Sweet, chewy, and bursting with the energy of the sun. This is how the produce dried using the Zimbabwe Solar Dryer (ZSD) emerges after just a few hours. The ZSD is a new-to-market device with positive implications for fruit and leafy vegetable growers and sellers everywhere.
The consumption of sundried fruit dates back as far as Mesopotamia, 6,000 years ago! In those days it was dates, raisins, figs, apricots, and apples that were sun-dried, but the modern market is considerably more diverse, and includes nearly every fruit and lots of vegetables, from bananas to covo, which then becomes mufushwa to be eaten with sadza.
Most modern dryers use electricity, often linked to the national grid, to warm up and ventilate the produce. Given our power shortages, our rural population, and luxurious amounts of sunshine, a return to the sun to carry out the dehydration process is a no-brainer in modern Zimbabwe. No doubt South African fruit drying businesses will also be looking for solutions like this, given the recently erratic Eskom service.
Two years in the making, the ZSD is the work of agricultural engineer Raymond Nyazare and agro-ecologist Newton Spicer, who have perfected a simple, cost-effective, and robust design that holds huge potential for small and large scale producers, entrepreneurs, and households looking to add value to their crops. NGOs and government departments with interests in SMEs, hunger and poverty alleviation and youth empowerment will also be taking notice of this product.
“We initially tested the concept with chilies, and even though our first creation was less effective than the one we have perfected now, we dried a tonne of chilies very quickly,” says Spicer, who was pleased with the concept, even with the early stages of testing.
Consisting of 2.4 meter frames covered in plastic sheeting to trap heat, the dryers use a fan powered by a photovoltaic panel to circulate air over the produce and remove moisture. The 2.4 metre sections can be used individually, or in tandem up to an optimum length of 9.6 metres using a single fan. The fruit or veg is prepared and laid out on sliding trays that fit neatly into the dryer.
“The preparation of the fruit is the hard part, and can take a while depending on the fruit,” says Spicer,” but it is time well spent. The numerous vendors struggling to sell their fruit on the side of the road might find this a more valuable way to spend their time, since the value added is considerable.”
There are several advantages to dried fruit. In terms of nutrition, most dried fruit retains almost all nutrients, with some benefits such as antioxidants actually increasing during drying. As a rule of thumb, the faster the produce is dehydrated, the better – giving the produce from the ZSD a huge boost.
In terms of economics, the costs associated with storage and transportation of produce are reduced drastically, since dried fruit has a very long shelf life, and weighs substantially less. There is no longer any need to discard unsold produce, which has implications for food security whereby harvests can be stored for use during off-season.
“Although we will always be looking for efficiencies, our testing phase is over, and our workshop is now ready for orders,” says Spicer, over a mouthwatering sample of dried apples that were whole apples just the day before. “In terms of spares and repairs, the design is so simple, we expect users to be able to maintain their dryers indefinitely of their own accord,” he added.
For more information on the Zimbabwe Solar Dryer, call 0772 264 486 or email [email protected]