First solar-powered "bubble" driers promise more nutritious bean flour – and better prices for farmers

First solar-powered "bubble" driers promise more nutritious bean flour – and better prices for farmers

Kenya’s first solar-powered “bubble” drier, which improves bean quality and commercial value, retaining nutritious qualities before they are turned into a porridge flour, is here. It has been installed as part of a project to fight malnutrition among vulnerable urban and rural consumers.

The project, “Making Value Chains Work for Food and Nutrition Security of Vulnerable Populations in East Africa,” aims to reach around five million small holder farmers in Uganda and Kenya by the end of the project, benefiting 50,000 rural and urban consumers.

During harvest time, all too often rain can damage crops while they are drying. To tackle this, a total of eight solar drying units will be distributed to farmers in project sites in target countries of Kenya and Uganda. The dried produce will be bought directly by a company that will turn them into nutritious porridge flour.

Adding value along the supply chain

The solar driers are installed at Azuri Health Ltd, the processing company making nutritious snacks for low-income consumers, as part of the three-year initiative to add value to beans by developing the quick-cook porridge from four highly nutritious foods including beans and amaranth.

Tei Mukunya, Director of Azuri Health, said: “The porridge flour will be affordable for consumers in the lower-income bracket of US$2-5 a day, affordable for women aged 15-49 years, and children aged 6−59 months.

“We’re looking into packaging the product in small volumes, and sourcing in bulk from more local farmers so we can price the product well. Everybody needs to eat healthily, and if we can link poorer consumers with this nutritious product then it’s upon us to do it,” she said.


Technology drums up interest

The solar driers, which have a transparent tube that inflates so the air can circulate, is designed to be simple and affordable but effective at drying products to a higher standard than traditional methods.

Dr Marcus Nagle, a postharvest expert and project partner from the University of Hohenheim which helped develop the technology, said: “Traditional sun drying is associated with postharvest losses of up to 15−25 percent in weight and quality, leading to cut prices they receive by 10−20 percent.”

The University of Hohenheim in Germany and partners including International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and Azuri Health, are testing the technology with farmers and processors in Kenya and Uganda to improve food safety, nutritional value and profitability before being introduced more widely.

Initial testing of the driers with farmers has created much interest, especially among women, as it reduces their workload. Although new in Kenya, the driers have already proven popular in Rwanda, Ghana and other countries, and can be used to dry other crops like rice, corn, sorghum or soya bean.

Priscilla Mosigisi-Mboya, sales manager at GrainPro Kenya which manufactures and supplies the solar dries for others in the project, said benefits for farmers include consistent and faster drying, higher prices as a result of increased product quality, and reduced risks of spoilage and contamination in bad weather.

Goal: reducing malnutrition

“Industrial food processing currently caters mostly to middle and high-income consumers, with little attention devoted to lower-income groups,” said Dr Christine Chege, an agricultural economist and nutritionist at CIAT in Nairobi.

“This takes us one more step further towards our goal: to get highly nutritious, low-cost products on the shelves for poor consumers.” In addition, solar drying is an alternative to using heated air dryers, keeping carbon dioxide emissions lower.

As part of the project, scientists will also study malnutrition levels, where families source food and how much they pay for it. This will help them understand which nutrients are a priority to add to the porridge and how to best price the product for targeted consumers.

“Making Value Chains Work for Food and Nutrition Security of Vulnerable Populations in East Africa” is supported by BMZ and GIZ; The CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health and CGIAR donors. It is a joint project between the Pan-Africa Bean Research Alliance initiative and DAPA-Linking Farmers to Markets. The project is  led by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), in collaboration with The University of Hohenheim (UHOH), University of Göttingen (UGOE), Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) and Ugandan National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO). 

Call to action:

  • The drying technology is being tested in Kenya and Uganda by farmers and processors to improve food safety, nutritional value and profitability. The results of this work will enable the team to improve the technology and introduce it in many other countries across Africa.
  • Linking farmers with the private sector will provide farmers with ready markets for their products: connections which could be exploited for other crops and value chains, adding value.