Two institutions have come up with a new technology of preserving farm products.
The technology, dubbed solar drier, will go a long way in curbing food shortages, avoiding a glut in the market, fighting food insecurity and encouraging farmers to venture into agribusiness.
The technology is pioneered by the Kenya School of Agriculture, Nyeri, and Wambugu Agricultural Training Centre.
The solar drier is a simple greenhouse-like structure that uses solar energy to dry farm produce which is later packed and stored for future use or sale.
The drier is suitable for preserving tubers, roots, vegetables and fruits. According to Mr Robert Ogeto, the Kenya School of Agriculture, Nyeri, deputy principal, almost 90 per cent of farmers in the country depend on rain to grow their crops which negatively affects supply.
Mr Ogeto said that farm products flood markets during the rainy season leading to low prices. The opposite, he said, happens during dry spells.
“This is brought about by majority of farmers depending heavily on rain to grow their crops. Our new technology tries to combat this menace as well as turn small-scale farming into agribusiness,” he said.
Mr Ogeto said that farmers can use solar driers to preserve farm produce and sell them when prices are high.
He said that their aim is to help farmers turn their farming into businesses. Solar driers are made of ultraviolet-treated polysheets, the same ones used in making greenhouses, while raised shelves inside the units are made of wood and nets.
Polysheets prevent harmful rays from entering the solar drier, he said. The nets, Mr Ogeto said, are good for curing farm produce as they facilitate circulation of fresh air which is essential for drying crops.
Before placing farm produce in a solar drier, Mr Ogeto said, one must clean the units and slice the produce into small pieces then spread them evenly on shelves. One uses either a slicing-machine or a knife to cut the produce into required sizes.
“The produce takes a long time to dry during wet and cloudy seasons. In such a scenario, farmers are supposed to chop them into smaller sizes,’’ Mr Ogeto said.
Farmers are also required to spread the produce evenly on shelves to allow free air circulation, which speeds up drying and prevents rotting,” he said.
The produce should attain moisture content of about 12.5 to 13 per cent before being packaged. If the produce is not dried well it may get contaminated with aflatoxin, infecting consumers and causing death in some cases.
Mr Ogeto said that dried up pieces of farm produce such as cassava can be ground into flour and used for baking, making ugali or porridge.
“A farmer can then sell the flour and earn a lot more money than he would have from selling raw produce straight from the farm,’’ he said. The institution is helping farmers to increase their earnings through value addition, he said. Wambugu Agricultural Training Centre is a partner in the new technology.
The principal of the institution, Mr Peter Muchiri, said that farmers who own the drier can offer drying services to colleagues at a fee.
“Youths can embrace this business idea and create jobs,” he said.
The technology, said Mr Muchiri, also encourages farmers to plant orphan crops. The crops include cassava, sweet potatoes, yams, and arrow roots. Vegetables — both traditional and exotic — can be preserved through the method.
Mr Ogote said that the technology is good for preserving greens since they maintain their colour and nutrients, unlike those dried under the sun.
Fruits such as mangos can also be preserved through the technology. Mr Ogote said that all one needs is to slice them and spread pieces on shelves in the solar drier and pack them when dry.
One is advised to soak the pieces in warm water, which makes them tender, before eating.
The technology can be used to curb shortage and avoid a glut. Mr Ogeto said that the technology can help reduce dependence on crops such as maize.
The two institutions have already trained more than 24 extension officers, from across the country, who are supposed to introduce the technology to farmers.
Interested farmers will have an opportunity to learn about solar driers next month when the two institutions hold a three-day field day.
Farmers can also buy solar dryers from the two institutions. Price varies according to the size of the drier.