For the farmers of Adogo, a community in Nigeria’s Mbaya district, sun drying was the only way to preserve produce. Local women would lay fruits and vegetables on the ground to dehydrate them for future use. But sun drying brings problems: it’s weather-dependent, it exposes the food to contaminants like dust and insects, and it’s surprisingly time-consuming, as the women need to guard their produce from scavenging animals, both wild and domestic. In Adogo, where the majority of Benue State’s peppers and tomatoes originate but which has no nearby market or processing industry, the smallholder farmers faced a lose-lose situation: either inefficiently dry their produce in the sun, or sell it at giveaway prices before it rotted. All too often the food went bad, just because the farmers lacked a safe, sanitary, reliable method of preserving their produce.
Enter Pricilla Achakpa, a celebrated environmentalist and Executive Director of Women Environmental Programme (WEP) in Nigeria. In 2017, Achakpa was invited to the University of Glasgow for a meeting of Sustainable Futures in Africa (SFA). There she heard a fellow SFA member, Dr. Deepa Pullanikkatil, present on climate change adaptation technologies that were used in a project in Malawi. One technology mentioned by Dr. Pullanikkatil made a particular impression on Achakpa: the Solar Dryer Tent. Here was a simple construction, similar to a greenhouse, that would not only allow produce to be dried quickly, safely and hygienically, but which had already been successfully implemented in Malawi, where it was used to dry fish. Achakpa knew at once that she was on to something that could change lives in rural Nigerian communities like Adogo.
Three months later, Achakpa and Pullanikkatil met again, this time at an SFA conference in Nigeria. This time Pullanikkatil brought along a model of a Solar Dryer Tent as well as a how-to construction video. Achakpa brought these to Adogo, where the farmers responded with overwhelming positivity. They recognized a priceless opportunity to stop their produce from rotting, meaning they would be able to dry enough food to last all year, and also to sell preserved goods at fair prices rather than offloading it dirt-cheap before it rotted. With the community whole-heartedly on board, WEP delegated a team to strategize with the villagers in a consultative meeting.
The people of Adogo committed to providing land for the tent as well as labour, wood, sand, water and cement. WEP would provide the necessary funds as well as bricks, tin roofing sheets, plastic sheets, nets and other materials. To oversee the construction of their tent, the community formed a project Implementation Committee consisting of local masons, carpenters, church leaders, enthusiastic youths and the community head, Zakki, who mobilised people and played a supervisory role.
Construction began in July 2018 and was completed a month later. The result was a tent built 21 feet wide and 32 feet long, with a 2-foot deep foundation. The walls, made of burnt bricks, stand 5 feet high, giving the tent a strong foundation and protecting it from animals, wind and flooding. The wooden pillars bring the height of the tent up to 7 feet, with galvanized aluminium sheets used for roofing. These sheets absorb sunlight, and the heat they generate is retained by hard polythene sheets used as walls, with vents for circulation. Inside the tent are double-decker racks, each 4 feet wide and 22 feet long, covered with polythene and netting on which produce can be left to dry with minimal monitoring from the farmers, freeing them up to tend to other duties.
The community have reported that their produce dries faster in the Solar Dryer Tent than it did outdoors, and that the nutritional properties of the produce are better retained. The Solar Tent Dryer is cost-effective, easy to build (requiring only semi-skilled labour), and suitable for rural areas of Nigeria where subsistence farming is highly concentrated. The widespread use of Solar Dryer Tents would have a huge impact, enhancing the storage of produce during harvests and reducing post-harvest losses, all of which means an increase in the availability of food and a major reduction in food waste.
Safer, healthier, more abundant food for the people of Adogo to consume and sell, and a permanent structure to ensure continued success into the future. It’s easy to see why Zaki Linus Asorzwa, the district head of Adogo, called the Solar Dryer Tent a “momentous milestone for the good of the community” as he expressed his gratitude to WEP for their efforts. But it was not WEP alone that turned the tide in Adogo; it was the result of a collaboration between WEP and the community, as well as a fortuitous meeting between Achakpa and Dr. Pullanikkatil. Thinking back on it, Pullanikkatil says, “It is heartening to know that a simple conversation and meeting through SFA in Glasgow helped transfer this technology to Nigeria and is now helping communities there.”
You can see a short documentary about Adogo’s Solar Dryer Tent here: https://youtu.be/jT4usNwpSkg