A new open sourced grain drying technology in East Africa

A new open source grain drying technology dubbed the EasyDry M500, has been developed in East Africa, to help small holder farmers (SHFs) dry grains effectively and quickly, to reduce post harvest losses. The portable dryer, dries 500 kilograms of maize in 3 hours, by lowering the moisture content from 20 to 13.5 percent, the recommended moisture content level, for maize storage.   

Developed by ACDI/VOCA and Agribusiness Systems International, the EasyDry M500 dryer operates by burning the maize cobs, to provide heating.  A fan passes the heat and smoke from burning maize cobs through the dryer’s heat exchange and then out of the chimney.  A second fan, powered by 5 liters of petrol daily, pushes clean air through other channels into the heat exchange.  

The dry and hot air is then pushed through a bed with maize, hanging on a table like structure, housed within a canvas bag. The maize is regularly turned, every 30 minutes by the dryer operator for effective drying.  After 3 hours, 500 kilograms of ‘wet maize’ achieves a moisture content level of about 13.5 percent, at which point it can be stored. 

According to Sophie Walker of ACDI/VOCA the EasyDry M500, is helping East Africa’s SHFs to quickly dry maize and sell it to earn an income.  Most East Africa SHFs traditionally rely on five sunny days, to dry maize spread on a surface on the ground to the right moisture content levels. But when it’s rainy or cloudy, drying maize becomes a challenge. SHFs are forced to store maize when moisture levels are high, resulting in growth of fungi that causes aflatoxin poisoning and spoilage. 

Africa has the highest incidences of aflatoxin at 40 percent. It affects crops like maize, sorghum, cassava, groundnuts, and yam, which are widely consumed in the continent. High doses of aflatoxin in grains like maize can result in serious illnesses like liver cirrhosis or liver cancer, and death in humans or animals. 

In East Africa about 132 million people rely on maize as a staple food.  But knowledge on post harvest handling of grains, lacks among rural poor SHFs, which results in incidences of aflatoxin poisoning and post harvest losses.  

The grain post harvest losses are also be caused by farmers storing “wet” grains unknowingly, resulting in them rotting or germinating.  According to the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO), in the first 6 months after harvest, Kenya loses 20 to 30 percent of stored maize due to pathogens like aflatoxin, rodents, and insects.  

In Kenya where the EasyDry M500 has been piloted, 139 farmers have benefitted from it, and up to 5 dryers purchased by SHFs. ACDI/VOCA has also given 20 dryers to the World Food Programme to use with Tanzania’s SHFs, and other to 5 farmer cooperatives in Rwanda.  

“In its current configuration it can also dry rice and wheat,” said Walker. But it requires modification for it to dry groundnuts. Since it currently primarily utilizes maize cobs for heating, modification may need to be done by a technician for it to use other forms of biomass for heating available. The EasyDry M500 can be fabricated using easily available materials.

In Kenya it costs (all figures in USD) about $850 to manufacture it and in Tanzania and Uganda about $1100 and in Rwanda about $1660. Being an open source technology ACDI/VOCA allows technicians to copy its design from their website, and make it for their respective farming communities.