BENIN: Hybrid solar dryers break new ground in agribusiness

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BENIN: Hybrid solar dryers break new ground in agribusiness©Bolivia IntiSud Soleil

A solar drying project in Benin's northern division of the Atacora department is about to transform an agri-food product chain. The initiative comes from the French association Bolivia IntiSud Soleil (BISS), in partnership with an NGO and a Beninese company.

In the department of Atacora, in the north of Benin, a healthy and efficient method of drying and preserving agri-food products (vegetables, meat, fish, bananas, tomatoes, beans, apricots, aromatic herbs, flowers, mushrooms, seeds…) now exists. It is solar drying. The operation is carried out through hybrid solar dryers. The initiative comes from the French association Bolivia IntiSud Soleil (BISS), in partnership with an NGO and a Beninese company. It is one of 10 off-grid electrification projects, selected on April 27, 2020 by the French Development Agency (AFD) and the French Agency for Ecological Transition (ADEME), following a call for projects launched in Africa by the two French agencies in September 2019. Named “Innovative solutions for access to sustainable off-grid energy”, the overall aim of the project is to highlight and support innovative proposals that generate sustainable economic activities with a high social impact in order to promote electrification, by meeting electricity needs, but also heat and cold production (for agriculture).

The solar drying project currently underway in the Atacora Department in Benin will provide two women’s groups in the towns of Natitingou and Tanguiéta with solar dryers built locally by craftsmen. Thus, in addition to conservation, the groups will be able to save money and generate an ideal temperature range for maximum enjoyment of the nutritional and taste qualities of the food. Producers will also benefit from training. Finally, a company will be designated to purchase the production that has been processed and to ensure its packaging and marketing.

Electricity generation in Benin is mainly based on thermal power plants and accounts for barely 20 percent of total demand. This situation justifies the country’s high energy dependence on the outside world. In this West African country, 90% of the electricity consumed in 2012 will come from Nigeria, Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire.

The full implementation of the solar drying project in the Atacora department will cost 3.9 billion CFA francs (about 5.95 million euros). A quarter of the financing will be allocated by AFD and Ademe, i.e. CFAF 1.04 billion (over 2.1 million euros).

Solar dryers equipped with a ventilation system

Solar dryers will operate from direct or indirect heating. In both cases, no polluting energy sources will be used. The equipment will operate solely in the sun and practically all year round (when the outside temperature is above 15 degrees in the shade).

To compensate for the intermittency of the equipment, especially in case of rain or cloudy weather, the project leaders have oriented their research towards hybrid dryers using auxiliary energy, produced from plant products, by combining them with fuel oil, electricity, wood and gas.

Inès Magoum

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