Food loss in AfricaIn developing countries around the world, small-scale farmers see up to 80% post-harvest losses on their fresh produce. The most significant factor contributing to this large-scale food loss in Africa is the lack of proper cold storage facilities. Most small-scale rural farmers do not find refrigeration feasible due to unreliable sources of local electricity, the high cost of conventional cooling and the lack of technical knowledge.

Growing up in the rural Kenyan village of Machakos, Dysmus Kisilu witnessed firsthand how smallholder farmers struggled financially, losing 40-60% of their harvest due to the lack of refrigeration. When food losses are at such a high rate, food security also becomes an issue. About 30% of Kenya’s population faces food insecurity and poor nutrition each year, and agricultural food loss in Africa plays a significant role.

Kisilu wanted to utilize his knowledge and skills in renewable energy to make an impact on small-scale farmers, specifically women and youth, and food insecurity in Kenya. After studying solar-powered solutions to post-harvest losses at UC Davis in 2016, he developed Solar Freeze – a company that provides mobile solar-powered cold storage units for small-scale farmers.

Solar Freeze

Solar Freeze includes four innovative technologies within its system:

  1. Mobile Solar-Powered Cold Rooms – The Solar Freeze units are portable cold storage units that derive their source of energy from solar power. This off-grid solution allows small-scale farmers to store their temperature-sensitive produce like fruits, vegetables and dairy products in a temperature-controlled environment to ensure longer shelf life and maintain freshness.
  2. Cold Storage as a Service – Smallholder farmers and traders can use the Solar Freeze app and SMS service to locate the nearest mobile cold storage unit. Through the use of mobile and cash payments, farmers can pay for Solar Freeze’s storage service for affordable rates, saving costs in spoiled food, refrigeration hardware and physical storage space.
  3. Cold-Chain Distribution, Logistics and Transportation – Solar Freeze’s mission is to provide not only cold storage but also refrigerated transportation. Small-scale farmers should eventually be able to move smaller amounts of produce more frequently and cheaply with a cold storage “Ubering” service that does not require an internet connection to place shipping orders.
  4. Solar Freeze Mobile App and IoT Monitoring – Farmers will be able to monitor real-time data from the cold storage management system through the Solar Freeze app and IoT platform installed within the cold storage units.

Implementation in Kenya

Solar Freeze takes on a micro-franchise business model that aims to integrate its technology and knowledge with village women and youth. The goal is to get more women to own and operate the cold storage units as independent micro-franchisee entrepreneurs. Through the micro- franchise model, Solar Freeze will supply women smallholder farmers and their communities with solar-powered cold storage units and provide resources, training and mentorship to operate the units and grow their agribusinesses.

Solar Freeze has also created a youth empowerment program called Each One Teach One. The program, already training 50 youth, teaches the younger generation how to work with the cold storage equipment as well as solar irrigation. They learn the entirety of the solar-powered technology to repair and maintain the machinery. Students then teach others in their community the skills that they learned.

The innovative technology and implementation of Solar Freeze aim to transform rural agriculture in Africa, making agribusiness more efficient and profitable. It also plans to aid in ending women and youth unemployment, food loss and hunger in Kenya and Africa.

Future of Solar Freeze

Solar Freeze has currently tested its technology and business model with 3,000 smallholder farmers in Kenya. Out of the 3,000 farmers, 90% reported that there was a reduction in post-harvest losses. Kisilu plans to impact 30,000 farmers with Solar Freeze by 2030. The impact Solar Freeze can have on smallholder farmers and the surrounding communities could be a massive stride in revolutionizing farming and ending hunger and food loss in Africa for future generations.

Dalton Dunning
Photo: Flickr