In 2008, Vaibhav Tidke laid the foundation of an organisation that would work to benefit society, in particular farmers. He was still in college, undertaking his final year at Mumbai’s Institute of Chemical Technology. His organisation, formed with help from friends, peers and professors, was christened Science4Society (S4S) Technologies.
Today S4S Technologies is best known for developing the Solar Conductor Dryer, a device that aids the storage of farm produce without resorting to preservatives or artificial additives.
Coming from a family of farmers in rural Maharashtra, Vaibhav has been well-versed with agricultural challenges since his childhood. He remembers how he often saw fresh farm produce go to waste, due to the lack of proper storage options.
“We had a weekly bazaar near my house,” he says. “By evening the farmers would be forced to sell their vegetables at cheaper prices or let their produce go to waste. I realised that that there were many issues that affected farmers. Studying engineering gave me the knowledge to understand those and device solutions.”
The solar conductor dryer offers a sustainable solution to these obstacles. The dryer incorporates a patented food-drying technology that helps to extend the shelf life of produce without adding any preservatives to the mix. Not only vegetables and fruits, the equipment can also be used to meats, seafood and spices.
The solar dryer also consumes lesser energy than regular dryers and refrigeration devices, and keeps carbon footprint to a minimum. The equipment is particularly useful when food must be transported over long distances or for the purpose of creating healthy packaged foods.
The S4S Technologies team has eight core members, including Viabhav. Their collaborative efforts have won the team many accolades, including the Dell Socia Innovation Challenge.
While the solar conductor dryer was started to aid farmers, the S4S team has recently developed FooDer — a solar dryer for domestic use as well.
FooDer is used to dehydrate fruits and vegetables in a controlled environment at home. It can also be used for making pet food, dried fish, candied fruits and even potpourri. The product came about as the S4S team began receiving requests from families for a smaller version of their solar conductor dryers.
“We were at an exhibition in Nashik when women came up to us and inquired about the product,” Vaibhav remembers. “In one exhibition we received requests from more than 500 women who wanted to use the equipment to make their own dried foods at home without resorting to preservatives.”
Realising the potential of the demand, the team began creating a prototype of a family-friendly dryer. Vaibhav and his team are currently undertaking a pilot project with 10 families, using their feedback for R&D and readying the equipment for a wider release.
S4S Technologies also runs a B2B venture for dehydrated products and sells consumer products under the label Desi VDesi Foods.
Since its inception, the solar conductor dryer has been installed in 1,200 sites and is used in France, Jamaica, Nepal, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Kenya, Bangladesh and India.
Vaibhav believes the best products address the aspirations of the people. For instance, while the solar conductor dryer solves the acute problem of storage for farmers, FooDer gives families the possibility of making their own dehydrated foods.
Dehydrated foods often come packaged with pre-conceived notions of being unhealthy and laden with fats and preservatives. “Yes, it is a challenge,” Vaibhav admits, “but studies show that proper dehydration can retain 85-95% nutritional value in foods. We try our best to spread the message, especially in our consumer products.”
With their innovations, Vaibhav and his team offer sustainable solutions to address the food shortage crisis around the globe. Their vision? Feeding 9 billion people by 2050.