How it started is irrelevant; the bottom line is how farmers get their farm produce safe and secure to the market centre, after harvest.
There are general concerns about what farmers in Africa go through to recoup the huge investment they make on acres of farmlands.
In Ghana, where the sun is the drying agent for farm produce, especially grains, many rural farmers lose millions of cedis to unfavourable weather.
Lack of proper storage facilities is a big challenge to the Ghanaian farmer. Many farmers have resorted to store their produce in small rooms and even open places in their homes.
There is evidence of thousands of bags of maize and other grains going bad by getting discoloured and mouldy in some farming communities due to high storage moisture.
Farmers are therefore compelled to sell the grains at reduced prices to middlemen who make heavy profits at the expense of those who till the land.
Wet weather is also a major cause of fungal toxins, also known as Aflatoxin poison in maize. This occurs when farmers find it hard to dry the grain during the rainy season.
Fungal toxins and insect infestation grain boils have over the years cost farmers about 30 percent of their produce in post-harvest losses.
The annual dilemma of a ritual is set to change, with the introduction of innovative technologies. They include the integrated solar biomass hybrid dryer for drying of crops. It will enable farmers to control the moisture content of their grains and keep insects, rodents and other microbial pathogens at bay.
Statistics show Africa losses over $4 billion worth of maize grain annually due to poor drying and storage facilities. The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (SCIR) reports Ghana loses $400 million annually through post-harvest losses.
Ironically, 30 percent of all harvested grain is lost with the attendant threat to food security. A CSIR report also indicates Ghana’s food import bill hit $1.5 billion last year.
A farmer at Ejura in the Ashanti Region, 24-year-old, Stephen Jagri, lamented how he lost bags of maize due to lack of drying and poor storage facilities.
“Our greatest loss is when we are unable to dry our maize well before storage. Sometimes, we just have to manage with the bad weather and store them wet in poor storage conditions since we don’t have a choice,” he explained.
Many farmers like Mr Jagri store their grains in the open. It appears, however, there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Together with other researchers at the Brew-Hammond Energy Centre at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), a Senior Lecturer at the KNUST Department of Agriculture Engineering all in Kumasi, Ing. Joseph Oppong Akowuah has developed an integrated solar biomass hybrid dryer.
The technology was developed through a project known as Energy Efficient Rural Food Processing Utilising Renewable Energy to Improve Rural Livelihoods (RE4FOOD).
Funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the project is aimed at promoting efficient rural food processing in Ghana, using renewable energy.
Farmers can now reduce post-harvest losses, especially grains
The innovative drying system which utilises both the sun and biomass energy is located at Ejura in the Ashanti Region. Maize farmers like Mr Jagri can now find joy in maximising returns from their labour and investment.
The dryer (See image below) which measures 13 × 8 × 3 metres has a drying chamber made of the transparent plastic sheet called Perspex. It traps the sun’s heat for drying during sunny periods.
Drying during unfavourable weather conditions (cloudy, rainy and at night) can also be continued with supplementary heat from a biomass furnace which uses maize cobs and other agro residues as fuel.
The drying chamber has rows of wooden trays, with black web mesh base to allow air flow through the grains, during drying. According to Ing. Akowuah, the black mesh also helps to absorb heat and speed up the drying process.
There are installed DC fans inside the dryer, powered by a solar PV system. It helps circulate hot air inside the dryer, making the drying rate faster.
Ing. Akowuah also indicated the dryer is designed in such a way that the moisture from the grains during drying easily gets evaporated through special vents located on each side of the dryer.
Per the design of the system, one can anticipate using six to eight hours to dry maize in the minor drying season while eight to ten hours is expected to dry maize from a moisture content of 20 percent to 13 percent during the raining season where the biomass furnace supports the drying process.
Ing. Akowuah explains the development of the innovative drying system will support rural community business models for low and renewable energy input into optimised food processing.
This will minimise loss and waste in the food value. He anticipates the technology, when adopted, will provide an opportunity for transforming rural livelihoods. This will be done by reducing post-harvest losses and adding value to increase the farmers’ income.
It eventually will end years of insignificant income of farmers due to poor drying and storage facilities. The introduction of the integrated solar biomass hybrid dryer can increase local economic activity and generate employment in the community.