Harvesting with SMART Solar Dryer Prototype 2.0: Innovation Scaled Across Sabah, Sarawak, and Pahang

Amidst the pastoral landscapes of rural Malaysia, a technological model for sustainable development stands tall.

July 3, 2024
Local innovation, global support

The SMART solar dryer, a product of the Japan Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Innovation Challenge in 2021, was first prototyped in 2022 to address food supply chain and disaster risk reduction. The solar dryer was developed as part of a collaboration between the UNDP Malaysia Accelerator Lab, AGC Green-Tech, and TONIBUNG (‘ Friends of Village Development’), an indigenous-led non-profit group in Sabah, Malaysia, with funding support from the Japanese Cabinet Office (JCO) and the Japan Innovation Network (JIN). The SDGs Innovation Challenge has been instrumental in identifying and co-creating solutions to address local development issues with the participation of the Japanese private sector.

The first edition of the SMART solar dryer prototype was developed for communal use in rural communities to partially replace conventional oven drying. The SMART solar dryer aims to cut energy use and food waste while making it easier to get agricultural products from local communities to bigger markets. Built in Sabah, Malaysia, it is made with local materials and can be taken apart for ease of transportation in remote areas. In addition to this, it uses simple technology to improve air flow and prevent mould growth, unlike earlier versions of solar dryers.

Phase 2 of the Project: SMART Solar Dryer Prototype 2.0

In 2023, UNDP Malaysia Accelerator Lab worked with the same partners on the second phase of this project for SMART Solar Dryer Prototype 2.0, thanks to additional funding from the Japan Cabinet Office (JCO), in partnership with the UNDP Japan Unit and UNDP Accelerator Labs.

Building upon the accomplishments of the first phase, significant enhancements were made to the prototype of the SMART (Small Modular Air Recirculating Technology) Solar Dryer. This innovative technology was subsequently scaled up and deployed across three diverse locations: Rompin in Pahang, Keningau in Sabah, and Lawas in Sarawak. Global Peace Foundation was our collaborative partner in Pahang.

Women engineer, Vera Samunding and women electrician, Grace Tio designed and tested the solar dryer in the workshop before deploying it on-site for assembly with the community.

UNDP Malaysia

The upgraded SMART Solar Dryer now boasts enhanced capabilities, enabling it to expedite the drying process significantly. What once took 24 hours can now be accomplished in just 8 hours. Advancements in energy efficiency have also been achieved, contributing to reduced operational costs. This was made possible through the utilisation of cheaper yet durable materials like aluminium in the construction process. Moreover, the quality of the dried products also saw notable improvement, ensuring a higher standard to meet market demands.

But the true essence of progress lies not just in innovation but in empowering communities. Over 50 farmers and microentrepreneurs (90% of them are women) from the informal sector underwent comprehensive training programs. These initiatives, conducted by TONIBUNG and Moyog Innovation House, not only focused on maintaining the dryer but also imparted invaluable knowledge on food processing and marketing techniques.

Community members were trained to operate the SMART solar dryer and to process and dry produces from their farms from the from the workshop led by Juddy Lasius from MIH.

UNDP Malaysia

This project bears resemblance to the endeavours undertaken in Phase 1. However, it stands out with its latest improvements, demonstrating a steadfast commitment to innovation and sustainable development, with support from partners. The results of the second phase of testing show that the improvements made to the solar dryer design have been successful in increasing its drying capacity and efficiency. The preheat function of the Solar Dome has contributed to higher temperatures and faster drying times. It also allows for drying products at higher volume and with higher moisture content. The weight reduction and improved trays have also enhanced the overall performance of the solar dryer. Overall, the quality of the dried goods produced using the solar dryer in the second phase of testing is very high. The next steps would likely involve further testing and refinement of the design to optimise its performance even further.

Locals from Keningau proudly showcasing the dried produces from the SMART solar dryer and final packaged products ready to be sold to the market.

UNDP Malaysia

The solar dryer innovation workshop was successful in providing participants with hands-on experience in solar dryer technology, enhancing their skills in sustainable agriculture and product processing. The workshop also generated immediate economic benefits, with participants earning approximately RM120-200 from the sale of dried products in each booth event per month. The workshop fostered community engagement in sustainable practices and economic development, setting a foundation for future initiatives. The workshop also exemplifies the integration of sustainable technologies with traditional practices such as composting for holistic community empowerment.