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Solar powered cold-rooms to cut losses for small scale farmers in Nigeria
For over a decade now, Nnaemeka Ikegwuonu has been producing radio shows for smallholder farmers in the rural southern region of Nigeria. These agricultural programmes are broadcasted on the Smallholders Farmers Rural Radio – a community station he established in 2003, when he was just 21 years old.
As a vegetable farmer himself, Ikegwuonu has first-hand experience of the huge post-harvest losses incurred because of a lack of cold storage. In Nigeria, it is estimated about 60% of smallholder farmers’ fruits and vegetables spoil due to inadequate storage and agro-processing facilities.
Ikegwuonu is addressing this challenge with ColdHubs – a solar-powered walk-in cold-room solution aimed at farmers, retailers, and wholesalers. The cold rooms are installed at major food production and consumption centres, such as markets and farms.
For-profit solution to post-harvest losses
After Ikegwuonu’s was inspired by a cabbage seller, he began looking at different business models to create a lasting solution to post-harvest losses.
In 2014, Ikegwuonu and his team at Smallholders Foundation, a social enterprise he started 15 years ago, began a research project that led to the building of the first solar-powered cold room. He travelled to Dresden, Germany to meet with scientists, and together they came up with a design in three weeks.
“The research was done within the Smallholders Foundation vision and when we successfully validated the technology to become a business model, we decided to [take] it out from Smallholders Foundation to become a for-profit venture with social impact,” he explains.
With ColdHubs, Ikegwuonu and his team design, assemble, install and operate solar-powered walk-in cold rooms that enable small-scale farmers, retailers, and wholesalers to extend the shelf-life of perishable fruits and vegetables from two to 21 days.
“It is a very robust system that is culturally and environmentally friendly,” explains Ikegwuonu. “The cold rooms run on solar panels during the day. The energy stored in the battery during the day is used for night-time cooling.”
“We make sure that these batteries are robust and for this, we buy the best of batteries from the number one producers of batteries in the world. This is necessary because each time you compromise on the quality of the part, you compromise the quality of service delivery.”
In the beginning ColdHubs had to educate small-scale farmers on the benefits of storing their fruits and vegetables in a cold room.
The company currently has five cold rooms in operation, with three situated at markets in Imo state and another two hubs in Kano state in northern Nigeria. In addition, ColdHubs built a cold room for a company in Lagos, and is currently working on another 10 units for markets in Katsina and Imo states.
Publication date: 9/19/2017
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