Surviving on the margins of poverty, farmers in Burkina Faso must produce as much food as possible. However, over-production at certain times of year can lead to food being left to rot. In conjunction with UK fair trade food importers, ‘Tropical Wholefoods’, farmers have developed an efficient food drying system. This effectively and quickly dries the fruit with no need for preservatives. With advantages of long shelf-life, ease of transportation and low costs, dried fruits can provide a viable venture for many struggling farmers.
Farming in Burkina Faso
As one of the poorest countries in the world, landlocked Burkina Faso in West Africa has few natural resources, a fragile soil, and a highly unequal distribution of income. About 90 per cent of the population is engaged in agriculture, mainly for subsistence, and this is vulnerable to variations in rainfall. Droughts, desertification, soil degradation and deforestation have severely affected agricultural activities in recent years.
With Burkina Faso’s high population density and agricultural vulnerability, rural fruit farmers face poor economic prospects, and while some farmers are able to produce an abundance of fruit on the areas of fertile soil, any surpluses are often left to rot.
Much harvested food is lost during storage as a result of inadequate processing and preservation. Fruits have a high acidity, which controls the type of organisms that are able to grow in fruit products. The spoilage micro-organisms that are likely to be found in fruit products are moulds and yeasts which are unlikely to cause illness if consumed. Nonetheless, such deterioration of stored foodstuffs is a major contributor to economic problems on an individual and a national scale. Reducing such losses is an important step towards increasing food availability, thereby achieving greater food security and a more stable income.
New methods of processing food, combined with imaginative marketing, have the added advantage of increasing the value of foodstuffs and making them available for longer. Processing uses preservatives such as sugar, salt and vinegar, as well as techniques such as drying. Methods such as canning and bottling are largely too expensive to be undertaken by small producers.
The preservation of foodstuffs by drying has long been a favoured method worldwide because it is cheap, easily achieved and long lasting. Sun-dried food production has the advantage of being traditional and easily understood with low fuel and equipment costs. It can also be carried out close to the home, and in a country where 70 per cent of fruit farmers are women, reducing the distance that they have to travel can help enormously in reducing their daily burden.
In Burkina Faso, traditional sun-drying is commonly used to preserve produce such as mango. The cut produce is laid out in the sun on mats, roofs or drying floors. Sun-drying often remains the only economic choice for poor people who wish to dry foods in large quantities. Drying removes water from the surface of the food by the combined effects of airflow, high air temperature, and low air humidity. When the moisture content of the food is below a certain level, micro-organisms cannot grow. In humid climates, dried products must be packaged well in order to prevent moisture uptake and so protect against spoilage.
Solar Drying Technologies
Sun-drying is a widespread, traditional practice, although it can result in a loss of certain vitamins, particularly vitamin A. When food is dried effectively, value is added to the product and in such cases an investment in improved drying technologies may be worthwhile. Ssome communities are now benefiting from the use of solar driers – simple pieces of equipment which are excellent for rapid, consistent drying and are more effective at preserving the nutritional quality of foods than traditional sun-drying.
Solar driers use the sun’s heat more efficiently and, under the correct climatic conditions, provide many advantages over traditional sun-drying. Higher temperatures result in shorter drying times and the ability to dry to a lower final moisture content. Driers also offer protection from contamination by dust and from rain showers; they are low cost and can be constructed in local workshops.
Solar driers consist of a transparent panel above a chamber or collector that is painted black to absorb the sun’s heat. Polythene, which is very cheap, is commonly used to glaze the panel but often turns yellow and opaque after a few months of constant use and then must be replaced. Plastic films are becoming increasingly available and, with the advantage of not getting damaged by sunlight, should be used where possible. Solar drying chambers have a life of five years or more.
To maximise the benefits derived from solar drying chambers, a number of operational guidelines should be followed. It is very important to angle the collector at the correct angle to the sun:
- The angle should be greater than 15 degrees to allow rainwater to run off;
- The collector should be angled at 90 degrees to the mid-day sun;
- The collector should face south in the Northern hemisphere and north in the Southern;
- The collector should be sited away from shadows of trees or buildings.
The Brace Solar Drier is widely used for small-scale food drying. It consists of a wooden box with a hinged transparent lid. The inside is painted black and the food supported on a mesh tray above the drier floor. Air flows into the chamber through holes in the front and exits from vents at the top of the back wall. Brace-type driers achieve high temperatures, and therefore short drying times.
