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

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