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Mootles

Mootles are a low-cost sensor-based solution to establish when foods have been dried "enough" to hinder microbial spoilage during storage.

Photo of Isaiah Etemo Muchilwa

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EXPLAIN YOUR IDEA

Mootles are low-cost sensors that detect residual water in dried foods and feeds and indicate when adequate dryness has been attained for safe storage. Insufficient dryness is the most critical factor for bacterial and fungal food spoilage in stores, but can be avoided through reliable moisture testing and monitoring. Conventional moisture meters are too expensive and altogether unavailable leaving hundreds of millions of small-scale farmers around the world guessing whether crop yields are “dry-enough” to trade-in or move into stores (or bags). Runaway mycotoxin / aflatoxin levels, especially in produce from developing countries, indicates the extent of this mismanagement and casual handling of wet harvests – our foods are spoiling in piles, literally, with severe implications for health, trade and livelihoods. Mootles establish sufficient dryness by assessing the quality of air in contact with foods. Their functionality is product independent making them applicable with all types of raw, processed and blended foods (and animal / pet feeds) – including cereals (rice, maize, wheat, barley, oats, sorghum, etc.), legumes, oilseeds, spices, dried meats, vegetables, fruits, hay and other pastures, nuts, roots and tubers, mushrooms etc. Mootles are portable and easy to use and maintain. With feasible mass production costs under US$ 5 per unit, they are best suited for introduction on small farms, to secure the quality and longevity of dried fresh produce at source.

WHO BENEFITS?

Small farmers through reduced postharvest losses and access to quality-demanding (and often more rewarding) markets and everybody else, by extension, through less exposure to contaminated foods for better health and prosperity. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NiqEV_NLw7g

WHERE WILL YOUR IDEA BE IMPLEMENTED?

In Kenya, with possible extension to the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa

ARE YOU IMPLEMENTING IN AN ELIGIBLE COUNTRY?

  • Yes

EXPERTISE IN SECTOR

  • I’ve worked in a sector related to my idea for over a year

EXPERIENCE IN IMPLEMENTATION COUNTRY(IES)

  • Yes, for more than one year.

TELL US MORE ABOUT YOU!

I am a PhD student at the University of Kassel’s Department of Agricultural Engineering in Germany, researching technical solutions to mitigate post-harvest aflatoxin contamination of maize on small farms in Kenya, my home country.

Mycotoxins are harmful compounds associated with fungal metabolism on moist foods. The scourge of mycotoxins and their adverse effects on health, nutrition, trade and livelihoods in Kenya specifically, and in Africa as a whole, is unprecedented. It is estimated that four out of every five of the continent’s 1.1 billion residents are exposed (daily) to contaminated foods. Children (the future of Africa) are the most affected by these poisons, consequently suffering from suppressed immunity that increases their susceptibility to disease, impairing their physical and mental development, with stunting in the order of 50% reported in some regions. One person is diagnosed every minute, worldwide, with cancer of the food pipe, with 80% of the cases in Africa and Asia. Aflatoxins also account for up to 40% of diagnosed liver cancer cases in Africa. Besides health, the economic impact of mycotoxins on the continent is huge, summarised by losses in global trade opportunities exceeding US$ 450 million, annually.

Mycotoxins are considered an “invisible” problem because they do not always alter the appearance or taste of foods, or constitute a significant depreciation in “weight” to reflect plainly as “Post-Harvest Loss”. This poses a big challenge for control, especially in Africa where quality standards are well written, but selectively enforced (mostly for exports), leaving local consumers exposed to poisons that compete unrestrictedly alongside safe produce for market share.

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Spam
Photo of William Lanier
Team

Great idea and development. Yes, current certifiable moisture meters might be expensive for individual growers. However, youth could take one moisture meter and service many drying operations to spread the cost across many users. Are you collaborating with the PHL meter project by McNeill, Armstrong, Osekre (2015). Assessment of Moisture Measurement and Maize Dryers in Ghana [ADM Congress Presentation].
Retrieved: <http://phlcongress.illinois.edu>.  

