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.
Improving livelihoods — through higher profits and diversified, nutrient-rich diets — is a major goal for the Horticulture Innovation Lab’s research efforts around the world.
What horticulture can do:
Enriching diets: Horticulture — growing fruits and vegetables — provides critical nutrients for a balanced diet. Not eating enough fruits and vegetables is a major factor in some of the world’s most widespread and debilitating nutrient-related disorders.
Increasing incomes: Farmers growing high-value crops, such as fruits, vegetables, flowers or herbs, consistently earn more than those growing other commodities. Horticulture can be an engine for agricultural and economic diversification.
What horticulture needs:
Gender equity: Vegetables, fruits and cut flowers are often grown and marketed by women, but women often have less access to markets, land, inputs and education. Addressing these constraints places women growers on the path to increasing productivity and expanding horticultural markets.
Technological innovation: Given the complexity of horticulture, innovative “leapfrog” technologies can reduce constraints and input costs that limit the ability of smallholder farmers to achieve maximum profitability.
Access to information and research capacity: Commercial success in horticulture depends on improved cultivars, management tools, market knowledge and effective postharvest practices. Sustained horticultural growth requires access to reliable information, a well trained workforce and local capacity to conduct both original and adaptive research.