Jolyn Bryan, Gleaner Writer
MORANT BAY, St Thomas:
With growing concerns about food security in the country, the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) has recently introduced solar dryers to St Thomas with the hope that the innovation will help to reduce the waste of agricultural produce in the parish.
In light of the recent push by the Government to grow more food and limit imports, one of the authority's focuses is on the amount of produce that is lost through waste.
First introduced to the Caribbean by Elyse Petersen, a Peace Corps volunteer in Antigua and Barbuda, the solar dryer has the potential to positively impact food security and storage. The dryers are designed to remove moisture from fruits such as mangoes, jackfruits, apples, and pineapples, allowing them to be preserved over a much longer period of time without risk of spoilage. Energy and operation costs are minimal, which means that the dryers can be maintained by small farmers and small-business owners or individuals.
Jennie Franks, another Peace Corps volunteer at RADA in St Thomas, told Rural Express that the dryers cost less than $5,000 to make. Fruits treated in the dryers are easier to transport and can generate additional income as they offer another choice to consumers. These dried fruits have a long shelf life, are available out of season, and can be used in soups, sauces, cakes, candies, and snacks. They also travel well, meaning that they can be exported to other countries that have a market for such delicacies.
Franks highlights that dried fruit should be stored in air-tight containers such as glass or vacuum packs to ensure freshness and quality. RADA hopes to begin training persons at the Morant Bay office in the construction and maintenance of solar dryers by the end of the month. Many persons, especially small farmers, have expressed an interest in learning to construct the dryers as they have seen much of their crops go to waste because of lack of demand. This may also be a means of getting younger people involved in agricultural pursuits, offering a way to start their own businesses without the added stress of having to come up with exorbitant initial capital.