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.
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
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.
A partnership between university scientists and a private technology company has sprouted both new concepts and new tools that can help vegetable farmers in developing countries access better seeds.
For many smallholder farmers, buying and trading vegetable seeds can be risky. The benefits of purchasing seed can be high, with improved crop varieties offering disease resistance, increased vigor and improved taste. But the risks of receiving poor-quality seed are also significant, particularly in tropical climates. Seed will deteriorate rapidly if it is not properly dried and stored. The resulting poor germination reduces yields, which for vegetable farmers can mean staggered harvests and inconsistent crop quality.