Innovation of the Week: Beating the Heat to Reduce Post-Harvest Waste

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For a farmer in a hot country like Sudan, a big harvest can end up being just a big waste. A fresh tomato off the vine will only last about 2 days in the stifling heat, while carrots and okra might last only 4 days. Despite being perfectly capable of producing abundant harvests, without any means to store and preserve crops, farmers in Sudan are at risk for hunger and starvation. They are also losing money that could be made by selling surplus produce at markets if they had a way to keep vegetables longer.

In a zeer pot, vegetables are protected from the heat. Tomatoes and carrots can last up to twenty days while okra will last for seventeen days. (Photo credit: Practical Action)

The organization, Practical Action—a development non-profit that uses technology to help people gain access to basic services like clean water, and sanitation and to improve food production and incomes— provides a simple solution to this problem in the form of homemade clay refrigerators.  Practical Action’s clay refrigerators are called zeer pots and can be made out of mud, clay, water, and sand. To make one a farmer uses molds made out of mud to create two pots of different sizes. Once dry, the small pot is fitted into the larger pot and the space between them is filled with sand. By placing this structure on an iron stand so that air can flow underneath and all around, and by adding water to the sand between the pots daily, a farmer can use evaporation to keep the pots—and whatever is inside—cool.

In a zeer pot, tomatoes and carrots can last up to twenty days while okra will last for seventeen days. And this can make a huge difference for a small scale farmer who is trying to feed her family. One farmer, Hawa Abbas, featured in a Practical Action case study, used to regularly expect to lose half her crop to the inescapable heat. But now, “[zeer pots] keep our vegetables fresh for 3-4 weeks, depending on the type of crop,” she said. “They are very good in a hot climate such as ours where fruit and vegetables get spoiled in one day.”

Practical Action provides trainings and demonstrations to teach small scale farmers how to make and use the pots in developing countries like Sudan and Darfur. And an instruction manual about how to make the pots can be found on its website.

To read more about innovations that reduce crop waste to alleviate hunger and improve livelihoods see: It’s All About the Process, Reducing Food WasteInvesting in Better Food Storage, and In a World of Abundance, Food Waste is a Crime.

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