Horticulturists Latika and Achyut Patil from Dahanu in Maharashtra had been engaged in cultivating chikoos for around 40 to 50 years, but saw little to no profits.

On retiring as a teacher in 2015, Latika found herself with a lot of time on her hands and began learning more about processing fruits.

Though sun-drying had been a popular option in the region, it was not an ideal solution for Latika.

As her son Ninad explains, this was due to uncertainty in weather conditions, discolouration of the fruit, and degradation of nutrients. This also meant they couldn’t find buyers.

During the search to find processing alternatives, Ninad came across a company ‘M/s Science for Society (S4S) Technologies Pvt Ltd’, which had developed a very efficient solar conduction dryer (SCD).

Explaining how the machine works, he says it consists of four plates with a patented food-grade black powder coating which helps in even drying the fruit.

“Under any climatic circumstances the temperature of these plates is maintained at 55-60 degrees, which helps in conserving the nutrients, thus preventing the natural sugar content in the fruit from caramelising to form a dark colour,” he says.

The plates are covered by UV protection high-grade polycarbonate sheets which also protect the contents from dust and external particles.

The family conducted seminars wherein they held exhibition displays for all farmers in the region.

Today they have 20 of these machines, which cost Rs 40,000 each.

Latika, who has been running a women’s group initiative in Dahanu, encourages the women here too, to use these solar dryers for processing the fruits.

Another perk is that the SCD reduces the processing time of the fruit to one day, compared to three to four days that open drying would usually take.

In addition, the shelf life is increased to nine months, in contrast to the three months that open drying would provide.

Ninad adds that they were able to scale their production capacity from 50 kg per year to 250 kg per year per farmer.