Spam
Photo of Isaiah Etemo Muchilwa
Team

Hi William, thank you for the compliment and the valuable link to the brief on the PHL meter project. Mootles are unique in design and not related to the PHL meter. However, given the magnitude of the problem, all efforts to give small-scale farmers access to reliable grain moisture testing services should be encouraged, even if it takes engaging the young unemployed, as you propose. All sensor-based devices are only as good as their calibration and initial tests have shown that Mootles rival the best, but at an incomparably low price, making ownership possible even on small farms in Africa.

Spam
Photo of William Lanier
Team

Hi Isaiah, Will Mootles be designed to test grain on drying platforms, deep into sacks or through out bulk?
I would like to read your questions and comments about a "new sack" explained in Storage to Reverse PHL at <https://challenges.openideo.com/goto/challenge/agricultural-innovation/storage-to-reverse-grain-postharvest-loss>.

Regards,

William 

Spam
Photo of Isaiah Etemo Muchilwa
Team

Hi William, thanks for the inquiry. Mootles are intended to help small farmers establish "adequate" dryness and should be applied to test foods before they are finally taken off drying platforms or offloaded from artificial or natural drying facilities, or harvested (if the intention is to move produce directly from the field into the granary for long-term storage). Care should be taken, however, to ensure that tested samples are sufficiently representative of the entire batch, and hence the need not just to deliver Mootles to the poor, but to train them, as well, on how best to apply the technology to secure their produce. Mootles should also be applied to regularly test foods in stores, especially where the type of packaging and storage infrastructure exposes them to the risk of rewetting (and this includes milled grains often kept for weeks in non-airtight conditions and sometimes even under beds in rural homes)
Talking about packaging, a lot has been said about the benefits of hermetic storage and particularly about its effectiveness against insects. Microbial spoilage, however, is both aerobic and anaerobic and that is why insufficiently dried grains that are stored hermetically for long periods still end up fermenting, discolouring and degrading in value. Delivering Mootles plus hermetic storage solutions (i.e. PICs "super" bags, metal/plastic/underground silos...and so on), in my view, could avoid this scenario and go a long way in improving the food situation on small farms. Nonetheless, regardless of storage options, regular monitoring of piled foods is still recommendable to check unforeseen spoilage in time. 

Spam
Photo of William Lanier
Team

Sorry... you will need to supply references when you talk airtight.  Hermetic or airtight systems do not stop chewing rats or insects that can bore into the bags and thus they are short and small kitchen storage. Stacks of plastic is hard to monitor and when handling perforates the bags they are acres of plastic to be recycled. PICs are for cowpeas a high value and high pest pressure situation.  
However the BIG MEN in Africa like the bottle neck stacking sacks in warehouses causes... right up there with slowing hand soap from arriving to stop ebola (Ruxin, 2015)
Have you read "Farmers whose scale of operation is too small to be able to produce SAFE FOOD, are too small to farm maize (or any aflatoxin sensitive staple)"

Dr. Cardwell USDA, 2015?
or the Latest IARC report?
Airtight does not store significant food grain anywhere else so why would it in Africa?
The cost benefits of metal storage that is mobile is up there with the disruption mobile phones caused in Africa. 

Spam
Photo of William Lanier
Team

Just like hand washing will stop ebola, moisture testing will stop PHL like aflatoxin... how ever, Ruxin (2015) advises “Step One to Fighting Ebola - Start with Corruption."
I realize Mootles may have more application for Wet food... But for dry staple moisture testing, education giving way to political correctness is the stumbling block we encountered implementing the calibrated hand held moisture meters in Ghana. And so we taught individuals to service many and checked calibration regularly. Now that is seeded, giving the individual youth  Mootles to sell to early adopters is an idea... However, maintaining the calibration so that Political protocol does not adjust the Mootles is a whole other problem.

