues that affect postharvest management.

Registration to attend the conference is $400, or $350 at early-bird rates before Feb. 28. A student rate is also available ($150 or $100 early). An optional excursion trip scheduled for March 28 is available for an additional $50.

Event logo and name with "Reducing food losses and waste" Sustainable solutions for Africa"
The 1st All Africa Post Harvest Congress will be March 28-31 in Nairobi.

The event is supported by a consortium of universities, research and development organizations — including the Horticulture Innovation Lab as one of its sponsors. In particular, the congress was organized by the Kenya Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, in conjunction with the World Food Preservation Center, hosted by the University of Nairobi, with strategic partnership from the Rockefeller Foundation. Continue reading Event: First All-Africa Postharvest Congress

TakePart photo essay explores climate resilience with farmers in Guatemala

Photojournalist Martin do Nascimento recently traveled to Guatemala’s Western Highlands to explore the Horticulture Innovation Lab’s new project helping farmers use climate-smart agricultural practices for growing vegetables.

His photo essay was published in the digital magazine TakePart, called “See the Simple Way These Farmers Are Outsmarting Climate Change.”

The essay shows us this story in beautiful, sweeping photos. Here is how Nascimento introduces his story:

“For many, the term ‘climate change’ brings to mind the image of a polar bear on a shrinking sheet of ice somewhere far off in the Arctic.

“Consider another image: A tired farmer looks out fearfully over a craggy field and wonders how he’ll grow the crops to keep his family fed.

“Pedro Esteban is that farmer, and to him, climate change is no abstraction. Continue reading TakePart photo essay explores climate resilience with farmers in Guatemala

Highlighting horticultural success in 2016

The Horticulture Innovation Lab’s newest annual report is fresh off the presses, documenting the program’s accomplishments from October 2015 – October 2016 (FY 2016) as part of the U.S. government’s Feed the Future initiative.

publication cover with Feed the Future logo for Horticulture Innovation Lab's annual report FY 2016
Read more about the Horticulture Innovation Lab in its 2015-2016 Annual Report (PDF).

Together with our research partners at universities, government agencies and NGOs, we took important steps this year in improving livelihoods of farmers and their communities through horticulture.

We welcome you to read about the knowledge and impact the Horticulture Innovation Lab generated this year on behalf of small-scale farmers in horticulture. Highlights include:  Continue reading Highlighting horticultural success in 2016