A Rwandan young environmental engineer, 24 year old Thierry Shema and his co-founders in an agritech startup dubbed “Crop Tech Ltd”, are gearing up for deploying mobile grain dryers powered by renewable energy as opposed to diesel. The innovation-pondered while at the University in 2018-seeks to dry cereals in a bid to reduce post-harvest losses and limit exposure of the harvest to aflatoxins. Aflatoxins are poisonous substances regularly found in improperly stored staple commodities such as maize, rice, sorghum, millet, wheat, cassava and others and can damage the liver, leading to liver cancer if consumed. By reducing aflatoxins and replacing air pollutant emissions from diesel often used in dryers., the innovation is expected to reduce post-harvest losses in Rwanda that are around 16-22 percent for cereals. The country is targeting to reduce that to five percent of losses by 2024 by using different post-harvest technologies. The graduates’ entrepreneurship journey to reduce post-harvest losses started from College of Science and Technology in University of Rwanda while pursuing water and environmental engineering. “While in level three in 2018, we started thinking of problems that renewable energy can solve in the community. We met a staff from the Ministry of Agriculture who challenged us on how renewable energy can help to reduce aflatoxins in maize produce. That is how we started thinking of how to make a prototype of a solar-powered mobile grain dryer,” Shema, the founder and Managing Director said. Aflatoxin is a key problem preventing grain farmers from accessing stable markets leading to a significant percentage of grains to be rejected by agro-processing factories. In order to develop the dryer prototype, Shema said that during holidays in 2018, they pitched the project of solar-powered mobile grain dryer prototype to Impact Hub Kigali, a community-based innovation hub that boosts entrepreneurship skills among innovative entrepreneurs. “It was our initial prototype we made with $150 from Impact hub in 2018. We used a university laboratory. The project was also the topic of our dissertation for our university degrees in 2019,” he said. Shema and his colleagues created an agri-tech startup dubbed “Crop tech ltd” while they were still students at university in 2018 which was officially registered in Rwanda Development Board in July 2019. “The solar-powered powered mobile dryer prototype is still under construction and it could be out by next year. We shall partner with manufacturers for mass production. The dryers will be used under the leasing model. The project awaits a research grant from the University of Rwanda as we signed a contract,” he said adding that they need at least Rwf12 million for the prototype development to be successful. Using energy from waste in drying While the solar-powered dryers are yet to be availed on the market, he said, the startup has acquired a $12,000 loan to outsource on farm mobile dryers that turn ‘agricultural waste’ such as maize cobs into ‘clean energy’ to dry maize grains. “In January 2021, we acquired a loan from OVO-Belgian organization providing funding and scalable opportunities to African startups. We will pay back the loan at seven per cent interest rate in four years. The loan will be invested in fixed assets to dry grains,” he said. The loan is a result of pitching a project, In September 2019 during a boot camp in Belgium, to reduce maize post-harvest losses by reducing aflatoxin. “We were part of the top three best startups in Africa. In February 2020, we also got training on circular economy, finance, management and marketing from Hasset University in Belgium,” he said. The current on farm mobile dryers financed by the acquired loan will be used during the current maize harvesting season. “They are environmentally friendly as they don’t release any gas emissions in the atmosphere. We already have three mobile dryers that can dry 1.5 tonnes per hour meaning that one can dry 500 Kilogrammes per three hours. We have capacity to dry 60 tonnes per week but we seek to work with local financial institutions to finance the project to reach as many farmers as possible,” he said. The dryers, he said, reduce moisture to between 18 per cent and 13 per cent,” he said. He added that a farmer will be charged Rwf18, 000 to dry one tonne. “We are starting with three farmers. One has 70 tonnes and two others with 100 tonnes and five tonnes respectively this harvesting season. This is affordable as it reduces drying time and labour force, losses caused by aflatoxin and attracts better price for well dried grains,” he said.