Spam
Photo of Isaiah Etemo Muchilwa
Team

Hi William, I respect and also could learn a lot from your experience tackling postharvest food losses in Ghana. I found the following case study useful for the discussion on hermetic storage options for small farms in Kenya.
https://www.fintrac.com/sites/default/files/Smallholder_GrainStorage.pdf
Regards

Spam
Photo of William Lanier
Team

Hello Isaiah,
Thanks for the fresh Fintrac article. However, plastic is not chemical free and triple layers are only economical for short small kitchen storage. Plastic bags do not stop rats unless a human activity is close.  What happens to the Hermetic environment when the bag is opened to remove some food? Kitchen storage does not pay health care, school fees etc. The Fintrac article study only looks at "after harvest" significant PHL start at harvest. Fintrac narrows the frame to "at home" so Hermetic looks good. FAO has removed "Hermetic for insecticide free" and replaced it with "Airtight for non-residual fumigation" because kitchen storage limits growers... and thus Cardwell is suggesting the obvious... why help smallholders "shoot themselves in the foot" growing aflatoxin? 
And most of all the comparison does not include breathing utility that with out a doubt stores the rest of the worlds food grain, everywhere. Mobility meshes the system with tenure-less agriculture.
Could we consider there is a"stacking sacks in warehouses controlled by Technocrats" lobby in SSA?
How do I send you a better more formal publication pending as a rebuttal?

Spam
Photo of Isaiah Etemo Muchilwa
Team

...very interesting insights. You are 100% right about plastic wastes and their negative impact on the environment in Africa. Short-term disposable plastics would probably be more expensive and unattractive as an option if manufacturers, sellers or buyers were made to pay the costs of mopping up and recycling the waste, which is really the way to go if we want to save our environment.
Plastics aside, what are your recommendations for dealing with insects in ventilated metal silos, now that you contest the use of hermetic storage (in all its alternative forms)?

Spam
Photo of William Lanier
Team

Integrated Pest Management (IPM) The comparison of mobile bin storage is partly based on materials, storage structures and residual fumigation practices reported by Proctor (FAO (1994), reviewed by Kalita et al (2014) which are still being effectively applied, adapted and modified by farmers like Ayris (1999) and FPSA (2012) and NeverIdle Farms (Canada and Ghana) etc. to store the economic benefits of higher yields and secure food for all but millions of Latin Americans and SSA growers.
“Scientific and cost-effective pest monitoring procedures permit judicious adjustments to the timing, choice and intensity of control actions; timely chemical pest control measures, in grain storage, are often not only the cheapest but also the most reliably efficacious of the possible options” (Proctor FAO, 1994).
Proctor 1994“Grain storage techniques Evolution and trends in developing countries “ [FAO AGRICULTURAL SERVICES BULLETIN No. 109]. GASCA - GROUP FOR ASSISTANCE ON SYSTEMS RELATINGTO GRAIN AFTER HARVEST. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) Rome, 1994 M-17 ISBN 92-5-1 03456-7. D.L. Proctor, FAO Consultant Retrieved: <http://www.fao.org/docrep/t1838e/t1838e00.htm#Contents>

Spam
Photo of Isaiah Etemo Muchilwa
Team

Thank you for the response and for including the (really) good resource link on grain storage techniques for developing countries, commissioned by the FAO. This resource has been available now for over 20 years and it is really disturbing to think that most of the practical recommendations made here remain just that, knowledge that has earned people degrees, jobs, promotions or even respectable awards. More (collective) effort is needed to push for implementation and ensure that science does not just serve "egos" but "people" and the "vulnerable" as such, which is why I very much connect with the objectives of this social initiative by AMPLIFY through OpenIDEO - Brilliant!

Spam
Photo of William Lanier
Team

Hello Isaiah Etemo Muchilwa,
William (NeverIdle) hopes you are doing well and wish to invite Mootles to the "1st All African Postharvest Congress and Exhibition (March 28 - 31) Nairobi"
<http://africa-postharvestconference.uonbi.ac.ke/>. We hope to meet and discuss more about Moisture meters and testing to Reverse Grain Postharvest Loss."
Regards,
William

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