Drying consists of removing water from a food by evaporation in order to improve its preservation. There are four main modes of solar drying:
- Traditional drying in the sun on the ground, on flat rocks, mats, landscaped areas, or on the roofs of houses;
- The direct solar dryer: the sun directly hits the product placed in the dryer,
- The indirect solar dryer: it is composed of a collector which collects solar energy and of a separate drying chamber which shelters the products to be dried from the sun;
- the hybrid dryer : additional energy is used in addition to solar energy either to maintain the temperature (gas, oil, electricity, wood heating) or to ensure forced air circulation (electric fan).
Choosing a solar dryer first requires a comprehensive approach to production, processing and marketing issues. In this method, we offer a quick overview of the main questions to ask in order to choose a drying system wisely. It is essential to clarify very quickly what audience you are addressing. Indeed, this will influence the advice to be given in terms of the choice of the drying system but also on the stages of processing (the operations will be more or less numerous and complex), on the methods of marketing the products on the constraints of management.
Two main options are possible:
– Improve the quality of drying on a family scale
The intervention logic to be adopted and the technical choices aim at a simple improvement of traditional practices to increase health and nutritional quality with a very low investment cost.
– Develop a small business
In this second case, you have to ask yourself all the questions linked to the profitability of a small business. It is necessary to find a sufficiently large and profitable market to cover the costs and generate profits. The essential questions to ask yourself to start a solar drying activity. and their order of priority. differ depending on the option concerned majority self-consumption or large-scale sale.
What is the market?
Who are the consumers ready to buy the products, where are they and through which distribution channel to reach them? What price are they prepared to pay? Who are the competitors?
Producing is one thing, but it is still necessary to find outlets. This problem arises for everyone, from small traditional farms to artisanal businesses. Marketing is at the heart of the problem of solar drying when the objective is to make the transformation profitable. In fact, in almost all of the experiments carried out in the field, the outlets have turned out to be very narrow. On the other hand, the consumer compares the price of fresh and dried products without taking into account the material yield. For example for a tomato the kilogram costs 150 in fresh and 900 in dry, but it takes 18 kg of fresh tomatoes to obtain a kilogram of dry product.
This requires significant communication and promotion work to develop its market. All the more so since in many countries, dried products have a negative image of a “bush” product.
For example, tomatoes, peppers and cabbages dried by rural market gardeners accumulate sand and dust. The negative prejudice of consumers considerably slows down the prospects for commercialization.
The choice of marketing channels must take into account the characteristics of the company and the product: regularity, quality and importance of production, internal organization, number of products marketed, production periods. Likewise, the characteristics of the business environment come into play. Access to consumption centers, especially large cities, and the structuring of the sector influence the possibilities of marketing.
Which products to dry?
There are a large number of fruits and vegetables that can be dehydrated. The choice of a particular food is determined according to many elements: climatic conditions, the range and quantity of raw materials available, the price of the products and their variations during the year, the increase in value added after drying, the remoteness of supply locations and transport costs, consumer expectations.
Alongside traditionally dried fruits and vegetables, products that are produced differently or are new are developing. For these products, little known locally, the marketing strategy must be particularly studied in order to interest the consumer in a food that he does not know and that he does not know how to cook. The dissemination of recipes is an effective means of promotion.