Solar dryers are improving livelihoods in Bhutan

June 02, 2016
Loredana Marchetti

Solar-powered fruit and vegetable driers are helping residents of southeastern Bhutan’s remote villages increase their food security and improve livelihoods from the sale of their products.

This is one of many projects undertaken by the Samdrup Jongkhar Initiative (SJI), launched in December 2010 to raise living standards in Samdrup Jongkhar district, beginning with food security and food self-sufficiency, while fully protecting and enhancing the natural environment. The IDRC-supported project to develop and monitor and document a model of integrated, eco-friendly development includes activities in organic agriculture, appropriate technology, zero waste, and youth engagement.

The solar drier project was among the first initiatives undertaken by the new Centre for Appropriate Technology (CAT) set up by the Jigme Namgyel Polytechnic (JNP) ― an engineering school ― in collaboration with the Canadian GPI Atlantic. CAT serves Bhutan and the South Asia. 

Work began by training village women and the polytechnic faculty at the Barli Development Institute for Rural Women in Madhya Pradesh, India. Solar engineering skills were provided by Bunker Roy’s Barefoot College in Rajasthan. A prototype solar drier was then developed and field-tested in the remote, non-electrified Lauri village block of Samdrup Jongkhar, three days walk from the nearest road.

The success of the prototype has led to the building and installation of an additional 24 driers, funded by the Gross National Happiness Commission of the Royal Government of Bhutan. The solar driers were built by local engineers and carpenters. Villagers reported very high levels of satisfaction with the driers – including improved nutrition, taste, colour, hygiene, and quality – compared to the previous open-air drying system. The National Post-Harvest Centre of the Ministry of Agriculture plans to disseminate the model to other parts of the country.

Learn more by visiting the Samdrup Jongkhar Initiative website.