Ugandan Innovator Tackles Food Waste In Africa

24-year-old Lawrence Okettayot is tackling food waste in his country, Uganda, with his Sparky Dryer, an eco-friendly dehydrator built with steel and wood. The engineering graduate conceived the idea for the Sparky Dryer four years ago when his uncle, a farmer, told him he was considering leaving the farming business due to a loss of income caused by wastage.

The frustration faced by his uncle was shared by other farmers as well, even till this day. Uganda loses 30 to 40 percent of its crops every year because farmers cannot store their produce, but this problem is not only peculiar to Uganda; Africa has a food waste issue.

50 percent of all the fruit and vegetables produced on the continent are discarded, yet millions stay hungry. According to the UN, the amount of food wasted on the continent is enough to feed 300 million people. Hence the significance of innovative solutions like Okettayot’s dehydrator.

Built like a filing cabinet or small fridge with a catalytic converter, the Sparky Dryer runs on biofuel and burns with zero-carbon emissions to dry fruits, vegetables, cereals and grains. One dryer costs 450,000 to 900,000 UGX ($120 – $240) and dehydrates foods five times faster than electric dryers and 10 times faster than open sun drying. The Sparky Dryer can dehydrate up to 100 kg of produce in five hours running on two kilogrammes of biofuel.

This is cost-effective, in comparison with electric-powered dehydrators which are more expensive and less reliable due to poor power supplies, particularly in rural areas where most farmers are based. Other alternatives like solar dehydrators or the traditional open sun drying burn slower, longer and are weather dependent. Not to mention solar dehydrators are just as expensive as electric dehydrators.

Although the young innovator is yet to scale his business, he is helping farmers and effectively promoting his course of tackling food waste with a sales strategy and payment plan for those who cannot afford the Sparky Dryer – a group of farmers are given a dehydrator to be paid for in instalments. Last year, the young innovator was shortlisted for the Africa Prize for engineering innovation.

Given the statistics of the amount of food produced in Africa and those that go to waste amidst prevailing hunger and food insecurity, the continent, particularly Sub-Saharan Africa, needs to focus on maximally utilizing what is being produced rather than on increasing food production. The latter is just as important, but to what end if half of the food produced is going to be wasted?