This month, we're switching things up and spotlighting an incredible Israeli researcher and inventor who has created several tech innovations to address post-harvest needs of developing countries. Introducing to you all - the one and only Shlomo Navarro!
How did your journey with post-harvest innovation begin? My journey started many years ago in the early 1960s when we were researching post-harvest storage solutions to solve challenges instigated by Israel’s arid climate. The issue of periodic surpluses of wheat harvest in abundance, thanks to favorable weather conditions in Israel, was presented to me, and we started from there. The first solution we provided was a bubble house with a liner and a fan, but we understood quickly that this was not the answer. In 1964 we created a closed hermetic system – a bio generated atmosphere consisting of oxygen depletion and carbon dioxide enrichment, leading to extinction of insects and preservation of grain. While we found this method successful in preserving the grain, we needed a less costly solution. Through laboratory and field trials over the following 15 years, we searched for different application methods for our hermetic storage – we examined different commodities, capacities, materials, and methods, including underground storage, silos, and bunkers. We were approached in 1990 by Prof. Larry Simon, the General Manager of American Jewish World Service (AJWS), who felt strongly that Jewish people should show how they can contribute to the relief of developing countries. AJWS helped found GrainPro, an American company, with whom I partnered with to manufacture and sell my inventions. GrainPro is now active in over 80 countries. Tell us about your invention! Cocoon storage bags are simple yet effective solutions, made to protect small to large stores of grains and cereals without the addition of chemicals. These bags, which are now called GrainPro Cocoons, have several functions. First, and most importantly is the material. GrainPro Cocoons are made of tough, gas-proof, UV-proof PVC sheeting, made perfect for arid conditions. Once filled with grain and properly sealed, they are now hermetic. Any presence of aerobic (oxygen-dependent ) organisms will naturally generate a modified atmosphere (oxygen depleted and carbon dioxide rich) and soon extinguish any living organisms. We also found a way to speed up this process via our vacuum hermetic fumigation system. Instead of waiting for insects to consume oxygen, this system immediately removes all air from the cocoon’s atmosphere. We found this successful in preserving dried fruits and nuts. How has your invention evolved? Our inventions evolved as the challenges evolved. We learned more and more about the capabilities of hermetic storage based on different contexts and needs, specifically of developing countries. For smallholder farmers, we developed smaller 50 ton cocoons. This was tested and found successful in Sri Lanka, and eventually adapted to a one ton capacity in order to meet even smaller holder farmers’ needs in Africa. On the other hand, we created a mega cocoon for the Philippine government’s emergency rice storage, with the capacity to hold 300 tons and keep rice waterproof and insect free for years. As more countries approached us with challenges, we continued to work with their farmers and communities in order to contextualize our technology to their needs. We created a solution for red chili pepper in Turkey, for coffee bean preservation in South America, for cocoa beans in Indonesia, and a general solution to prevent condensation of products during transport. While working with Mashav in Rwanda, the ministry of agriculture invited me to establish a demonstration site. 12 years later, the Cocoon was opened, and the bags of corn were in perfect condition. Today, hermetic storage method is in worldwide application for preventing condensation in containers, particularly for transport of cocoa beans, seed storage, dried fruit storage, cereal grain storage, pulses storage, large scale storage of cereals like wheat, corn, soybeans and pady rice are among the commodities. Options for applying hermetic storage include bunker storage of 15,000 tonnes capacity in bulk, cocoons from 5 to 1000 tonnes capacity for bags, SuperGrainBags from 60 kg to 1000 kg capacity, Grain Silos of 500 tonnes or 1000 tonnes capacity in bulk, GrainSafe small sillo for 500 to 1000 kg capacity, TranSafeLiners from 20 ft to 40 ft containers capacity. As you can see, our work has greatly evolved in the past decades, offering different solutions for different needs.
What are you working on today? After my retirement from the Israel Agricultural Research Organization in 2005, I continued to develop the thermal disinfestation technology for the Madjool date variety grown in Israel. This technology has fully replaced the need to fumigate the dates using methyl bromide - a chemical that is banned worldwide. I'm proud to say that Israel is globally the only country that has this technology. The other technology I've developed in recent years is the “cold fumigation” technology, including gas-tight fumigation chambers and gas generators that are currently in use for the disinfestation of cut flowers, fresh spices and seedlings to be exported from Israel. Currently I am engaged together with my team in developing a novel technology of fumigation that fully will replace chemical use and will be suitable for the Israeli cut flowers, edible flowers and fresh spices for export. This technology is also important in light of the recent Israeli Government decision to import fresh agricultural products. Israel has no alternative but to use the novel technology I am developing together with the Green Storage team.