Originally published on February 17, 2016.
Clara Ibihya displays her solar dried vegetables and fruits.
Mangos, pineapples, bananas, tomatoes, jackfruits, carrots, onions, pumpkin leaves, spinach – in Tanzania, all of this produce grows and is gathered during the December to April harvest season. However, today it is August, and Clara Ibihya is sitting at a table full of these delicious products. Clara is a smallholder farmer, and the founder of Claphijo Enterprise, a fruits and vegetables solar drying company.
Like many female smallholders in Tanzania, Clara once lost a significant portion of her harvest every year due to lack of a cold chain infrastructure. Fruits and vegetables are overly abundant in the harvest season – and are often wasted or sold for unfair prices. In the off-season, this produce is unavailable. Seeking the opportunity to increase year-round productivity, Clara realized that food processing could provide a solution. “When I was a child, my mother used to sun-dry sweet potatoes outside for us to eat during the dry periods. I thought, if it works for sweet potatoes, why not other produce?” said Clara.
After being trained in food processing and experimenting with different ways to conduct the drying process, Clara learned about solar drying. Made from local wood, a plastic sheet and wire mesh, carpenters can easily make Clara’s solar drying innovation.
The technology uses energy from the sun to heat the air and extract the water vapor from the products. Ventilation at the top of the technology releases the vapor, leaving the natural nutrients intact.
Clara's solar drying innovation constructed with local wood, a plastic sheet and wire mesh.
Clara’s concept was a success, but she needed exposure to a larger audience. In May 2014, she competed and won the Women in Agriculture Innovations Award (WAIA), funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and organized by Land O’Lakes International Development through the Innovations in Gender Equality (IGE) program. Through this award, Clara tested three prototypes in three villages, and trained farmer groups on how to use the drier to prevent post-harvest losses. “I made five solar driers to dry the fruits on my farm. This made me able to sell my produce year-round! The extra income is going towards school fees for my son,” explained Fufumbe Ramadhani, a farmer and training participant.
Later in 2014, IGE supported Clara’s participation at the United Nations ShareFair in Nairobi, Kenya. The annual event aims to promote technologies and innovations that support rural women smallholder farmers. Clara pitched her innovation and products in the post-harvest loss category. Many visitors were captivated by her stand, and amazed to see dried fruits and vegetables for the first time.
Because of her showcase at ShareFair, Clara received a twelve-month contract to produce and supply 100kgs of breadfruit powder every month at $3 per kg to the University of Nairobi. She collaborated with farmer Fufumbe Ramadhani to tackle the order, who supplied her a portion of the powder every month meet the need. “Without the dehydration tool, breadfruit has little economic value because it grows in the wild. With the drier, the demand and value of breadfruit rose from nothing to USD 20 a piece – this shift makes an impact on many farmers and communities,” said Clara. “The ShareFair 2014 was an eye opener and practical learning platform where I shared and exchanged skills, experiences, challenge sand solutions in entrepreneurship and technology.” Clara was later invited to the South Africa International Renewable Energy Conference in Cape Town to showcase her company. Here she met with potential investors and partners who were interested in helping her expand her business internationally.
Clara is one example of many women who are being supported by the USAID-funded IGE program. The four-year program is promoting household food security by empowering women in the agricultural sector. The program is achieving this goal by supporting entrepreneurs with locally designed innovations that could reduce women’s work burden or time they spend in agriculture and/or household tasks.