Food Preservation in Ghana
This research was conducted as part of an engineering service-learning trip that took place in Kpando, Ghana through a partnership between The Ohio State University and UNiTED NGO, our in-country partner.
My team was tasked with designing for food preservation in Kpando, Ghana using secondary research, primary research, and engineering principles.
Throughout the project, it became evident additional understanding of user needs was necessary. Therefore, a codesign research plan was conducted alongside the building of a solar drier prototype to elevate our understanding of the problem space.
Autumn 2019 & Winter Break 2019
The program is set up as a semester-long portion followed by an in-country trip. The program consists of a three-year cycle that involves an inspiration year, an ideation year, and an implementation year. During the inspiration year, initial primary research was conducted to gather information on the scope of the various food economic systems in Kpando, Ghana. Based on this research and request from UNiTED, a focus on improving food preservation methods for okra, garden egg, and mango was recommended.
Based on the information collected from the previous year's research, the team decided to prototype solar drying technology as a means of preservation for the inspiration year.
However, it was evident that there was still important missing information, so a co-design research plan was developed to fill in those holes.
For this project, I worked on building the prototype, designing the co-design research methodology, conducting interviews, photographing interviews, and analyzing the data.
This prototype is based off of engineering capstones of a similar variety. The intent of this is to offer an off the grid preservation method that can be scaled up or down based on its users. When tested in country, the prototype (or Stella, as we now call her as proud parents) cut down the drying time of okra from seven days to three days.
The information gathered in the first "inspiration" year offered our team knowledge on select methods of food preservation in Kpando. These methods include modern refrigerators and coolers used by a select few members and organizations of the community.
However, while this information proved prudent, we realized we needed further knowledge about the food preservation techniques used by the average and lower income farmers and members of the community.
Understand the current methods of preservation for okra, garden egg, and mango at the farm and household level
Visualize the systems in place surrounding these methods including who is involved, who is in charge, and why the systems are in place
Generate future solutions based on feedback from initial prototype.
For our research, we conducted 8 interviews with users ranging from local community members to farmers.
A guided journey method was chosen to inform researchers about:
How farmers are planting, harvesting, storing, and selling okra
How average households consume and store okra
Social Networking Map
A social networking map was chosen to visualize the different systems and players involved in the information gathered from the guided journey
A prototype analysis that involves a prep tool and a make tool was chosen to:
Gather user feedback and generate future ideas
Understand how a new preservation system could fit into the current environment of Kpando
Potential for Expansion
Overall, the community members were excited about the potential of the product. They said the device could be useful to preserve okra as well as other food items such as garden egg, peppers, and even fish
Users said there could be an opportunity for a member of the community to take over the business of making and selling the device. Additionally, they also expressed interest in being able to buy a disassembled version to put together themselves IKEA style.
Rainy Day Consideration
In terms of form, the community members felt that considering how the device would function in the rain is important. Some suggestions they had were adding wheels so they can roll it inside if it rains, as well as adding a cover if nobody is home when it starts to rain. Also, the Participants differed on what size the device should be; some liked it the size it was while others wanted it to be larger to be able to dry more items at once.
Lastly, based on the information gathered, it seems that right now there is more of a place for the device at the household level than at the farm level. In the future, it would be beneficial to look into how we might bridge that gap.
What I learned
Run a pilot test
Running a pilot test before conducting the methods is incredibly important to ensure that your point gets across. During some of the activities, the meaning of what we wanted the participants to do got lost in translation. While the information we obtained still proved useful, it would be more beneficial to do a test run with the translator ahead of time.
Flexibility and adaptability are key
You have to be flexible when conducting research in the field. There are times when things happen and you may have to deviate from the original plan and that's okay. I think learning how to be flexible and adapt to different situations that may arise is incredibly important especially when working in unfamiliar circumstances.
Reevaluation of Social Networking Map
I would have liked to reevaluate the social networking map method. When it was conducted in the field, it felt a little unnecessary and as though the full point of what we wanted the participants to do with the cards was missed. Most participants got caught up in the gender of the person involved in the task and neglected to write the name or their role. In the future, it may be beneficial to have the participants draw the people involved themselves to get a more accurate understanding of the power dynamics and social relationships that exist in the matter.