Zayed Sustainability Prize, the UAE's pioneering global award for recognising excellence in sustainability, has empowered India-based startup Science for Society (S4S) Technologies to further help farmers and rural women cut down food waste and increase income.
Established in 2008, S4S Technologies recognised that a significant amount of farmers' produce goes to waste because they lack the means to preserve their harvest, do not have the experience to sell it on a wider scale, and lack technical knowledge of modern agricultural practices. To address this challenge, the startup created a novel solution – a solar food dehydrator – to convert food waste into non-perishable food ingredients that can be sold.
"What brought us together was solving the challenges of food wastage, poverty among smallholder farmers and gender inequality among rural women farmers," co-founder Nidhi Pant said while marking the International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste.
Using patented solar conduction dryer technology, farmers could avoid food waste and create a new revenue stream. The technology is electricity-free, delivering sustainable results while avoiding the problems caused by long power cuts.
The company's technology currently saves approximately 22,500 tonnes of produce from getting wasted each year, and avoids 300,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions annually.
"We started by providing technology solutions to farmers to reduce food wastage, but soon realised they are not marketers. Providing market linkage along with technology is necessary to integrate buyback of the processed produce," Pant noted.
Earlier this year, S4S Technologies won the Zayed Sustainability Prize in the 'food' category and received $600,000 to expand the scope and scale of their sustainability solution.
While the startup has received several awards for its environmentally-friendly solutions, winning the Zayed Sustainability Prize has significantly impacted its projects.
"Support from the Zayed Sustainability Prize has helped us expand our farmer-base to include 60,000 smallholder farmers and 1,200 female micro-entrepreneurs. It also helped us strengthen our value chain and farmers' awareness, training, and capacity-building," Pant underlined.
The SME also digitalised its value chain after receiving a $600,000 cash prize. Digital tools have meant better pricing and more guidance on quality standards. And after receiving the Prize fund, S4S Technologies has expanded its product portfolio beyond fruit and vegetables, to pulses, grains, spices, and coconuts.
According to official data from the Indian government, rural women workforce in agriculture stands at 33 per cent. S4S Technologies keeps women at the centre of its operations and creates opportunities for them. One example of the company's success is Chayya, a young woman from a remote village on the outskirts of Aurangabad in Maharashtra state, who suffered from a physical disability. She worked hard as a farm labourer, yet her life was difficult and her income barely sufficient.
When S4S Technologies started recruiting local women in her village to work on a food-saving initiative, Chayya's life quickly turned around. She received a better income, higher work standards and gained more dignity in her work and greater respect from society. And seeing her flourish encouraged other village women to join the produce processing work.
"Since I started this journey, the most profound moments have been how our intervention has transformed the lives of our women entrepreneurs. I feel content when I see how our entrepreneurs have become better decision-makers – both at household and community level. With increased income, they can support education for their daughters and no longer need loans from unscrupulous loan-sharks to support the children and elderly," Pant said. "In the next five years, we aim to enable 10,000 more women to become micro-entrepreneurs and increase their profit by 50 to 200 per cent, and to work with three million farmers in reducing post-harvest losses and provide adequate market linkage."
The company aims to save up to 175,000 tonnes of food each year and prevent 1.2 tonnes of CO2 emissions.
"This can be done by preventing food wastage, minimal logistics, and switching to clean energy for food processing. If we stopped wasting food, we could cut global emissions by 8 per cent, free up land and resources, and save enough food to feed two billion hungry people," Pant added.