“Pakistan is a country with a substantial agricultural sector that plays a vital role in feeding its population and exporting food to other countries. However, despite its significant contribution to the world’s food supply, Pakistan still faces challenges in ensuring food security for its citizens,” said Dr Muhammad Hanif, a senior scientific officer at the National Agriculture Research Centre, while talking to WealthPK.

Pakistan’s struggle to secure its food supply is due to insufficient food storage capacity. Shockingly, a significant portion, ranging from 10 per cent to an alarming 50pc of the total food production in Pakistan, goes to waste, Dr Hanif added.

As the Ministry of National Food Security & Research reported, a staggering 26pc of food, or 19.6 million metric tons worth $4 billion, is wasted annually in Pakistan.

In Sindh’s urban markets, vegetable and fruit prices exhibit a consistent pattern. Prices for fresh produce are highest in the morning and gradually decrease throughout the day as sellers aim to clear their stock to avoid spoilage due to limited storage facilities.

Vast amounts of produce are wasted because they do not meet appearance, size, and colour standards that may be preserved using solar-drying technologies

Similarly, prices are low at the beginning of each harvesting season due to abundant supply, but as the season progresses and preservation options are lacking, prices soar. Improved preservation methods could mitigate this issue by enabling storage and utilisation of surplus produce, thus helping to stabilise prices.

Meanwhile, Dr Muhammad Siddique Depar, the Principal Scientific Officer at the Arid Zone Research Centre (AZRC) Umerkot, unveils a paradigm shift in chilli processing. He stated that chillies traditionally require two weeks of outdoor air-drying.

“Over the past three years or so, AZRC has installed a red chilli drying machine donated by a foreign country, a solar tunnel, and a chilli dehydrator drying and washing machine. “This has significantly reduced drying time to four days in a solar tunnel or 30 hours with the dryer, compared to the traditional two-week outdoor drying process,” Dr Depar explained.

Farmer Javed Rajar also discussed chilli drying, saying, “I availed the AZRC red chilli drying facilities, and it saved me time and quality. However, I am still dependent on traditional methods as AZRC did not have the capacity to dry all my chilli crops. For large-scale production, these machines are not enough,” he lamented.

Certainly, these machines rely on external electrical power for operation, incurring additional costs. Moreover, their limited capacity makes them costlier when considering the need for additional dryers to process larger crops.

In light of these complexities, Mehmood Nawaz Shah, President of the Sindh Abadgar Board (SAB), sheds light on a broader agricultural dilemma. “Pakistan is ranked sixth or seventh in producing dates in the world, but we have poor infrastructure and lack modern machinery and techniques, which is why we suffer big losses,” he said.

A large number of dates are spoiled annually in our country. In a reported case during the 2022 monsoon, about 80pc of the date crop in Sindh suffered damage, resulting in multimillion-rupee losses for palm growers.

Why not shift towards the technology that is both cost-effective and efficient, utilising readily available and abundant natural resources — in this case solar energy — in our region?

Maharashtra India’s Vaibhav Tidke, a farmer’s son, founded “Scien­ce4Society (S4S) Tech­nologies”, capitalising on the abundant solar energy in tropical regions when cold storage is unavailable for preserving food products. Founded in 2008, S42 is now being used in about ten countries.

A renowned global initiative, “Energising Development (EnDev)”, dedicated to expanding energy access globally, recently launched a pioneering project in Peru aimed at processing coffee beans using solar dryers. This reduces bean humidity to 25pc by filtering ultra-violet radiation, concentrating heat, and improving ventilation.

Innovations like these can not only help reduce food wastage but can also provide employment opportunities.

Key manufacturers in the solar-powered agricultural dryer sector are investing in research and development to drive product innovation, enhance production methods, and expand into new international markets. Notable companies include GrainPro, Rudra Solar Energy, S4S Technologies, Solarflex, and JUA Technologies.

Consequently, integrating these solar drying technologies in Pakistan can crucially align with several Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including SDG-2 (Zero Hunger), SDG-7 (Affordable and Clean Energy), SDG-8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth), and SDG-12 (Responsible Consumption and Production). Since all 17 SDGs are interconnected, success in one affects success in others.

The agricultural landscape in Pakistan stands at the cusp of a transformative shift with solar food drying innovations driven by the need for food security. Primarily, solar dryers operate with a one-time capital cost, with a payback period of six months to 1.5 years covering installation expenses, with no ongoing running costs.

Looking ahead, the prospect of introducing solar drying technologies on a larger scale holds immense promise for the agricultural sector. It is a testament to the nation’s commitment to innovation, sustainable practices, and a journey towards more efficient food production. Through continued collaboration and investment in such technologies, Pakistan can pave the way for a brighter, more sustainable future in agriculture.

The writer is a student at Mehran University of Engineering and Technology, Jamshoro, pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering. Email: sadafunar08@gmail.com

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, April 8th, 2024

Opinion

Editorial

First steps
Updated 29 May, 2024

First steps

One hopes that this small change will pave the way for bigger things.
Rafah inferno
29 May, 2024

Rafah inferno

THE level of barbarity witnessed in Sunday’s Israeli air strike targeting a refugee camp in Rafah is shocking even...
On a whim
29 May, 2024

On a whim

THE sudden declaration of May 28 as a public holiday to observe Youm-i-Takbeer — the anniversary of Pakistan’s...
Afghan puzzle
Updated 28 May, 2024

Afghan puzzle

Unless these elements are neutralised, it will not be possible to have the upper hand over terrorist groups.
Attacking minorities
28 May, 2024

Attacking minorities

Mobs turn into executioners due to the authorities’ helplessness before these elements.
Persistent scourge
Updated 29 May, 2024

Persistent scourge

THE challenge of polio in Pakistan has reached a new nadir, drawing grave concerns from the Technical Advisory Group...