December 7, 2018

A Global Research Network Investigates Post-Harvest Technologies and ICTs on Sub-Saharan African Farms

Researchers at Engineering for Change developed two comprehensive reports on technology that mitigates food-borne disease and improves agricultural practices in sub-Saharan Africa. One paper details the methods and machines that fight fungal contamination and aflatoxin in tropical crops, while the other explores the rising importance of Internet and communications technologies to farmers in emerging economies.

The reports are the fruit of a partnership between E4C’s global network of Research Fellows and two organizations with expertise in global food and agriculture solutions, Compatible Technology International (CTI) and Feeding Tomorrow, the foundation of the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT). Four E4C researchers collaborated virtually from Kenya, India, Tunisia, and Canada, conducting literature reviews and interviewing farmers, scholars and practitioners based in their home countries. The researchers also had access to E4C’s Solutions Library, a database of hundreds of products listed in a standardized format for easy side-by-side comparison.

“The research exemplifies the value that E4C’s fellows provide to international development. Our fellows specialize in technology for social good. They apply engineering expertise and their uniquely global perspective to study issues in agriculture, health, energy, ICTs, transportation, housing and other sectors. The outcome is a repository of open-source knowledge that can be accessed by everyone on our platform,” says Mariela Machado, the Research Fellowship program manager at E4C.

For partner organizations, the collaboration is an important part of ensuring continued effectiveness and impact in their work. “CTI thrives on partnership,” says Bridget Gerenz, CTI Technology Coordinator, “By working with other organizations such as E4C, we all benefit and actualize the good we want in the world. Getting the specific research from the E4C fellows propels our work by being more informed on current practices and technologies.”

The new research also reflects the ideals of the IFT community and appears to affirm its benefits to the world’s underserved communities.

“Feeding Tomorrow is committed to bringing together the collective knowledge of the IFT community to pursue food and nutrition solutions, in particular those at the bottom of the economic pyramid. The Board of Trustees are proud to have funded the great work of the E4C Fellows,” says Kate Dockins, Executive Director of Feeding Tomorrow.

This is a brief look at what we now know about post-harvest technologies and ICT solutions that protect and connect the products of small-plot farms to markets.

Anti-Aflatoxin Measures and ICTs

Aflatoxin is a potentially deadly compound produced by a fungus that contaminates many types of crops in sub-Saharan Africa and other tropical regions. E4C’s report lists the methods and types of technologies that can reduce contamination and save lives. Aflatoxin can contaminate crops at any of the three stages of production: pre-harvest, harvest and post-harvest.

Pre-harvest prevention methods include soil management, fertilization and irrigation to limit the growth of fungus in the soil and strengthen crops against attack. The report lists natural soil additives and technologies that promote soil and crop health, with citations for deeper investigation. At harvest, technologies such as CTI’s suite of groundnut tools can be powerful deterrents of aflatoxin. The tools allow farmers to carefully gather the crops, which reduces the damage that opens avenues for an opportunistic fungal infection. After the harvest, proper storage of crops, which can include processing by drying or other methods, reduces the risk of fungal growth.

“From pre-harvest to post-harvest, all the techniques should be used,” says Harsh Vyas, an E4C Research Fellow who worked on the reports, and a product design engineer at ITT Corporation India.

The research has unusually deep roots in the personal experience of farmers and in-country experts who study agricultural science, thanks to the researchers’ international reach.

“For example, Theodore [Kamau, a mechatronic engineer and E4C Fellow based in Nairobi] visited local universities in Africa. Being in India, I was able to contact local experts and visit farmers using good agricultural practices to mitigate aflatoxin,” Harsh says.

ICTs Connect Farmers to Information and Markets

ICTs are powerful in bridging the gaps between markets and small-plot farmers. A lack of sufficient information makes it difficult for farmers to get fair prices for their crops. In developing countries, agricultural specialists often live and work far from remote smallholder communities. Their scarcity restricts the dissemination of knowledge of best practices, products that add value to raw produce, and market information. E4C’s Fellows analyzed existing technologies and trends to gain insights into post-harvest ICTs and where they intersect with CTI’s programs. The goal is to reveal new courses of action that can expand the impact that CTI and IFT have among smallholders and food systems.

The Takeaway

These two new research papers hold new insights into a myriad of methods for fighting a common cause of food loss on tropical farms, and for sharing information on best practices and market conditions. By partnering with E4C and our international Research Fellows, CTI and IFT were able to order custom, directed research into two issues that can now help them direct their services and improve their products. Together, we have taken a step toward preserving food on smallholder farms and spreading the information that farmers need. That translates into deeper economic impact in underserved communities.

Read the reports:



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