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.
Thriving vegetable plants, new experiments in progress, visitors exploring agricultural tools, and an upcoming gardening contest have been keeping the team behind the Horticulture Innovation Lab Demonstration Center busy recently.
While in Cambodia for the Horticulture Innovation Lab’s 2016 annual meeting, I arrived a few days early to visit a project that I have been advising remotely regarding postharvest practices. The project, led by Manny Reyes of North Carolina A&T State University, is working with women vegetable farmers who have been successfully practicing conservation agriculture in the Siem Reap region.
As a postharvest specialist, I was most interested in how the farmers are using some of the low-cost technologies that the Horticulture Innovation Lab is promoting around the world. Specifically, the project has built a cool room equipped with a CoolBot, as well as a grading table and a washing station in collaboration with Kasetsart University of Thailand and the World Vegetable Center (AVRDC). They are also working on a “tuktukbot,” which is a motorbike and trailer equipped with a cooled compartment to transport the produce for sale, maintaining the quality of the fresh produce during hot days.
During my visit I had the chance to meet the local project technicians Ren Ry and Sel Rechaney as well as local farmers. Together we explored farms, storage locations and different transportation vehicles, so I could monitor the trip of fresh gourds and chili peppers from harvest to grading, packing and storage in order to identify postharvest practices they could improve.
In many developing countries, more than half of all fruits and vegetables are never eaten, but are instead lost to damage or spoilage after harvest. These post-harvest losses can mean that farmers need to sell their fresh produce immediately at whatever price they can get, before they lose the crops that represent investments of labor, water, and agricultural inputs. Improving how fruits and vegetables are handled after harvest can significantly prolong freshness — and cooling is key.
“The three most important aspects of postharvest handling are: temperature, temperature, temperature,” said Michael Reid, a postharvest specialist who works with the Horticulture Innovation Lab at the University of California, Davis. “In the developing world in particular, affordable cooling technology is mostly absent.”
Cooling can be an expensive challenge — even for American farmers.
As a farmer in upstate New York, Ron Khosla knew this problem too well. His vegetable crop was spoiling too quickly, but he could not afford to buy a walk-in cooler for his small farm. So he invented a solution: a small electrical device he called a CoolBot that tricks an air conditioner into getting colder without freezing over, turning a well-insulated room into a cold room for less than it cost to buy a refrigeration unit. Continue reading How one farmer’s invention is reducing food waste around the world