PHL Scholars: Learning to look past a high-tech solution to find the best one

Educating future generations of postharvest loss researchers and practitioners is an important part of ADMI’s mission. To that end, ADMI developed the Postharvest Loss Reduction Scholarship (PHL Scholar) program that funds master’s and doctoral students conducting cutting-edge postharvest loss-related research in different departments at the College of ACES. Over the past few years, these University of Illinois students have been making important contributions to ADMI-funded research projects in addition to their own work.

By Amir Jafari, PHL Scholar

I entered Tabriz University to major in Mechanics of Agricultural Machinery (MAM) in 2006. I chose this particular area as I found it challenging and creative enough to apply mechanics to the environment of daily living. Four years of undergraduate study shaped my academic personality and led to my pursuing graduate studies at Shiraz University in 2011. It was like entering a land of opportunity, and I took each and every opportunity that came my way. I acquired solid knowledge from courses such as Advanced Mathematics, Finite Element Methods, and Computer Programming (in MATLAB), all of which equipped me to follow my interests in novel and advanced food process engineering and modeling. I worked on “Technology Development and Modeling of Paddy Drying in an Ultrasound-Assisted Fluidized Bed Dryer” for my master’s dissertation. The main goal of that work was to investigate the drying kinetics of paddy rice in a combined high power ultrasound assisted-fluidized dryer and to study dried grain quality under ultrasound treatment.

I started my Ph.D. at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2018 under the supervision of Professor Kent Rausch. ADMI generously funded my study on STR dryers, which are widely used in developing countries with small farms. Before I start working on STR dryers, we conducted a study on evaluating low-cost grain moisture meters. The results were presented in several academic conferences such as ASABE (linked below), NC-213, and Corn Processing Workshop. Apart from acquiring technical experience and engaging in academic settings, I had excellent communication with leading universities that developed the meters, such as the University of California-Davis (DryCard) and Kansas State University (GT-200 meter).

Before I came to the University of Illinois, my knowledge of postharvest loss was very basic. Now my perspective has changed. I learned how the limitations of developing countries play a vital role in preventing postharvest losses. I was looking to apply advanced and complex technologies to solve drying problems, but after engaging with the STR dryer and reading previous studies, it became clear that a simple issue could turn into a challenging task when considering developing countries’ limitations. In other words, only when we have enough information about farmers’ needs in those areas can we practice and implement postharvest prevention policies. I believe being creative is the answer to many questions that I was looking to resolve, not cutting-edge technologies.

For example, if we come up with a high-tech solution for drying purposes meant for developing countries, the problem might be resolved to some extent, but farmers cannot afford to own that piece of equipment. Therefore, before taking any steps to address postharvest issues, I will keep in mind the barriers and limitations of developing countries. A simple solution for a problem requires sophisticated approaches and thorough study.

It is my goal to introduce a new modification to the STR dryer so that smallholder farmers will be able to dry crops other than paddy rice and prevent losses.  Another benefit to being an ADMI PHL scholar was the opportunity to interact with scholars from Bangladesh Agricultural University, Global Good, and other scholars in the same research area to learn about their insights. I acknowledge ADMI’s generous support for postharvest loss prevention, including my research at University of Illinois.

Read about the work of other PHL Scholars: Ruben Chavez, Loren Steinman, and Gowthami Venkateswaran

Research publications:

Jafari, Amir, et al. “Evaluation of Moisture Meters Suited for Developing Countries.” 2020 ASABE Annual International Virtual Meeting, July 13-15, 2020, American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers, 2020.

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