By Emily Callaghan
It is no secret that the global food system is facing many crises. Over 30 percent of food is wasted, yet millions of people remain food insecure and malnourished. The number of small and substance farmers is greatly diminishing due to a loss in economic opportunities. The food system displays many social injustices throughout the developing world, such as a divide in equal access to healthy food or remedies necessary for a healthy diet. In addition, a global food system has negative effects on the environment and depletes international resources.
Food waste is one aspect that contributes to these negative effects. Post-harvest loss is a huge issue for farmers all over the globe. It puts them at risk of losing monetary value and losing access to healthy food.
Considering these issues, how can we recuperate the global food system? Advanced technology as a solution to global food injustices does not resonate with most people. The two fields have been progressing separately at entirely different paces for a long time. However, these fields also have the potential to complement one another and advance simultaneously if utilized correctly. In fact, post-harvest technology has the capability of limiting food waste and has been labeled as one of the biggest startup opportunities in AgTech.
Three ambitious college graduates from Iowa State University are capitalizing on this ideology by utilizing agriculture technology to improve the food system in developing countries. This group of millennials are the co-founders of KinoSol, a start-up specific benefit corporation with the mission of eliminating food waste. Specific benefit corporations are fully responsible for fulfilling their social mission to truly keep the focus on people over profits.
The KinoSol team, which consists of Mikayla, Clayton and Rebecca, created a solar-powered food dehydrator called the KinoSol Orenda. By dehydrating food, sustenance and small-scale farmers in rural areas are able to minimize the amount of food wasted in a sustainable way to reap maximum benefits of growing their own food. The team works closely with outside organizations to fund the creation and implementation of these machines.
Here’s how their funding works: NGOs, churches, and various food aid organizations purchase the unit and through micro-credit loan programs farmers in developing countries are able to access to the technology. Within one year, farmers are able to pay back these loans.
Eliminating the Risk
Developing countries have already been dehydrating food as a preservation method but have experienced minimal success. Most farmers simply lay out produce in the sun for several days, which risks foodborne illness from pests and outside elements. In addition, if it were to rain the entire process would be ruined and the produce would have been wasted.
The KinoSol eliminates the risk of losing produce in an attempt to dehydrate foods. The unit is made of heat-resistant plastic and PVC pipes and is assembled entirely by hand and runs without any electrical inputs. The dehydrated produce can last up to six months post-harvest, which allows farmers to remain resistant against any potential negative elements of a growing season. Farmers at a small scale are at a greater risk of financial and nutritional harm when produce is lost. This technology greatly decreases food lost for small farmers to improve their livelihoods and agricultural success.
This technology also has the potential to eradicate food insecurity in developing countries by naturally preserving food to increase the shelf life of fresh produce. The social mission of decreasing food waste goes hand-in-hand with improving the nutritional quality across developing countries. The unit is able to dehydrate fruits, vegetables, grain and insects, and the team is currently working on a model that can safely dehydrate other types of meat. This will allow for further stability of healthy foods year round. The KinoSol Orenda is adaptable to any environment, which allows countries to meet their specific food needs and continue to have access to culturally appropriate foods which will allow them to fully utilize the produce. The unit contains a storage component and comes equip with Mylar bags to prevent light, oxygen and moisture from contaminating the food.
In addition to reducing food waste and food insecurity, the Orenda has the capability to give substance and family farmers an opportunity for economic growth. Farmers are able to sell a value-added product, dehydrated food for the entirety of the year to generate income. It is incredibly economically sustainable and not to mention, energy efficient. Their products are so successful that farmers are able to begin making profits within one year of purchasing the unit.
The initiation of KinoSol is rather unique. The company was started through a shared passion for improving the health and sustainability of the planet. The students were brought together at Iowa State University through the global resources system program.
Developing a Prototype
According to Mikayla Sullivan, ringleader of regal operations, co-founder and CEO, the team came across a Pinterest post of a pizza box that was turned into a solar food dehydrator. They immediately began brainstorming and dreaming up a prototype that could be implemented and utilized across the globe, using something a little more permanent than a pizza box.
The graduates collaborated with supporters involved in engineering and product development to determine the best materials for an efficient prototype. They were able to utilize recourses including outside knowledge of machinery from local manufactures and engineering professors. It was a learning process before constructing the Orenda as there were over five prototypes prior.
The team travels to various countries to partake in field testing and education to ensure users obtain maximum benefits of Kinosol’s properties and to gain direct feedback. They are able to display and teach communities the proper way to assembly and use the technology. Their model of implementation represents a self-help approach of community development, allowing people to gain the assets needed to help themselves and ultimately their own communities. Their approach has a greater impact than an aid-dependency model of community development because they provide people with the tools necessary to continue to help themselves instead of just being reliant on help from outside sources.
The story of KinoSol embodies how innovate minds with strong values can generate inconceivable positive revolutions. Their technology and mission illustrate how we can transform a broken food system through minimizing food loss, enhancing diets and empowering people across the globe.
-Emily Callaghan is pursuing a degree in Food Systems at UVM with concentrations in Nutrition and Community and International Development. She has experience working in sustainable agriculture and providing food systems education for youth, both locally and globally. She believes in empowering people and enhancing communities through food and health initiatives.