NIGERIA – Feed the Future, the U.S. Government’s global hunger and food security initiative, has hailed Oyeyemi Fadairo and Tijjani Ali Lawal as the two finalists for the 2022 EatSafe Innovation Challenge.

The EatSafe Innovation Challenge is a worldwide competition that aims to increase food safety in conventional markets and supply chains.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), unsafe food is an avoidable hazard that causes one in ten illnesses and at least 125,000 child deaths worldwide each year, with low- to middle-income nations carrying the majority of the burden.

The Evidence and Action Towards Safe, Nutritious Food (EatSafe) Program of Feed the Future launched the EatSafe Innovation Challenge in April to address this issue.

The Challenge inspired inventors to present their ideas in hopes of winning U.S.$ 10,000 to scale up their creations.

Ten finalists participated in the grand finale at the Technical University of Denmark in October after the judges narrowed down the over 750 entries received.

Two of the finalists, Oyeyemi Fadairo and Tijjani Ali Lawal, were honored for their inventions because of their enormous potential to advance food safety in Nigeria.

Fadairo developed an inflatable tunnel solar dryer as a portable tool to drain excess water and prevent rotting when storing produce like tomatoes.

On the other hand, Lawal created a solar-powered refrigeration system for the preservation of fresh vegetables.

The goal of the competition is to support regional innovators who are the true experts on what their local communities require.

To create their solutions, contestants collaborated with local food vendors and processors.

Contestants were evaluated on their capacity to think outside the box using factors such as food safety and nutritional benefit, market adaptability, scalability, and environmental sensitivity.

“It’s more of sparking innovative thinking and giving them room and space to surface those ideas,” says Ritta Sabbas Shine, Innovation Challenge lead.

Personal experiences spark innovation

Participants in the competition, which included students, researchers, and businesspeople from Ethiopia and Nigeria, submitted technologies to stop food safety problems like spoilage and foodborne illnesses like norovirus, salmonella, and E. coli.

Fadairo and Lawal were motivated by their own experiences to create this project in Nigeria, where millions of people purchase their food from local marketplaces.

Lawal was introduced to the farm-to-market economy while growing up in rural Nigeria, where traders obtained their products, such as meat and produce, from nearby farms.

He frequently observed food that would rot or lose its nutritional value when shopping at these regional marketplaces. 

To this end, he set out to create a food safety solution that would support local businesses – culminating in his solar-powered refrigerator, christened Ecotronics.

In February, Lawal started testing his invention through his company, Farmspace Technology.

Local market vendors have reacted favorably, noting a 20% decline in food loss, a 60% increase in profit margin, and an increase in revenue of U.S.$ 900.

“It encourages me to be in the business and provide safe food for all,” Lawal said. 

Akin to this, Fadairo also sought a food safety solution to empower her neighborhood.

She saw farmers and traders frequently employing conventional sun drying to remove extra water from their products while conducting a study on the food supply.

The EatSafe Innovation Challenge is a worldwide competition that aims to increase food safety in conventional markets and supply chains.

Traditional sun drying, however, is ineffective as it speeds up food decomposition and invites pests, bacteria, and mold.

Her portable inflatable tunnel solar dryers are composed of flexible material for easy storage and may be used anywhere.

She demonstrated to the sellers that the dryers increased the shelf life of produce like tomatoes by up to two weeks as she tested them at the local markets. Fadairo hopes to use her portable dryers to influence food policy in Nigeria.

“The impact is longer than the weeks or months we put into this contest. It is a solution for the food industry,” she said.

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