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

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

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 2011 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 empower 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 and smallholder women farmers 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, handling, 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 decrease their costs, and the burden usually falls on customers. 

S4S is also currently working with over 800 women farmers who do not own their land to become micro-entrepreneurs.
Image: Photo by Yogesh Chavan

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.

While piloting their services, the need to empower women farmers to benefit from the organization’s technology and support became immediately clear.

“If you think of a farmworker, it is always a male,” Pant said. “But when you see on the field who’s working, it’s always the woman who’s managing the household and also working at the farm.”

“If you think of a farmworker, it is always a male,” Pant said. “But when you see on the field who’s working, it’s always the woman who’s managing the household and also working at the farm.”
Image: Photo by Yogesh Chavan

Women farmers make up 60% of the agricultural labor force in India, yet they are often restricted to the growing crops stage of the agricultural value chain and are not involved in the post-harvest process, she explained. 

During the S4S pilot programs, women farmers were the most diligent in handling food. They did not cut corners on quality and following protocols. Still, women farmers are forced to rely on men to make the major decisions about their farms, take out a loan, or provide an upfront investment.

In contrast, S4S allows women farmers to become entrepreneurs without the approval of their families. 

Pant has witnessed the sexism and discrimination within the agriculture industry firsthand. There is often an assumption that a woman’s business belongs to her husband or that food is another responsibility that comes naturally to women but does not require skill or science, she said. Her intentions for becoming an entrepreneur are often questioned and undermined.

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.
Image: Photo by Yogesh Chavan

“They feel like women are just doing this as a hobby. Why would you run a business? They don’t believe that,” Pant said.

Empowering women farmers can also be seen as taboo, but to her, the benefits are worth it.

“Why not give them a dignified way of working so that they are now the breadwinners in the family?” Pant said. “They have more power in the decision making in the family and you really help them actually find that agency. She’s not eating last. There’s enough food in the family. She’s taking care of the health, education, and food nutrition of the family.”

Pant hopes the Cisco Youth Leadership Award shines a light on S4S’s work and inspires other women in agriculture. The prize funds will deepen the organization’s impact by allowing them to work with 1,200 more micro-entrepreneurs this year.

“The exposure, the prize money, the support actually enables our farmers and motivates them by showing them there is a global platform that recognizes their work,” Pant said.

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.
Image: Photo by Yogesh Chavan

Join Pant in taking action here.

TopicsGender EqualityIndiaFood WasteFarmersSustainable AgricultureAgricultureEntrepreneurshipGlobal Citizen PrizeWomen FarmersCisco Youth Leadership AwardGlobal Citizen Prize: Cisco Youth Leadership AwardSmallholder farmersGlobal Citizen Prize 2022Nidhi Pant