DryCard 2018 Innovator of the Year Award

UC Davis DryCard Invention Wins Chancellor’s Innovators Award to Reduce Food Loss Globally

By Brenda Dawson on May 23, 2018 in Food & Agriculture


A NEW, LOW-COST INVENTION from the University of California, Davis, to help prevent food spoilage has been recognized as a top innovation in advancing food security and health around the world.

This surprisingly simple tool, called the DryCard™, recently earned its research team the 2018 UC Davis Chancellor's Innovators Award. Since launching the DryCard in 2017, the team has built up a network of entrepreneurs and small businesses that have helped to manufacture, sell and distribute more than 10,000 DryCards in places such as Tanzania, Rwanda, Ghana, Guinea, Mexico, Guatemala and Thailand.

The DryCard can show farmers whether their dried food products are dry enough to store safely, reducing food losses and risks of mold and associated toxins.

Last year, the DryCard was introduced on an international stage and beat out more than 200 entries to win the grand prize in the All-Africa Postharvest Technologies and Innovation Challenge at the first All-Africa Postharvest Congress and Exhibition in Kenya. During the challenge, the DryCard and other technologies and innovations were pitched to an audience of about 600, including private investors and international organizations.

“I have never seen such strong interest in a technology like this,” said Elizabeth Mitcham, director of the Horticulture Innovation Lab and a UC Cooperative Extension specialist in postharvest biology for the UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences.

“I think it shows a tremendous need for a solution that can increase awareness of moisture content of dried food products,” said Mitcham, who represented the DryCard during the competition. “This technology has high potential to make an impact — and not only with dried produce and vegetable seeds, which was our original intent.”

She noted that much of the interest in DryCard has come from organizations that also work with staple crops.

“My hope is that we will find entrepreneurs and donors to help us spread this technology, so that every farmer who dries produce has access to it,” she said.


Engineering a solution that costs pennies to make

The DryCard is the brainchild of Mitcham’s UC Davis colleagues Michael Reid and Jim Thompson, who have a history of working together in California and around the world on postharvest technologies to reduce crop losses. During a Horticulture Innovation Lab workshop in Tanzania, Reid tested local dried foods as a class exercise and was driven to action by the magnitude of the problem.

The pair’s solution is about the size of a business card, with a strip of cobalt chloride paper that changes color based on humidity, a color index and directions. With a DryCard and an airtight container, farmers can easily test a sample of their product for dryness in an hour or less.

“The DryCard requires zero calibration and can be reused many times for any kind of food you want to keep free of mold,” Thompson said. “Everything is on the card. The cobalt chloride strip is attached so it’s easy to keep track of, and the color guide is right there.”

A vendor sells fruit at a market in Tanzania. ( Angelos Deltsidis/UC Davis)

Helps farmers reduce molds, toxins in food storage

So far, the Horticulture Innovation Lab has offered samples of the DryCard in multiple languages to researchers who can try the tool out in real-world situations.

Bertha Mjawa was one of the first researchers to test and promote the DryCard in Africa, during her work with the Market Infrastructure, Value Addition and Rural Finance Program of the Tanzania Prime Minister’s Office.

“The DryCard makes a promising solution for African farmers due to its cost effectiveness, clear indicators and ease of use,” Mjawa said. “Both farmers and agricultural experts can benefit from this technology.”

Co-inventors Jim Thompson and Michael Reid work on a drying experiment with kale at the Horticulture Innovation Lab's Demonstration Center at UC Davis. The two designed the DryCard and the chimney solar dryer. (Brenda Dawson/UC Davis)
Michael Reid takes a photo in a market in Tanzania with participants in a postharvest training course, which motivated the eventual design of the DryCard. (Angelos Deltsidis/UC Davis)

DryCard team hoping to spread the innovation

The recent UC Davis award was accompanied by a $10,000 fund and the All-Africa award included a $5,000 prize, to use for promoting and scaling out the DryCard.

The research team is actively connecting with more entrepreneurs and small businesses who are interested in manufacturing and selling the cards.

man holds DryCard in Rwanda Africa
An agricultural technician for the CEFAPEK Cooperative in Kamonyi
District, Southern Province Rwanda, tests the DryCard with beans and maize. (Photo by Seraphin Niyonsenga)

More about the Horticulture Innovation Lab

The Horticulture Innovation Lab builds international partnerships for fruit and vegetable research that improves livelihoods in developing countries in Africa, Asia and Central America. The research program is led by UC Davis with funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development, as part of the U.S. government’s global hunger and food security initiative called Feed the Future. Including the Horticulture Innovation Lab, UC Davis leads four Feed the Future innovation labs focused on improving agriculture to reduce poverty.

By combining a strip of cobalt chloride paper with a color index, the DryCard changes color to indicate whether dried foods are dry enough to store safely, to help reduce the risk of mold growth. (Brenda Dawson/UC Davis)