When we – people in Western countries – throw vegetables or fruits in the trash can, most of us undergo feelings of guilt. Even though your banana turned black and therefore became uneatable, you can’t help but feel like you shouldn’t throw it away. Well, let’s hold on to that feeling and try to eat products while they’re fresh, I would say. However, to put things in perspective, we should also take a look at what is currently happening in Africa. According to an investigation by the UN, 45 percent of all fruits and vegetables does not reach the market. How could this happen? And how could 3D printing make a difference for this part of the world?
Let’s start by outlining the problem. Africa has, as you know, a high amount of relatively undeveloped countries. Food shortage is still a recurrent problem for many of its inhabitants. So how could it be that 45 perfect of its fruits and vegetables doesn’t get to reach the market, then? Well, the problem is centered around the storage of produce. Fruits and vegetables aren’t stored in a proper way, and the hot, African climate rapidly sets in decay. This happens in a couple of days, before farmers can sell their products to the local market. Cooling systems are often too expensive for them, so what can they do?
A Belgian product developer called Arne Pauwels has come up with a cheap, energy-efficient product that helps those farmers to easily store their fruits and vegetables for a longer time. Meet the Wakati One, a storage system for African farmers. This is a tent with some 3D printed parts and a solar panel. It can store up to 200 kg of produce, and it only uses a fraction of the energy a fridge would use. In addition, it’s way cheaper than a refrigerator.
His invention generally comes down to the fact he discovered that to keep products fresh we don’t need icy temperatures. Not the temperature is what it’s all about, but hydration is the key element. Cooling only slows down the decay of produce, and in hot temperatures decay sets in rapidly. However, if you keep fruits and vegetables humid, you seem to be able to store them a little longer. Pauwels therefore designed a ventilator and evaporative cooling system, powered by a three-watt solar panel. It uses a relative humidity of 99 percent, which makes produce stay fresh for twice as long. Farmers could use this time to sell more vegetables and fruits, and so more food eventually goes to the people who need it.
In order to keep the product affordable for farmers, Pauwels had to search for a cheap – but strong – way of manufacturing. 3D printing is such a technique. It is relatively cheap and allows farmers to keep on selling their products for about the same price. 3D printing company Materialise – also from Belgium – created the molds for the blowers by using stereolithography technology. The product is currently being tested in Africa. The first test seems to have been a major success, and with financial help of Materialise, a market study is being held with a variety of tents – the website states there are now 171 units in the field.