The 2022 Cisco Youth Leadership Award Winner Uses Sun Power to Cut Food Waste and Lift Up Women Farmers

Growing up in India’s Himalayan region, Nidhi Pant, the daughter of a scientist father with a farming background, saw the communities around her figure out how to procure water and provide food security following devastating floods and landlides.

After witnessing the resilience they required to recover from natural disasters over and over again, Pant went on to become a chemical engineer-turned-farmer-turned-entrepreneur herself.

“There is a very strong sense of community where I come from,” Pant told Global Citizen. “Don’t do anything at the cost of nature and also be very close to people, the group is greater than the individual. I thought that my scientific knowledge could be useful in the service of the souls of people.”

Pant saw an opportunity to apply her background to rebuild communities. She co-founded the Indian food preservation organization S4S Technologies in 2008 with six other college friends. S4S’s food processing machines help farmers decrease food waste, increase profits, and take ownership of their businesses.

Now, Pant has been awarded the 2022 Global Citizen Prize: Cisco Youth Leadership Award for her and S4S’s contribution toward ending extreme poverty by helping mitigate climate change, end hunger, and empowered women.

The Cisco Youth Leadership Award, which comes with a prize of $250,000 for the organization, recognizes and lifts up a young person positively impacting the world and demonstrates how young people are helping achieve the United Nations’ Global Goals.

S4S’s food processing machines help farmers decrease food waste, increase profits, and take ownership of their businesses.
Image: Photo by Yogesh Chavan

S4S — which stands for “Science for Society” — provides smallholder farmers with solar conduction dryers (SCDs), solar-powered machines that dehydrate food and preserve produce for up to one year without chemicals or preservatives. By limiting food waste, the organization is reducing methane in the environment and moving toward a carbon-neutral food system.

S4S is also currently working with over 800 women farmers who do not own their land to become micro-entrepreneurs. The organization has helped farmers escape poverty by increasing the profits of farmers-turned-entrepreneurs by 60% to 110%. What’s more, S4S has supplied over 1 million people with nutrition-rich food and saves 37,000 metric tons of CO2 annually.

“Few people have access to capital, technology, and market. So we are providing that to the farmers,” Pant said.

Whenever Pant and her team visited farms or markets in India, they noticed major food losses caused by lack of transportation, or the appearance of the produce. Sometimes transportation costs can be higher than the value of the produce, and farmers often end up throwing out produce instead of taking it to the market, Pant explained. Farmers either have to increase their income or usually decrease their costs, and the burden falls on customers.

Sun drying is a traditional practice in India most commonly used for chiles or mangoes but S4S’s SCDs are a game-changing device. The technology allows farmers to dehydrate their produce on their farms without outsourcing, and the solar-powered machines are not labor-intensive. Preserving produce gives farmers the option to store their yields to sell later or use it for their own consumption throughout the year.

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