Home » Decentralised Cold Storage Technology and Its Prospects for Reducing Post-Harvest Losses (PHL) in Fruits and Vegetables in Africa

Decentralised Cold Storage Technology and Its Prospects for Reducing Post-Harvest Losses (PHL) in Fruits and Vegetables in Africa

by Agritech Digest
decentralised cold-storage-for-fruit-Vegetables - Agritech Digest

Decentralised cold systems can help farmers preserve their produce while they monitor the market for the best price entry. It also serves as a buffer for uncertain times like natural disasters and pandemics.

By Oyewole Okewole

Introduction

Post-harvest losses (PHL) are a major threat to food security in Africa. Post-harvest losses of agricultural produce are categorised under qualitative and quantitative losses. This usually occurs when agricultural produce experiences a reduction in weight due to spoilage, quality loss, nutritional loss, loss in seed viability, and commercial loss. In a continent of ravaging malnutrition and undernourishment, food losses should be an avoidable challenge. An African Development Bank study indicates that about 470 million smallholder farmers and other value chain actors in Africa suffer a decline of at least 15% in income as a result of post-harvest losses. 

Apart from food production and harvesting, it is saddening to note that significant farm products are lost at different sections along the represented value chains, after expending a huge amount of resources during production. In sub-Saharan Africa alone, about 30-50% of food produced is lost in various areas along the value chain. The economic losses can be as high as USD 940 billion annually.

Major food crops groupings like roots and tubers, cereals and grains, oil seeds and nuts, and fruits and vegetables experience different degrees of post-harvest losses, but the most noteworthy is fruits and vegetables, which are estimated to be at approximately 50%. Post-harvest losses negatively affect the food security outlook in Africa, with its ricocheting effect on actors within the value chain including the smallholder farmers, who, in most cases are the most hit by the losses. 
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Distribution of losses at various stages of the supply chain of fruit and vegetables in different regions of the world.

Source: Clean Energy

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Share of global post-harvest losses by commodities.

Source: Clean Energy

The lack of cold storage technology in the food-producing communities has further exacerbated this problem. Farmers growing fruits and vegetables suffer greater setbacks because of the limited shelf life of agricultural produce. Their produce begins to deteriorate, in most cases, rapidly, as soon as they are harvested. 

[Read also: Regenerative Agriculture (Ra), the Prospects, and the Nexus with Agricultural Technology (Agtech)]

Decentralised Cold Storage Technology

Cold storage has the potential to enhance productivity, increase farmers’ income, promote freshness increase the quality of fruits and vegetables, and generally transform the entire value chain for sustainability. Cold storage will help farmers stay in control of their market rather than be at the mercy of uncontrollable market forces.  

However, the infrastructural requirements for cold storage are not accessible to rural producing communities. In most cases, especially in Africa, cold storage is designed for bulk, multi-purpose, commercial and centrally positioned facilities usually in the urban centres. This is largely due to the non-availability of electrical energy from the national grid in these rural producing communities, the high cost of producing said storage facility, and the incurred cost needed to operate the facility. On another hand, rural producing communities find it extremely difficult to transport their perishable products to the cold storage locations due to many other limiting factors like distance, poor road infrastructure, limited cold storage facilities in the central locations, and the high competition for the use of those facilities.

In addition, the high capital investment and cost of cold storage warehouses can only engage commercial quantities of products and not the small individual quantities or aggregated volumes in a particular cluster from smallholder farmers. 

It is against this foregoing that it becomes imperative that an appropriate, small-capacity, decentralised, customised cold storage technology solution is representative and accessible to the rural producing communities. It becomes a crucial step in ensuring food security and food system transformation in Africa.

There is a need for a network of cold storage facilities like cold boxes, freezers, refrigerated trucks, and others, to maintain the required cold storage temperature and conditions of the agricultural produce till they get to the final consumer through transportation, distribution, and retailing.

Decentralised cold storage systems can help farmers preserve their produce while they monitor the market for the best price entry. It also serves as a buffer for uncertain times like natural disasters and pandemics. The barrier of no electrical energy supply in these rural producing communities will be crossed by the advancement of renewable energy interventions. Renewable energy-powered cold storage systems also remove the dependence on fossil fuels and associated costs to operate the facilities in those communities. It is therefore very much possible to operate these storage facilities without any energy interruption. The closer the facilities are to the farm gate, the higher the potential to minimise post-harvest losses.

However, for sustainability measures on the operation of the cold storage facilities, it is imperative to manage them using entrepreneurial business models to cover the operating costs associated with it and also make it a profitable enterprise for all stakeholders. 

There are huge business opportunities in cold storage value chains in Africa. An example of a decentralised cold storage facility is the Solar-Powered cold storage facility.

(Read also: Agritech Companies are Reshaping Agriculture and Sustainable Farming Through Innovation and Technology)

Solar-Powered Cold Storage Facility

Solar-powered cold storage operates by generating energy from the solar panels which is then stored in high-capacity batteries to power the cooling/refrigerating unit. The refrigerating unit produces low-temperature cold air, which creates temperatures adequately required to inhibit microorganisms, usually between 0-15oC, the range needed to refrigerate agricultural produce. Usually, the produce is placed inside crates, while they are stacked to fill up the cold rooms. The cold rooms are further insulated to avoid energy loss and help preserve the energy within the closed refrigerating system.

They usually operate by using the pay-as-you-store model to keep running their business enterprise, while providing value for the farmers and the agriculture ecosystem as a whole.

With this technology, rural producers are safe and protected against huge post-harvest losses, and determine their best period of market entry, while they make higher returns on their investment. The produce can be stored for up to 21 days inside the cold rooms while reducing post-harvest losses by 80% according to ColdHubs – a leading solar-powered cold storage manufacturing company in Nigeria.

Some organisations and cold storage startups operating in the decentralised solar-powered cold storage facilities in Africa include Kivu Cold, Solar Freeze, Koolboks, Nigerian-based ColdHubs, Kenyan-based SokoFresh, and InspiraFarms.

In Conclusion

Cold storage technology is one the best storage solutions for agricultural produce in Africa especially fruits and vegetables. It promises the potential to significantly mitigate post-harvest losses and improve food and nutrition security in Africa. It is pertinent to critically look into the possibilities of robust engagement of these interventions especially in the rural producing communities for production sustainability.

Oyewole Okewole. Agricultural Project Development Specialist

Cover photo from iecooling.com

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