Women farmers thrive as solar dryers reduce food waste

An organization founded in India in 2013 by six university friends has won a 2023 Earthshot Prize for its work in creating a waste-free world – one of five categories in the Earthshot Prize family. It aims to transform the lives of millions of women farmers even as it works to create a waste-free food system.

S4S works directly with more than 1,000 farmer and farmer cooperatives under its solar powered dehydration initiative, supported by USAID, UKAID, Gates Foundation, and the Government of India. Some 300,000 women smallholder farmers supported by S4S have recorded 10-15% increases in their profits, while the 2,000 female entrepreneurs they partner with have seen incomes double or even triple.

Women sorting at solar dryer. S4S

“S4S, along with women farmers, are creating a new food ecosystem that reduces wastage and mitigates the increase in GHG emissions while meeting the world’s food needs,” said Nidhi Pant, one of the six founders. “With empowered women farmers taking leadership to fight climate change by ensuring food security, increasing incomes, creating jobs, boosting local economies, and advocating with the government, women farmers have emerged as key-partners in driving lasting impact.”

In India, farmers often sell their produce for a cheaper price in the evening, as it otherwise rots. S4S Technologies has developed a business model that dehydrates and processes these excess vegetables and fruits, and builds a supply chain to get them to the market.

The company’s solar conduction dryer, developed for and with input from female farmers, increases the shelf life of vegetables to six months. The dryers are well-suited for farmers working under erratic electricity conditions, and the rent-based model makes the product affordable and helps generate additional income for farmers. 

World Food Programme Innovation Accelerator Nov. 7, 2023

S4S identifies women entrepreneurs in villages who become aggregators that work with 15-20 micro-entrepreneurs each. Based on market demand, these micro-entrepreneurs dry items like ginger, garlic, carrot and beetroot. Once dried, aggregators supply the products back to S4S, which then sells the produce to institutional clients. 

By 2025, S4S wants to extend their reach to three million smallholder farmers and 30,000 entrepreneurs and by 2026, they predict, they will have reduced food waste by 1.2 million tonnes and removed the equivalent of 10 million tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere.

As well as Nidhi Pant, the S4S founders are Vaibhav Tidke, Swapnil Kokte, Ganesh Bhere, Shital Somani, Tushar Gaware and Ashwin Pawade.

Cover image: S4S, Earthshot Prize.

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