I wrote an email last month to a group of my (Siobhan’s) donors. I updated them on our progress on the solar drying trial and error period. One of my donors sent back a list of questions. I responded to her personally, but I thought that her questions and my response might be of interest to all of you.
Here are the questions from my donor:
I am interested to hear more about the dried food. Where do the partners keep the food once it is ready for storage? In what kind of containers? Are there issues with protecting the food from nuisance animals? I know that this life with cars, packaging, freezers, refrigerators and supermarkets is so far removed from what your partners experience.
And here was my response:
Thank you for your questions! I love getting responses and having a chance to explain the project further. I am so glad you are well.
Right now we are in our trial and error phase of solar drying which includes testing fruits and vegetables, but also includes storage methods. There are several challenges with storage. 1st, Tanzanian culture (at least what I have observed in Tabora) does not practice food storage of any kind. For the reasons you listed like pests, the hot weather will rot produce, and there is not usually extra food to go around. In Tabora many people have small shops where they sell dried goods like beans, flour, sugar, rice etc as well as vegetables. Onions, tomatoes, okra, and small eggplants are usually available all the time. Sometimes coconuts, carrots, green peppers, spicy peppers, cabbage, leafy greens, and bananas are available as well (once or twice a week depending on when the shop keepers visit outside markets to obtain goods). It is common practice to go out everyday and purchase produce or flour/rice for the one or two meals you will be preparing for your family. No one keeps leftovers (lack of storage options) and not many families can afford to buy several days of vegetables at a time.
For now, Emma and I are purchasing the fruits and vegetables to be dried. Since we are in a trial and error phase we want to be able to dry goods often, and if they go bad, or something goes wrong in the process, our partners will not be financially responsible for the loss.
We have been trying to talk about the importance of saving dried goods for the rainy season when produce will be unavailable most days. But it is hard to describe a pantry, or surplus, to a culture that has never practiced such a thing. But we are trying and hope that it will catch on!
We have been successfully drying leafy greens. When they are dried we seal them into plastic bags. This is the same storage we use for our chips, peanuts, and popcorn. So all the partners know how to seal the bags and we know that the plastic is available locally. This does not keep air out of the products, which could be a problem for mold. And the plastic is easy for mice to get into. We hope partners will store their bags into large plastic buckets with lids (everyone has these at their homes for water storage and storage of dried corn.)
We are researching glass jar storage methods as well. But getting a large number of glass jars for each partner might prove to be difficult!
Do you have any ideas of what we can use to store goods? Mice and weather proof options.