“What water is to a tree, education is to poverty” – reads the motto for Baraa Primary School, located in the outskirts of Arusha, Tanzania. The school educates children from one of the most impoverished communities in the area. A survey by a medical team revealed that a major percentage of the students were undernourished, lacking vital nutrients and vitamins. The school authority came up with a unique solution – planting an organic vegetable garden on the school grounds, maintained by the students themselves. However, the problem prevailed in storing the fresh produce of fruits, vegetables and leafy greens. In an area where electricity is a luxury, keeping a refrigerator was out of the question. Inevitably, food was being wasted, even with persistent malnutrition.
The solution came in 2015 through Wakati – a solar-powered innovation that performs effectively stores fresh produce for up to 10 days with zero power consumption. Designed by Arne Pauwels from Belgium, Wakati does not deploy any cooling process, rather it keeps the fruits and vegetables hydrated, powered by a compact 10 Watt solar panel.
The first-of-its-kind product, which seeks to solve food spoilage and wastage in countries plagued by food crisis, has drawn inspiration from primitive sustainable coolers, where water played a major role in preserving harvest for years, even centuries, reported Fast Company.
How Wakati works
Remember the movie The Martian? The science fiction showed stranded astronaut Mark Watney growing potatoes on a planet hostile to life, using some ingenious techniques. In reality, the preservation mechanism in a Wakati device works in a similar manner, where a humid microclimate is artificially simulated inside a small tent-like structure.
“I would try to preserve fruit and vegetables in a hot, extremely humid microclimate,” Wakati founder Arne Pauwels shared with Fast Company about how he conceptualised the invention. After a few rounds of experimentation, Pauwels came up with a medium-sized tent with a solar-powered evaporator installed inside it. The interior humidity from the evaporator keeps the produce fresh alongside saving water, using only one litre of water in a week. In addition, the system is antifungal and self-sterilising, negating the need for any manual intervention. One Wakati unit can preserve up to 200 kg of fruits and vegetables.
The working principle of Wakati, as described in their website, works in three distinct ways.
“1) Increasing the humidity to keep cell structure intact
2) Ozone sterilisation to reduce mould growth
3) Oxidising storage”
Several Wakati units have already been installed in rural interiors of developing nations like Tanzania, Haiti, Uganda and Afghanistan, which are enabling farmers to ensure a longer shelf life of their harvest of toil.
Efforts For Good take
Agriculture undoubtedly occupies predominance in a country like India, with tremendous population pressure. However, the absence of proper storage facilities leads to wastage of a whopping $14 billion worth of food every year, while 194 million Indians go to bed hungry, states a 2018 Reuters report. A system like Wakati can resolve farmers’ woes to a large extent, especially for those who travel for days to export their harvest from one town to another.