Did you know the amount of food loss in Africa exceeds the total value of food aid received in Sub Saharan Africa over the last decade? These estimates by the World Bank further reveal significant volumes of food are lost after harvest. Ironically, food insecurity is still a menace affecting more than 100 million people, a situation worsened by severe drought in some parts of the Continent such as Horn of Africa, crop failures, conflicts, changing weather patterns and poor post-handling practices by different stakeholders along the food value chain.
A lot of attention is centered towards increasing food production as compared to efforts on reducing food loss and food waste. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), 1.3 billion tons of food is lost or wasted annually while 870 million people go hungry in Africa. Some of the major causes of food loss include: poor handling of produce at farm level, processing, packaging and during transport. Insufficient knowledge of post-harvest technologies and handling practices is also a contributing factor.
Agriculture is inherently a risky business because its products are perishable; meaning its likely to spoil, decay or become unsafe for consumption if not stored well. This necessitates the use of cold storage equipments to prolong shelf life of agricultural produce while preventing food loss and increasing income for farmers and traders. Cold storage involves use of renewable energy/electric equipment to preserve perishable food such as fruits, vegetables, milk and meat from going bad due to unwanted fungi or pathogens. With cold storage equipments, one can regulate temperature ideal for the product being refrigerated, transport it to different markets (local & international) without fear of spoilage, its cost effective and facilitates a longer shelf life for different agriculture/livestock value addition products. Traditional methods of food preservation included: drying, salting, frying, fermentation and smoking.
The Food Loss Reduction Advantage Report by IFAD recommends linking farmers to profitable markets for them to invest in reducing losses; increased support to farmers and traders for them to acquire affordable cold storage equipment’s, improved transport infrastructure to access markets and reduce risk of damaging produce, an enabling environment that supports food loss reduction into government(s) national agricultural strategies and lastly, training of farmers on good post-harvest handling and storage of crops will contribute to reduction in food loss.
These GoGettaz have been on the forefront with cold storage innovations that harness renewable energy to preserve and prolong shelf life of agricultural/livestock produce. The cold storage equipments are affordable, and farmers can focus on increasing their production without fear of food spoilage which contributes to a reduction of their income.
ColdHubs – Nigeria
Nigeria has a tropical climate characterized by high temperatures and relative humidity which can contribute to food spoilage through fungal or bacteria decay if not stored well, forcing farmers and traders to sell their surplus food products at throw away prices to avoid huge losses.
Open air markets are common however, the number of cold storage facilities are insufficient due to unreliable electricity supply; this affects farmers, retailers and food supply chain actors leading to reduced incomes due to food spoilage.
“ColdHubs” a scale-up by Bright Benjamin Igbokwe provides refrigeration services at food production and consumption centers enabling farmers/traders to store, preserve food and extend shelf life of their agricultural products from 2-21 days. The produce is placed in clean plastic crates which are stacked inside the cold room and payment plan comprises pay-as-you store subscription model and a daily flat rate for each crate of food they store.
ColdHubs bear the capital cost of deploying the cold rooms, saving farmers and traders the cost of buying their own unit which is very expensive.
The solar powered walk-in cold room is made of 120mm insulating cold room panels to retain cold. Energy from solar panels mounted on the roof-top of the cold room are stored in high-capacity batteries, which feed into an inverter and then the refrigerating unit.
Today, the startup has successfully installed and commissioned 14 ColdHubs serving up to 615 farmers. Security, however, is their biggest concern as ColdHubs are designed to be installed in outdoor markets. To prevent theft, the team only deploys the hubs where there is adequate security.
Solar Freeze – Kenya
Solar Freeze is a pioneering mobile cold storage unit powered by renewable energy with an aim of serving rural smallholder farmers. Developed by Dysmus Kisilu, solar freeze is a one stop turnkey portable off-grid toolkit for localized food production containing a complete ecosystem of smart farm technologies to enhance agricultural productivity, from 3kWp solar power and micro-drip irrigation to solar powered cold storage enabling small holder farmers reduce their post-harvest loss and increase their income by selling their produce at optimum prices as opposed to previously when circumstances forced them to sell their products cheaply due to fear of losses as a result of spoilage.
Users can regulate the temperature of their products and use the solar powered cold rooms to transport fresh produce via energy efficient trucks to reach consumers. Its milk dispensing ATM’s machine harnesses renewable energy.
