Built by the son of a farmer, this US$90 solar dryer can preserve meats, fruits and veggies for up to a year

Sainul Abudheen

The equipment is five-fold cheaper and 25 per cent more efficient than an electricity-based cold storage device

Solar conductor dryer

When Vaibhav Tidke founded S4S Technologies (Science4Society) in Mumbai after finishing his PhD in Sustainable Technology, his only goal was to use his knowledge and expertise for the benefit of the society, especially farmers. Hailing from a family of farmers, Vaibhav knew the key challenges and pains faced by the farming community, which has long been relegated to the backburner in India.

He realised that one of the most pressing problems faced by farmers was the lack of a proper mechanism to preserve their agricultural produce. As a result, farmers are forced to sell the fruits of their months-long labour for a song — some even just let it go waste. An electricity-based cold storage or refrigeration system is out of the question in rural India, where electricity is either a mirage or a one-time visitor. For a community already exploited by the middle men, letting their produce go waste is unimaginable and painful.

“I grew up seeing the pains of my parents and fellow farmers,” Vaibhav told e27. “It was really heart-wrenching to see their long months of hard-work go in vain. So after completing my studies, I decided to help them address this issue.”

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S4S Technologies Co-founder Vaibhav Tidke

S4S Technologies Co-founder Vaibhav Tidke

Started in 2013, S4S developed a solar conductor dryer that can be used to preserve perishable commodities for up to a year. Its food-drying technology helps extend the shelf life of produce without adding any preservatives to the mix. Apart from vegetables, fruits and spices, the dryer can be also used to preserve meats and seafood.

A whopping 1.3B tonnes food is lost or wasted every year

As per an estimate, one third of the food produced for human consumption every year (approximately 1.3 billion tonnes) is lost or wasted. This amounts to roughly US$990 billion. This is in a world in which 795 million people (one in nine people) do not have access to enough food to lead a healthy life.

“India alone produces around 74 million tonnes of fruits and 143 million tonnes of vegetables every year. However, about 20-30 per cent of the total production is lost during the post harvest handling,” Vaibhav added.

“A post-harvest management tech is the need of the hour to avoid spoilage of vegetables and fruits so that their shelf life can be increased. Dehydration, the commonly used post-harvest management technology, is promising but is electricity dependent. In rural India, where power-cut is a common phenomenon, an electricity-based mechanism is not viable. There is a need for electricity-free solution,” explained Vaibhav.

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He claimed that the dryer is five-fold cheaper and 25 per cent more efficient than an electricity-based cold storage device. Since it consumes less energy than a regular dryer and refrigerator, it keeps carbon footprint to a minimum. Moreover, the machine doesn’t need maintenance.

The solar dryer, priced under US$90, has been installed in 1,200 sites so far. Apart from India, the dryer is used in countries such as France, Jamaica, Nepal, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Kenya, and Bangladesh.

FooDer, your kitchen buddy

In addition to the solar dryer, S4S also offers a solar food dryer. Christened FooDer, this device can be used to create your own fruit candies, dried vegetables, and dried fish. According to the firm, FooDer is an innovative and natural way to create health food that lets you preserve 80 per cent of all essential nutrients and vitamins.

The machine is also priced under US$90. To date, S4S has sold 250 units.

As a food sustainability company, S4S also offers its own food brand that brings packaged dehydrated products to consumers. “Packaged food products in the market use preservatives, chemicals and additives which have been linked to heath problems in humans,” noted Vaibhav.

“DesiVDesi products blend unmatched taste, ease of preparation and wholesomeness into each of its products. Our unique technology keeps intact the nutrients and promises delicious. Our products not only have delicious taste but also have a shelf life of six months without addition of any preservatives,” he said.

The products are available in the range of INR 40 to INR 80 (around US$1).

It is great to see that young entrepreneurs in India are working towards the goal of making the country less dependent on the power grid. Even though the country is touted to be the next China, in reality, it is still years away from electrifying its villages. Entrepreneurs like Vaibhav are making a difference to the life of the poor, especially in rural India. Hopefully his sustainable technology equipment impacts millions of people in both under-developed and developing economies of the world.

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