A three-year research project aimed at reducing post-harvest losses of fruits and vegetables and preserving medicinal herbs was officially closed at the school of Food Technology, Nutrition and Bioengineering, Makerere University on March 22, 2022.
Implemented in Uganda and Kenya, the project titled,‘Adaptation and promotion of refractance window drying technology (RWDT) for production of high-quality bioproducts’ was funded under the BioInnovate Africa Programme Phase II.
The $750,000 (about Shs 2.7 billion) project started December 2017 and supposed to close December 2020. However, the Covid-19 disruption made it extend up to June 2021.
The implementers were Makerere University as leader, Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, Kenya Industrial Research and Development Institute (KIRDI), TONNET Agro-Engineering CompanyLtd, East Africa Nutraceuticals Ltd (EAN), Food and Nutrition Solutions Ltd (FONUS), and Uganda Ministry of Trade, Industry and Cooperatives.
Project leader Prof John Muyonga said the aims of the project included reducing post-harvest losses, value addition to agricultural products, fabrication of cheaper and more energy-efficient agro-processing equipment [drier], job creation, income generation, increased use of locally produced food ingredients from local fruits, herbs and vegetables, and enhancement of collaboration between farmers, processors, researchers, support agencies and the private sector.
The objectives of the closure meeting included showcasing project achievements, outputs and learnt lessons, and engaging key project stakeholders regarding necessary next steps for utilising the technology.
Achievements of the project include five models of the driers produced; a utility model secured with Uganda Registration Services Bureau; a company set up; six graduate students trained (two PhDs and four master’s); 12 papers published in international peer-reviewed journals; and one patent application; and dissemination of the technology through the mass media.
Others include training farmers and agro-processors to use the technology; training fabricators from three companies to produce the driers; improvement of institutional infrastructure, especially the facelift given to a building at Kabanyolo farm; and commercialization arrangements that include memoranda of understanding with Makerere University and private sector players.
Muyonga said that compared to commercial driers on the Ugandan market, the RWDT has advantages of mechanical simplicity, short drying time, high-quality product, energy efficiency and low cost.
The dried crisps and powder they have so far produced from mangoes and jackfruit retained their nutrients because, the moisture content was reduced to as low as five per cent, the technology also uses infrared energy and the drying rate is very fast. The technology also retains the flavor and colour of the raw materials.
The powder can be used to bake bread and cakes, or make juices and yoghurt, among others.