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Devin D. Thorpe

Devin Thorpe

Undergraduate Students Fight World Hunger

Innovation Through Dehydration Technology

TeamPhoto

Four undergraduate students from Iowa State University have broken away from the norm by taking their education and applying it to a tangible solution for one of the world’s most pressing problems, hunger.

Mikayla Sullivan, Elise Kendall, Ella Gehrke, and Clayton Mooney, each studying Global Resource Systems at Iowa State University, have engineered a food preservation technology called KinoSol. Their technology is designed to battle malnutrition, post-harvest loss, and empower women in developing countries. KinoSol is a small-scale, solar powered dehydrator for fruits, vegetables, and grains. KinoSol units utilize solar energy through a natural convection system; they have no electrical inputs. A KinoSol unit is made from durable material, is fully collapsible, and requires no tools for assembly.

KinoSol began as a goal to improve the lives of rural families in developing countries. In the team’s travels, they have witnessed hungry farmers who work all day to grow food that ends up rotting. One third of all food on earth is wasted, having a substantial impact on small-scale subsistence farmers. “We had a passion to preserve this preventable loss, which led us to create a technology—KinoSol,” says Ella Gehrke.

This lightweight solar dehydrator dries and stores produce for months. “Dehydration is an easy and inexpensive way to avoid post-harvest loss, and the storage increases the availability of food during low and no harvest periods,” says Mikayla Sullivan. KinoSol has a lightweight and collapsible design so it can be easily stored, moved, and shared among farmers.

The mobility and storage aspect of KinoSol provides the owner entrepreneurial opportunities. In many places around the world, dehydrated foods earn a higher price on the market due to extended shelf life. Having storage increases food availability, too. Farmers can feed their family and have excess produce to sell at market.

KinoSol provides opportunities for young adults and women, who are generally marginalized and have fewer possibilities to earn an income. KinoSol helps to reduce waste, as well as promoting gender equality.

Through their efforts over the year, the team has secured vital seed funding to help launch their idea into a viable and sustainable business. In addition, the team has won multiple awards including funding from the 2015 Innove Project in Edina, Minnesota, a finalists spot in the Thought For Food Challenge in Lisbon, Portugal, and were winners of the 2015 Pappajohn Student Venture Competition in Des Moines, Iowa.

KinoSol recently launched as a Specific Benefit Corporation, allowing the team to build upon and ensure their solution to hunger ends up in the hands of subsistence farmers around the world. “A Specific Benefit Corporation is legally a social good company. For KinoSol, our main objective is to decreasing post-harvest and decreasing malnutrition rates that result from this loss” says Clayton Mooney.

KinoSol completed its first field-testing in Uganda over the summer, where the team began the research and data collection phase. “While in Uganda, I was able to work with mothers and children, and I experienced the gratitude these families had when they found out KinoSol could allow them to save food that would otherwise be wasted,” says Elise Kendall. Field-testing has allowed for further development of KinoSol prototypes, along with additional partnerships to conduct field-testing in new regions. KinoSol is expanding into seven countries, ranging from locations in South America to Asia, beginning in early 2016.

Through the adaptation of their prototypes and the collection of field data over the past six months, the team plans to launch a product to the market in February, allowing for a larger global impact to be made.

Four young people, passionate about tackling a global epidemic as large as hunger, have taken outstanding strides through the simplicity of dehydration. They have proven that anyone with an appetite for change can make a difference.

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