Fuel Powered Drying Technology
Solar driers, however, are not always the most effective means of producing high-quality dried fruit. In Burkina Faso, the rainy season lasts five months every year, during which time solar driers are non-operational. Drying co-operatives in Burkina Faso are therefore also making use of fuel powered driers, especially the butane powered drier developed by the Swiss NGO, CEAS (Centre Ecologique Albert Schweitzer). The butane powered drier gives increased control over drying conditions and produces a higher quality product. It is operational all year round, and produces a higher rate of drying than solar driers.
Farmers in Burkina Faso receive full training in the use and maintenance of drying technology such as the butane gas powered drier. The mangoes are freshly picked and washed, and after slicing are placed in the drier with no added pesticides, artificial fertilisers, sugar or preservatives. In the drier the butane gas rapidly heats the air below the mango, and this is blown across the mango from below and extracted through a vertical chimney. This cooks the mango at 50° Celsius for 24 hours. In this way, each machine can produce 160 kg (20 shelves at 8 kg each) of dried fruit produce a day. Once cool, the mango is weighed, sent through quality control and then packaged.
Maximising the Benefits
Despite the advantage of sustainable, small-scale drying technologies, drying mango at an individual level is largely inefficient. To meet consumer demand, many large-scale corporations in the developed world have adopted expensive, highly automated technologies. Appropriate equipment can enable small-scale farmers to compete in the global market, but food processing and preservation is often best achieved collectively. In Burkina Faso, to maximise the benefits of the new drying technology, a number of co-operatives have come together to form the Cercle de Secheurs (CDS), or the Circle of Driers.
CDS was formed in 1992 and officially certified as a Groupement d’Interet Economique (GIE) in 1995. There were five founding members, all of whom used solar and appropriate drying technology developed by CEAS. Three of the five founding members were co-operatives, including two women’s co-operatives. The CDS is responsible for the procurement of raw materials, the marketing of products and the training of members. The remainder of activities (especially the use made of Fair Trade sales premiums) are decided upon by the individual groups involved. Since the relocation of the Coordination Office and the export logistics to a building belonging to the organisation itself in 1997, the CDS has become more independent in both an organisational and geographical sense from the CEAS:
“In the early years of the mango project, CEAS was responsible for almost all of its aspects. Since 1995, its role has been limited to technical advising and product development. The roles of both parties are redefined at the beginning of each harvest season. CDS is progressively taking on tasks that were previously the responsibility of CEAS”.
The first and main product of CDS is dried organic mango. For the past two years, they have also manufactured and exported mango juice, mango syrup and sun-dried tomatoes. In 2003, CDS exported 68 tonnes of dried mango, 10 tonnes of juice, and 8 tonnes of syrup.
Since 1996, democratically organised women’s groups concerned with the production of dried fruit and vegetables have been admitted as members to CDS. In the meantime the demand for dried fruit and vegetables has risen on the domestic and international market. For many groups, fulfilling this demand provides a source of income and is an important contribution towards ensuring a dependable food supply.
The five original members of CDS work in different regions of Burkina Faso:
- Ouahigouya – the 65 member women’s group, Basnere, produces sun-dried tomatoes and mango.
- Bobo-Dioulasso – Cotrapal consists of 105 women members and produces dried mango, mango juice and syrup.
- Berekedougou – GSBE and Socobe cultivate mango trees and manage their own drying stations.
- Toussiana – Mango So produces dried mango.
- Bubo Town – Station Maya, which is run by the president of CDS, Monsieur Andrew Mayabouti, produces dried mango and sun-dried tomatoes.
CDS is not merely responsible for marketing the products of its own members, but also those of several ‘users’ (from the French localism ‘usagers’). The ‘user’ producers cannot participate in planning and decision-making and only have access to the infrastructure and advisory services of the CDS. This ensures that conventional traders do not infiltrate the CDS and influence the decision-making process at the expense of the CDS target group – the underprivileged population.’Users’ negotiate their individual delivery quotas on an annual basis with CDS. They have a right to technical advice and support, and access to appropriate quantities of packaging material in accordance with their loans.