Using its micro franchise model, Solar Freeze empowers youth and women to own and operate the solar powered IoT ‘Smartfarm’ kits and the portable solar powered cold storage units. This model and approach enable rural prosperity through productive equipment access.
Solar Freeze has led to reduced food loss and waste of fresh produce, increased income to women and youth; elimination of diesel-powered generators, availability of cheap fresh produce and use of eco-friendly recyclable bottles when purchasing milk.
Baridi – Solar powered Cooling in East Africa’s Livestock Value Chain
In 2018, Tracy Kimathi, Founder of Baridi (meaning cold in Swahili) developed a solar mini-grid whose immediate value was to provide clean, affordable electricity to rural pastoralists in Kenya. It is during this time that she realized meat preservation was a challenge by many and embarked on a journey of expanding off-grid solar preservation within East Africa’s meat markets with an aim to assess whether cold storage facilities for beef and dairy storage are beneficial and financially viable application as a driver of food security in livestock value-chains.
The solar powered cold rooms target commercial urban meat vendors; individual specification includes: 5kWp stand-alone solar energy generation, 18kWh Lithium-Ion battery storage and a 20ft containerized cold storage facility. The cold rooms have the potential to preserve over 292,000kg of meat annually, decrease 30% post-slaughter losses, 50% increase in product lifespan and add a yearly economic benefit of €5250 for a vendor renting 1m3 of cold space.
Baridi has led to provision of quality standardized and locally sourced meat to 18,500 households, increased income and reduction of post-harvest losses, job creation, self-generation of electricity through solar PV.
BMTA&C – Morocco
In Morocco, the scenario is similar to other African countries where inadequate storage facilities force farmers to sell their surplus products which are not stored in cold rooms at very low prices to avoid spoilage. Perturbed by this situation Boutaina, Mounir, Sara, Benlafqih and Carl, co-founders of BMTA&C developed an off-grid cold storage solution which does not require electricity. This has enabled farmers to store their harvests and preserve their quality over a long term, thus promoting food security through off-grid cold storage solutions as well improving their post-harvest handling habits leading to increased incomes. BMTA&C have also adopted a natural refrigerant that represents a green alternative for its minimal levels of Ozone Depletion Potential and Global Warming Potential.
Farmers and traders pay for the cold storage units using pay as you use business model which includes a daily rental fee for every crate stored and a fixed competitive fee for those storing their products for a longer period.
To enhance efficiency, BMTA&C has digitized its business management operations which is also available offline through USSD for those who do not have smartphones. Digitization enhances safety during payment and clients access extra services remotely. Plans are underway to address challenges in the supply chain such as access to capital and insurance services.
Solaristique – Nigeria
Nigeria’s annual food losses is over 12 billion USD, a worrying trend attributed to inadequate cold storage units and worsened by unstable power supply.
Nnaedozie George Idoko, founder of Solaristique, provides cold storage services using recycled old freezers and refrigerators which are converted into solar-powered coolers/freezers to help reduce food losses and food waste. The solar coolers are double chambered, making it possible to last for days without adequate sunlight hence ideal for off-grid applications and requires no battery backup.
This has led to a reduction of GHG emissions because food is stored in the solar freezers. Spoilt food emits methane gasses which are 12 times more potent than carbon. Through recycling, the team reduces electronic waste from refrigerators, freezers, and air conditioners which are assembled to make the solar freezers.
One of its products ‘Ayogu’ is a detachable tricycle mobile solar freezer specially designed for cooling drinks, dairy products enroute to markets, stalls, or homes. Once at the destination, the freezer and the solar panel can easily be detached from the tricycle enabling consumers to get fresh products. This prototype model is a 150 litre capacity and can be scaled up to 1000 liters capacity.
Some unique features of the coolers/freezers include Internet of Things (IoT) and a management information system (MIS) that helps track food loss reduction data while using the solar freezers. Plans are underway to monetize these data which can be traded in the carbon market using blockchain technology.
Solaristique generates its revenue from sale of solar freezers, conversion of normal freezers to solar freezers, and after-sales support. Additional revenue is made from sale of bricks, interlocks, and roofing sheets made from plastic wastes.
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Written by Sharon Anyango