For a second year in a row, Drake University and the University of Iowa each hosted 25 Mandela Washington Scholars participating in the Young African Leadership Initiative. But this year, they’ll take home with them more than the experiences and lessons gathered during the six-week program. 

On Friday, Des Moines venture capitalist and philanthropist John Pappajohn surprised the delegation by presenting each of them with an Iowa-made solar-powered food dehydrator. The devices were developed by Ames-based KinoSol, a technology company incubated at Iowa State University. 

“Last year, the group said, ‘Have you got something that can help us when we go back to start a little business?' " Pappajohn said. “So that’s where I got the idea. And you know what? It’s up to each one of them to use it, whether they start a new business or give it to someone else. But they all have a chance to do something with it and create some value.” 

Pappajohn presented the gifts during an event held Friday at the John and Mary Pappajohn Education Center in Des Moines. The small-scale dehydrators, which can each hold four trays of diced fresh fruits, vegetables, grains or even insects inside a clear plastic cylinder, dry the foods in about eight to 10 hours in full sunlight. 

KinoSol was organized in 2015 as a specific benefit corporation, a for-profit company with a mission to end post-harvest loss and create entrepreneurial opportunities for subsistence farmers. KinoSol is targeting markets in developing countries where refrigeration is limited or inaccessible. The devices can extend the shelf life of perishable items to as long as six months, said Clayton Mooney, the company’s co-founder and chief financial officer. 

Mooney said that his company has distributed the devices in 20 African countries. With the units that Pappajohn purchased for $130 each, KinoSol will extend its reach to 50 African countries. 

One of the Mandela fellows, Adewale Badejoko of Nigeria, operates a business that addresses food insecurity in African nations and is working with farmers to better prepare and package produce to get it to market. Hearing about the portable dehydrator gave him an idea for developing a niche market in dried foods, which currently doesn’t exist in his country. 

“When I saw the presentation today I was really inspired,” said Badejoko, who noted that about 60 percent of produce grown in Nigeria is wasted. “We produce like elephants and eat like ants,” he said.