The Final Product
|Type of Product||Description|
|Organic Dried Mango||Dried mango derived from ‘Amelie’ and ‘Brooks’ mangoes (10 x 100 g boxes).|
|Organic Dried Mango in Chocolate||Dried mango dipped in dark chocolate (8 x 75 g boxes).|
|Sun-dried Tomatoes||Roma tomatoes finely sliced and dried in solar driers in Burkina Faso (6 x 50 g cases).|
|Mango and Brazil Bar||Snack made from 32 per cent sun-dried mango, which also contains rice, oats, honey and sunflower oil (28 x 40 g boxes).|
Type of Product Description
Organic Dried Mango Dried mango derived from ‘Amelie’ and ‘Brooks’ mangoes (10 x 100 g boxes).
Organic Dried Mango in Chocolate Dried mango dipped in dark chocolate (8 x 75 g boxes).
Sun-dried Tomatoes Roma tomatoes finely sliced and dried in solar driers in Burkina Faso (6 x 50 g cases).
Mango and Brazil Bar Snack made from 32 per cent sun-dried mango, which also contains rice, oats, honey and sunflower oil (28 x 40 g boxes).
Tropical Wholefoods has traded with CDS since 1995 and along with the Swiss Alternative Trade Organisation, Claro, is the major trading partner. In 2003, Tropical Wholefoods purchased close to 30 tonnes of dried organic mango from CDS, produce which the UK Soil Association has officially certified as organic.
Tropical Wholefoods was established in 1992 to import and market tropical dried fruits within the UK. Tropical Wholefoods began its quest to find fair-trading partners in Uganda, where it established the training and trading co-operative known as Fruits of the Nile. Similar initiatives have subsequently expanded in Burkina Faso, Pakistan, India, Zambia and Zanzibar.
Tropical Wholefoods is dedicated to establishing safe and equitable working conditions for those from whom it imports. The company imports only high quality organic foodstuffs, and seeks to be a dedicated and accountable partner in development initiatives. Tropical Wholefoods employs a fair trade policy dedicated to long-term partnerships with its traders, providing support and training to trade partners, guaranteeing fair prices to traders, offering international soft loans to aid in the expansion of fair trade business, and being an open, transparent and equitable organisation.
A Meaningful Trade Relationship
With the increasing use of dried fruit products from tropical countries, opportunities exist for developing countries to successfully enter the market, provided that the demand and quality standards can be met. The collaboration of co-operatives such as Cercle de Secheurs with technological innovations provided by the likes of CEAS and, reinforced by guaranteed import demand and prices from fair trade companies such as Tropical Wholefoods, has paved the way for small-scale rural producers to penetrate the global market for dried fruit.
The production of dehydrated food in such a collaborative manner has many advantages for small and medium-sized producers:
- The technology is relatively simple and easily understood;
- The equipment required is of moderate cost and, in most countries, can be largely constructed locally;
- Technical support provided by the likes of CEAS and Tropical Wholefoods ensures sustainability;
- The final product is long-lasting and easily transportable;
- Quality control checks are relatively simple.
With CDS providing guaranteed markets, fair trade prices and technological back-up services to its members, small-scale producers in Burkina Faso are becoming increasingly well equipped to expand their market beyond Europe and to set their sights on the USA and Asia.
ITDG would like to thank Kate Sebag from Tropical Wholefoods for providing information and helping in this case study.
The case study draws extensively on articles published by Tropical Wholefoods and on the technical briefs of ITDG.
TVE/ITDG gratefully acknowledge support for Hands On programmes from the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID).
Axtell, B. (2002). Drying Food For Profit: A guide for small businesses. London: ITDG Publishing.
Fellows, P. and Hampton, A. (1997). Small-scale Food Processing: A guide to appropriate equipment and techniques. London: Intermediate Technology Publications/CTA.
Reupke, P. and Tariq, A.S. (1994). Biomass-fuelled Indirect Air Heater for Agro-processing Industries: Design Approach. Chatham: Natural Resources Institute.
British Association For Fair Trade Shops (BAFTS) www.bafts.org.uk
CEAS – Centre Ecologique Albert Schweitzer www.ceas.ch
Tropical Wholefoods www.fullwellmill.com
UK Soil Association www.soilassociation.org
ITDG Technical Briefs answers.practicalaction.org
Other Relevant Hands On Case Studies
Rise and Shine – Mali
Pollen Power – Brazil
Spice Processing – Uruguay
Organic by Necessity – Cuba