How new apricot research can help farmers and reduce poverty in Tajikistan

Apricots offer farmers in southern Tajikistan a profitable opportunity — particularly when dried for export to foreign markets.

In a region where 10 percent of the population lives on less than $1.25 per day, an international team led by U.S. scientists is digging into a new research project to help, advancing the science behind growing, drying, and selling these golden fruits.

Long history, new opportunities for apricot farmers in Tajikistan

Apricots have a long history in Tajikistan, as part of a region that is rich in apricot biodiversity (and potentially where the fruit originated). While apricots are grown widely across the country, farmers in northern Tajikistan in particular have well established commercial production and drying operations. More than 80 percent of Tajikistan’s dried apricots are exported to Russia, the world’s largest importer of dried fruit.

In 2015 a frost in northern Tajikistan presented southern farmers with a new opportunity. The frost prompted processors to look farther afield for apricots — including to farmers in the country’s southwestern Khatlon province, where Continue reading How new apricot research can help farmers and reduce poverty in Tajikistan

Should I use pest-exclusion nets? 7 tips from Sun Tzu’s Art of War

Editor’s note: This blog post by Poonpipope “Poon” Kasemsap was originally a presentation given at the Horticulture Innovation Lab’s 2017 annual meeting

Kasemsap an associate professor at Kasetsart University in Thailand and also the director of the Horticulture Innovation Lab Regional Center at KU. The center brings together key regional players to circulate technical assistance and innovative technologies in support of smallholder farmers and small business in Thailand, Cambodia, Bangladesh and Nepal. 

Poon Kasemsap
Poon Kasemsap, of Kasetsart University in Thailand

Pest-exclusion nets are one of the technologies for horticulture development promoted by the Horticulture Innovation Lab. The nets can be easy to use and can also serve as floating row covers to control temperature, light, relative humidity and soil moisture for plant production. Some of the pest-exclusion nets used by Horticulture Innovation Lab researchers are made and marketed locally by mosquito net manufacturers.

But why should you consider using nets for pest management? Here are 7 considerations in adopting nets for agricultural use, inspired by Sun Tzu’s The Art of War:

  1. The greatest victory is that which requires no battle:
    The nets create a barrier that protects vegetables against pests and associated diseases, and thus provide an inexpensive and safe method of managing insect pests while reducing risks associated with pesticides to both farmers and consumers. The pest-exclusion nets provide an excellent example of victory (against certain insects) which requires no battle (insecticide).  Continue reading Should I use pest-exclusion nets? 7 tips from Sun Tzu’s Art of War

5 ways relationships promote innovation – and can improve food safety

Editor’s note: This blog post by Karen LeGrand was originally a presentation given at the Horticulture Innovation Lab’s 2017 annual meeting.

LeGrand is a UC Davis researcher who helps manage a Horticulture Innovation Lab project focused on building safe vegetable value chains in Cambodia along with an international team from the Royal University of Agriculture, the University of Battambang and iDE Cambodia. Their team builds on lessons learned from a previous project in Cambodia.

Karen LeGrand, UC Davis
Karen LeGrand, UC Davis researcher working on a Horticulture Innovation Lab project in Cambodia

What do relationships have to do with innovation and food safety? Our project is built on the idea that when we focus our work around the shared interests of a community, it can bring people together in participatory ways that result in innovation and sustainable change.

One example from the first phase of our project was a situation where a marketer wanted to purchase vegetables that were considered “safe” (free of microbiological and chemical hazards). Farmers participated with our research team to conduct trials aimed at identifying appropriate ways to change farming and postharvest practices Continue reading 5 ways relationships promote innovation – and can improve food safety

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