As per a study done by the Central Institute of Post-Harvest Engineering and Technology, 16 per cent of India’s food produce (fruits and vegetables) gets wasted every year. Insufficient storage facilities, costly transportation and lack of marketing facilities are some of the reasons for the wastage, the report points out.
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An example of this scenario can be Sameer Bagchi, a farmer from Dhar district, Madhya Pradesh. Sameer grows stevia, a herbal plant which works as a sugar substitute. For commercial purposes, the leaves of the plant are dried to make powder that is added to beverages.
In his late twenties, Sameer has been growing stevia for the last three years and while he has generated revenue from it, there have been instances where had to discard the leaves.
The input cost to grow stevia is very high and the stem-cutting process is very tedious. Once the leaves are ready to be cut, they are cleaned in water and kept for drying which takes at least 12 hours. If the dust particles settle on the leaves during the drying process, the leaf loses its sugary content by six per cent, Sameer tells The Better India (TBI).
There is always a constant threat of insects and dust to the leaves. But now, Sameer’s problems have been eliminated thanks to the Solar Tunnel Dryer he has been using.
“The dryer is waterproof, closed and the best part is that it retains the flavour and properties of the leaves. The quality of leaves has also improved,” Sameer smiles.
The low-cost and foldable solar dryer is the invention of Varun Raheja, an engineer from Indore. Ever since he learnt about ‘waste-to-wealth’ concept in school, Varun has worked on projects related to waste management.
The reason of spoilage of any fresh product is the moisture content present inside it. Dehydration removes the moisture which increases the shelf life of the product without adding any chemicals, preservatives or additives, says Varun, who launched Raheja Solar Food Processing (RSFP), a social enterprise in 2018.
It was during his first year in college when Varun started exploring concrete ways to reuse and recycle waste and to expand his knowledge, he did an internship at Jimmy McGilligan Centre for Sustainable Development, 25 km away from the city.
Shedding light on what inspired Varun to develop a solution to farmer’s woes, he tells TBI:
As an engineering student, it was a privilege for me to work under Padma Shri Janak Palta McGilligan who has championed the cause of sustainable living. I interned there for three years and yet it was not enough to gather all the knowledge about the technology that benefits the rural population. There I learnt about farmer’s problems on ground level and decided to do something about them.
He worked on three waste-to-wealth projects during his internship and one of them was the solar dryer, a technology developed by the German Scientists.
I chose to go ahead with developing a solar dryer as it is effective. Besides selling their dried produce, farmers can also keep the produce for their own consumption throughout the year. It is a win-win model. The one feeding us doesn’t have to sleep hungry, says the 22-year-old
Whether it is a small-time farmer or a family who wants nutritious food, the solar dryer is helping 52 people (mostly farmers) curb food wastage, earn a better income and keep all the minerals and proteins intact in the food.
Besides being a boon for Sameer, the solar dryer is also helping Nikky Sureka, a dairy farmer in Sanawadiya village close to Indore, produce high quality fodder for the cows.
Azola, a water-grown fern is a good feed for the cattle. The plant is available throughout the year except for summers. Through this solar dryer I am able to preserve the fern that grows during winters for six months and later use it in summer, Sureka tells TBI.
Meanwhile, Sureka, a former senior official at Madhya Pradesh Pollution Control Board in Indore, is using the dryer to increase her family’s nutrient-intake. She uses the dryer to dry leafy vegetables and fruits and then powders them.
I use the powder to make different gravy recipes for my family. Several of my friends have also taken the powder from me. It is an easier way to ensure that children are getting proper nutrition. I plan to make the exercise commercial and sell the powder, Sureka informs TBI.
The solar-powered driers increase the shelf life of perishable food products by dehydrating fruits, plants, flowers and vegetables. Post dehydration, the food’s age increases to a minimum of six months.
This invention is India’s first such dryer designed specially for small and marginal farmers who are forced to discard their excess produce every season.
How does the Solar Tunnel Dryer Work?
The Dryer works on the principle of the greenhouse effect in which solar radiation gets trapped inside a closed chamber.
The dryer has two sections: one is the collector area where heat is generated using a black base, and the second is the drying area where fresh products are dried.
The trapped radiation produces heated air in the collector which is then blown from a fan over the fresh produce which evaporates the moisture in them and then this moisture-laden air gets expelled from the other side of the tunnel.
The high temperature in the dryer coupled with the air movement and lower humidity decreases drying time and eliminates the risk of spoilage. For example, it takes 7-8 days to dry tomatoes in the open. The dryer completes the process in just two days.
Solar Dryer is a self sustainable model as it doesn’t require electricity or maintenance. Food is enclosed in the water-proof dryer and therefore protected from dust and insects. Varun has also taken care of eliminating harmful gases, “The food is dried on stainless steel mesh instead of plastic mesh that emits harmful gases at higher temperatures.”
The best part? The dryer retains taste, colour, aroma and nutrients of the food product.
The user can have 10 cycles of dehydration per month, “During low market rates, farmers have to sell their produce at the rate of Re 1 and Rs 2 per kilo of fresh produce. Now with solar dryer, a farmer can preserve the produce and sell it at the time of high market rates at four to five times the price.” Varun explains.
Priced at Rs 14,750, this 20 kg solar dryer comes at half the price of dryers available in the market. The dryer is foldable and thus can be transported anywhere in India without burning a hole the customer’s pocket.
Get in touch with Varun Raheja at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Featured Image Source: RSFP
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)