With upwards of 70% of the population in India either directly or indirectly reliant on agriculture, it is important for small-hold farmers and agribusiness workers to maximize production and minimize loss. Farmers often dry or dehydrate their crops, which preserves them for up to a year. Current methods are costly, and out of reach for many small-hold farmers across the developing South.
In response, a small Indian student-led start-up has developed a patent for a solar conduction dryer that has proven to be more efficient than dryers currently available and aims to simultaneously decrease wastage and increase incomes for rural farmers in India.
The solar conduction dryer is the first of many innovations developed by Science for Society, an organization comprised of a group of Indian PhD students. It was the grand-prize winner at the Dell Social Innovation Challenge, held in the US last year. The dryer utilizes conduction as the main mode of heat transfer, rather than convection, which is the method found in most dryers available in markets. The unit relies on solar power as its energy source, thereby using the heat generated from the sun to dry and dehydrate various foodstuffs, including fruits and vegetables, grains, fish and other meats. It also utilizes convection and radiation, but predominantly relies on conduction.
Faster and More Efficient
The traditional convection dryers rely purely on electricity to dry food stuffs. This is costly and is often entirely out of reach for poor rural farmers that do not have access to reliable electricity. Usage of the solar conduction dryer, when compared to conventional dryers, has resulted in higher efficiency, reduced processing time, reduced wastage and spoilage, and reduced costs for farmers.
Dried food products also have a higher market value than raw materials, and so increasing a farmer’s ability to preserve their crops gives them a better opportunity for increasing their income when they bring their product to market.
Science for Society is currently looking for ways to bring the dryer to poor rural communities, and has begun a pilot project with a group of rural women in a village near Sawantwadi in Maharashtra, with 20 other dryers being used elsewhere in the country. The UNEP is funding this pilot plant as well as a quality control lab for the processing of the dried food products.
Bayer (Germany) is also working with the start-up alongside the UNEP for technology transfer and R&D with the aims of further increasing efficiency and extending the life of the dryer, which currently has a capacity for up to 12 kilos of product. The long-term hope is to make the dryer commercially available at an affordable price.
One way the organization is seeking to increase access to the innovation is through micro-financing. Farmers in small villages can pool resources to buy a dryer to share in their communities. The start-up is working with the Grameen Bank, among other interested parties to this end. They are also considering government subsidies as another avenue to increase distribution.
For more information on Science for Society, their solar conduction dryer or their other innovations, visit their website.
Watch this short video that outlines why the drying of food crops is crucial for sustaining the livelihoods of rural Indian farmers, and how the solar conduction dryer can help alleviate some of the hardships that they currently endure.