Engineering student invents dehydration machine in solving food waste crisis in Africa

Engineering student invents dehydration machine in solving food waste crisis in Africa

Note: This article may contain commentary or the author's opinion.

World hunger within third world developing nations is a critical issue, according to the United Nations. Each year over 1.3 billion tons of rotting African food, that could otherwise feed over 300 million people annually, are discarded.

In just Uganda alone, up to 40% of fruit and vegetables end up being thrown away. Ironically, thousands of African’s die annually due to hunger and malnutrition. Perishable foods, like fruits and vegetables, rot in the hot Ugandan sun and account for the highest wastage rates of any food group.

Some of the major reasons for much of Africa’s food waste crisis are due to a lack of quality frozen storage facilities, as well as poor government infrastructure, compounded by financial woes across the entire continent.

However, thanks to an enterprising Ugandan engineering student named Lawrence Okettayot, his invention, dubbed the “Sparky Dryer,” has allowed farmers across Africa to preserve food produce, including vegetables and fruits, using locally sourced bio-fuels. The device is a dehydrator running on garden waste that dries fruit and vegetables quickly, making them last for months instead of days. It looks like a small fridge and uses organic waste instead of electricity, to which few farmers in Uganda and elsewhere in Africa have regular access.

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According to the 23-year old entrepreneur, “much of what’s sold in markets is wasted because farmers cannot store the food. So they have to return home and pick fresh fruit and vegetables to sell the next day.”

During the dry season very little grows here so people go hungry,” says Lawrence, while walking past small stalls and piles of rotting food in the buzzing market, in the northern regional capital of Kitgum..

The “Sparky Dryer” uses bio-fuel from organic waste and burns with zero-carbon emissions to dry the farmers chosen produce without the need for electricity. The dryers can dry foods and can dehydrate up to 10kg of mango in two hours running on 2kg of bio-fuel. The price starts at $80 and could go higher depending on the farmers’ specifications.

According to Solomon Kalema, a spokesman for the Ministry of Agriculture, up to 30% of crops are lost every year after harvest, with fruits and grains most affected. Kalema, also acknowledged that the East African country has few food processing plants and the likelihood of building new facilities on a regional level has not been implemented due to limited funds.

In most cases, Ugandan farmers prefer to sun-dry their leafy vegetables, as they contain little moisture and are quick to dry, he noted. However, during the rainy season fruits take longer to dry, so farmers end up leaving their produce to rot.

This affects the quality of commodities and also farmers’ earnings,” Kalema said.Samalie Namukose, a principle nutritionist at the Ministry of Health, believes the government should invest in cheaper dryers, like those made by Okettayot to support local farmers. “It’s something new to many, and there is need for more publicity about it,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

She also acknowledged that food dryers are an essential part of the food processing equation within the country, especially for a cash-strapped country like Uganda. However, most food dryers are solar-powered and quite expensive, and way beyond the means of low-earning farmers, even though they are eventually cost-effective. A typical small solar-powered dryer costs more than 2 million Ugandan shillings ($542), while a large model can top 9 million shillings. Okettayot’s “Sparky Dryer” is priced at 450,000 shillings, or $127.83 in American dollars