Moi University lecturer innovates Cobbed Maize Drier

The drier can handle 130 bags of Maize at ago relies on fans that are powered by solar power or electricity drives air within the drier to speed up the drying process to the required temperature,” said Dr Muchilwa

 By Sirengo Namasaka and The Weekly Vision Online

Moi University lecturer Dr Isaiah Etemo Muchilwa has disclosed that the institution in collaboration with the University of Kassel in Germany and local Jua Kali artisans in Trans Nzoia County have come up with an innovation of a Moisture Meter and Cobbed Maize Drier to cushion farmers from post-harvest losses.

The Maize drier is known as “Etemo Drier” after the lead innovator Dr Etemo lecturer department in mechanical, production and energy engineering at the Eldoret based university. “I have lived in Trans Nzoia as a farmer and have seen the challenge of post-harvest losses that eat into the profit margins owing since most of them resort to natural ways of drying their produce,” said Dr Muchilwa. The drier is fabricated with the use of metal that is welded into a rectangular shape which is fitted with a black rooftop, wire mesh on sides that are covered with blankets to promote warm conditions.

“The drier which can handle 130 bags of Maize at ago relies on fans that are powered by solar power or electricity drives air within the drier to speed up the drying process to the required temperature,” said Dr Muchilwa. Cobbed maize to be loaded into the dryer is first pre-selected to ensure no rotten, mouldy or germinated cobs go in. The dryer can receive cobbed maize with moisture contents as high as 35%.

The Drier is environmentally friendly since it uses solar energy and in the absence of solar, it uses crop residues to generate heat and energy, hence making it cheaper and efficient to operate

“Imported driers can only handle shelled Maize but this one handles cobbed Maize which is easier to dry since there are spaces that give room for easy flow of air,” he spoke during the launch of the innovation in Kitale. The Drier is fitted with a Thermo-hygrometer inside that measure’s temperature and relative humidity of the air surrounding the cobbed maize. The Thermo-hygrometer is linked to an android app, making it easy to monitor the goings-on in the drier using a phone from as far as 50 meters away.

Before the cobbed maize is offloaded from the Drier, its moisture content is measured using either the Moisture Metering Bottle innovation or a conventional moisture meter. Maize with a moisture content of 13.5% is deemed to have been sufficiently dried for storage. The Drier is environmentally friendly since it uses solar energy and in the absence of solar, it uses crop residues to generate heat and energy, hence making it cheaper and efficient to operate.

A farmer whose produce was used during trials said he has managed to address the post-harvest losses that he witnessed in the last season where he discarded a larger percentage of his produce due to rotting.

The average cost of producing this drier also depends on the size specifications that a farmer requires. Interested farmers will get a team of experts from us to agree on the specifications,” said Dr Muchilwa

“This initiative is welcome since it is farmer-friendly in terms of fabricating the drier and it will also see farmers save since they will no longer spend much on drying their produce,” said Mr Benjamin Wanyama, a farmer at Mbai farm.

The team has set up a technology transfer centre in Kitale where farmers will tour the facility to gain knowledge on how it works and what is required for them to have such a facility constructed.

“The average cost of producing this drier also depends on the size specifications that a farmer requires. Interested farmers will get a team of experts from us to agree on the specifications,” said Dr Muchilwa. Degraded maize quality negatively impacts the health of Kenyans and maize losses (up to 30% at the farmer level) accumulate along the value chain and threaten livelihoods of already impoverished communities.

Aflatoxins are a family of toxins produced by certain fungi that are found on crops such as maize (corn), peanuts, cottonseed, and tree nuts. The main fungi that produce aflatoxins are Aspergillus flavus and Aspergillus parasiticus, which are abundant in warm and humid regions of the world. The county government of Trans Nzoia said the quality standards of Maize grain produced in the region is generally low and the postharvest losses during harvesting, transport, storage and processing are relatively high.

“Aflatoxin contamination renders Mize uncompetitive on the regional market. Rotten or mycotoxin contaminated grain loss in this county is estimated at 7.5%,” said the county’s Agriculture chief officer Robert Musikoyo.

The management of Moi University reiterated its commitment to finding local solutions to challenges that affect farmers in the region with the high cost of production bearing a concern.

“The institution is committed to research and seeking partnerships with various organizations across the world to develop remedies that are geared towards food security,” said Moi University Chairman of Council, Dr Humphrey Njuguna. Moi University Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Isaac Kosgey said technological innovations are key to boosting the governments big four agenda which has food security as one of the pillars hence they need to be supported.

“Food security is a concern for everybody since we are all consumers. I am happy to report that the university is collaborating with partners from all sectors of the economy to address various challenges in Agriculture,” said Mr Kosgey.

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