[Image: with drying hut]
[Image: with women farmers]
News Release Distributed 06/06/14
BATON ROUGE, La. – A solar dryer designed by LSU AgCenter food engineer Subramaniam Sathivel is helping farmers in Ghana preserve crops so they can maintain a steadier food supply.
Sathivel visited the West African country in April to discuss the dryer concept with scientists from the Biotechnology and Nuclear Agriculture Research Institute and local farmers. He also met with former Ghana president, John Kofi Agyekum Kufuor.
The project stems from the work of U.S. Department of Agriculture Borlaug fellow Mavis Owureka-Asare, who studied different methods for drying tomatoes under Sathivel in 2012.
Watch a 3:20-min video about this project, Solar Dryer Helps People in Ghana.
The dryer gives farmers a cost-effective way to preserve seasonal produce like tomatoes, maize and rice for year-round consumption.
"They only produce in certain seasons, but in large quantities," Sathivel said. "During the off-season, the supply is low but demand is high. If you dry the tomatoes in the production season, then you can have a supply when you need it."
Sathivel spoke to 32 female farmers in Onyansana, Ghana, who were definitely interested, he said. The dryer has become a common place in the community where farmers — some of whom walk from 10 miles away — gather to dry their produce and catch up with one another.
Solar energy is commonly used worldwide, Sathivel said, but this application is uniquely built for Ghana's needs.
The dryer, which was constructed using USDA funds, is a 9-by-9 foot greenhouse-like structure. It is made from cement blocks, meaning it is durable and protects the produce inside from rain, dust and animals. The dryer has windows, but Sathivel is studying ways to ventilate it and better control the inside temperature.
Depending on moisture content, it can dry between 25 and 75 pounds of produce per day.
Solar dryers like this one cost about $4,000 to build. Sathivel hopes to obtain funding to build more dryers throughout Ghana.
Sathivel said many Ghanaian farmers lease their land, so they must maximize what they get out of it, but some food preservation methods are too costly.
"Farmers don't have that much money to implement some technologies," he said. "Solar dryers are a more cost-effective and practical way to dry their produce and sustain their food supply."
BNARI scientists also help train farmers to use the dryer so they can preserve their produce properly and maximize their investment.
Sathivel said scientists at BNARI are interested in collaborating with the AgCenter on food, plant and soil research projects as well as creating student exchange programs. A student from the Food Research Institute in Ghana plans to begin work on his doctorate at LSU in spring 2015, while designing alternative solar dryers in Sathivel's lab.