Meghalaya’s farmers now have a great helping hand in their noble endeavour to bring to the world the best of natural spices. Zizira’s explorers have come up with a novel and indigenous design for a solar dryer that can be made virtually at home and provide a fast, safe, and efficient way of drying the farmers’ produce. This solar dryer provides a solution to complex post-harvest problems with simple and locally available ingredients at a fraction of the cost of electrical dryers.
This will be of immense help to farmers who grow organic turmeric and ginger, among other spices. Drying the rhizomes properly is a critical prerequisite for preservation and proper marketing. With the sun often playing hide and seek in the hills of this state, this solar dryer will be able to harness the solar rays quickly and efficiently to produce the drying effect that is so vital for the farmers to sell quality products in the market. Zizira has been working with the farmers of Meghalaya to get the best out of their efforts, earning high value at low volumes.
It's cheap, it can be made with things you can buy at a local store and it's easy to build. It's also something Meghalaya’s farmers desperately need to protect their produce from the rain. Zizira explorers have come up with a design for a solar dryer to help farmers! Yes, our own design. Read on to see why we worked on it and what the end product looks like.
Here is where the story begins. In late January 2016, Zizira explorers were out exploring and arrived at Mawtneng village, Ri-Bhoi district. The majority of the farmers in this area grow ginger and turmeric. One of the post-harvest processes is the drying of the produce. Unless sliced and dried, farmers do not find buyers for a bulk of their harvest. At present, they dry it on the ground.
The typical subsistence farmers prefer selling their produce fresh from the field, for quick returns. However, when it comes to spices such as ginger and turmeric, the farmers are required to dry the produce before selling, to increase the shelf life and yield better returns. The challenges they face while drying are:
These are the reasons behind the farmers falling short of being able to produce quality products. Traditional sun-drying, which ends up on being not so market-friendly. So we put on our thinking caps and set down to find what could be done to make their lives easier? What are the alternatives? How could Zizira help?
This immediately connected with our purpose of bringing prosperity to the farmers of the state. So, we thought that a dryer might be the solution. Yes, there’s electric drying, which surely reduces the labour. But that requires a large investment and recurring maintenance cost. So we started to hunt for other options and that is when the idea of a solar dryer came up. Our CEO had helped us think on these lines by sharing with us his views:
"The secret to solar drying is heat and air flow. The other would be the greenhouse effect. Oh and two more secrets - hot air rises and black polythene which serves as the floor, absorbs the heat from the sun. We can combine all these factors to create a solar food dryer. We want farmers to be able to make a solar dryer in one day. The first will take 10 hours but if we were to build another dryer it might take only 6 and a third might take only 4 hours?"
− Ralph Budelman, CEO Chillibreeze
A simple solar dryer which can be easily assembled is the best solution. A solar dryer would make the drying process faster and in turn, reduce the labour involved as well. And, having a closed body, it can also protect the produce from rain and animal infestation. When Zizira explorers started their homework and brainstorming, these were the critical issues on top of their minds. The idea was to build an actual, working prototype to test the theory. They finally came up with a blueprint and rough sketch of the solar dryer prototype using bamboo and polythene.
What they came up with was exciting. The solar dryer was made simple enough for the farmers to be able to construct it in a day’s time. The materials for the dryer could be sourced locally and the blueprint itself was simple and easy to follow. Moreover, the solar dryer would take a lot less time to dry the produce as compared to open sun drying. It took Badshai (a Zizira team member) 10 hours to build the dryer. The final output was then ready for testing. Here is a prototype of the dryer −
How it works: The solar energy passing through the roof heats the black polythene floor which heats up the air inside the solar dryer, creating a greenhouse effect. The air gets drawn in through a small opening at the bottom of the front side of the dryer and is heated by the floor. The heated air, while passing through and over the products absorbs moisture from them, hence resulting in fast, efficient and eco-friendly drying.
This is a first-model prototype we have conceptualised with the hope that it may alleviate the farmers' post-harvest processing challenges. Zizira explorers are taking small but sure steps and this might be the beginning of something big for the farmers of Meghalaya and the entire Northeast India region.