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Cross posted from Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet.

For a farmer in a hot country like Sudan, a big harvest can end up being just a big waste. A fresh tomato off the vine will only last about 2 days in the stifling heat, while carrots and okra might last only 4 days. Despite being perfectly capable of producing abundant harvests, without any means to store and preserve crops, farmers in Sudan are at risk for hunger and starvation. They are also losing money that could be made by selling surplus produce at markets if they had a way to keep vegetables longer.

The organization, Practical Action—a development non-profit that uses technology to help people gain access to basic services like clean water, and sanitation and to improve food production and incomes— provides a simple solution to this problem in the form of homemade clay refrigerators.  Practical Action’s clay refrigerators are called zeer pots and can be made out of mud, clay, water, and sand. To make one a farmer uses molds made out of mud to create two pots of different sizes. Once dry, the small pot is fitted into the larger pot and the space between them is filled with sand. By placing this structure on an iron stand so that air can flow underneath and all around, and by adding water to the sand between the pots daily, a farmer can use evaporation to keep the pots—and whatever is inside—cool.

In a zeer pot, tomatoes and carrots can last up to twenty days while okra will last for seventeen days. And this can make a huge difference for a small scale farmer who is trying to feed her family. One farmer, Hawa Abbas, featured in a Practical Action case study, used to regularly expect to lose half her crop to the inescapable heat. But now, "[zeer pots] keep our vegetables fresh for 3-4 weeks, depending on the type of crop," she said. "They are very good in a hot climate such as ours where fruit and vegetables get spoiled in one day."

Practical Action provides trainings and demonstrations to teach small scale farmers how to make and use the pots in developing countries like Sudan and Darfur. And an instruction manual about how to make the pots can be found on its website.

To read more about innovations that reduce crop waste to alleviate hunger and improve livelihoods see: It’s All About the Process, Reducing Food Waste,  Investing in Better Food Storage, and In a World of Abundance, Food Waste is a Crime.

Thank you for reading! As you may already know, Danielle Nierenberg is traveling across sub-Saharan Africa visiting organizations and projects that provide environmentally sustainable solutions to hunger and poverty.  She has already traveled to over 18 countries and visited 130 projects highlighting stories of hope and success in the region. She will be in Togo next, so stay tuned for more writing, photos and video from her travels.  

If you enjoy reading this diary, we blog daily on  Nourishing the Planet, where you can also sign up for our newsletter to receive weekly blog and travel updates.  Please don’t hesitate to comment on our posts, we check them daily and look forward to an ongoing discussion with you. You can also follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

Originally posted to BorderJumpers on Wed Jul 14, 2010 at 11:04 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Such wonderfully simple ideas (6+ / 0-)

    that work.   The human capacity for innovation continues to amaze me.  That would be great for storing fruits in vegetables in a home with electricity that don't do well cold, but can go bad fairly quickly at room temperature.

    Thanks again for the series.

    •  Ways to extend shelf life (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      chimene, allep10, jfromga

      without refrigeration abound, it's a matter of transmitting the concepts to people who don't already know. I live in the mountains of NC, which is officially The South regardless of the name. My root and squash crop long term storage involves a spring house root cellar of stone dug into the hillside. Stays nice and cool. A friend had an old farmhouse in Pennsylvania once, it had a concrete trough along one basement wall. The spring came in through a pipe at one end, and water exited on its way downhill from a pipe at the other end. The cold spring water was used to refrigerate all sorts of things.

      Modern conveniences are nice, but after a couple of generations it seems like people lose the sense of basics that people used to use for the same convenience. I never cease to be amazed at how many of my grandchildren's friends (late teens, early 20s) haven't the foggiest idea of how to prepare a meal with fresh ingredients, from scratch. And, when given a nice recipe with all the instructions, complain that it's WAY too much trouble when McDonald's or Kentucky Fried is just up the road.

      My $.02. Must go now and dry some more tomatoes and apples in the solar dryer. They're coming in fast...

      Now, more than ever, we need the Jedi.

      by Joieau on Wed Jul 14, 2010 at 12:40:02 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  This is awesome information.... (6+ / 0-)

    could help the homeless here in this country too.

    This is a great series, thank you.

    It is horrifying that we have to fight our own government to save the environment. Ansel Adams -6.5 -6.75

    by Statusquomustgo on Wed Jul 14, 2010 at 11:46:02 AM PDT

  •  That is so cool. (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    markdd, Steaming Pile, allep10, Joieau

    Thanks for this.

    "You have attributed conditions to villainy that simply result from stupidity"

    by newfie on Wed Jul 14, 2010 at 11:47:00 AM PDT

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