Mobile refrigerated units, powered using solar energy, are providing farmers with an opportunity to preserve their produce at a convenient time and place.
Solar-powered cold storage units are being used by over 2,000 fruit and vegetable farmers in eastern Kenya to reduce post-harvest losses and gain better access to local markets. Set up in 2016, agri-tech company Solar Freeze has established easily accessible, mobile cold rooms, located in rural areas for farmers to store their produce before being transported to market. Farmers are thus able to harvest their crops at a convenient time, and seek suitable markets, whilst their produce is preserved. According to company director, Dysmus Kisilu, the green energy innovation has seen a 40-60% reduction in post-harvest losses among its users.
Farmers pay KSh 10-30 (€0.09-0.26) per crate stored in the cold units, depending of the type of produce delivered, which tends to include avocado, carrot, garlic, mango, onion, passion fruit, peas, peppers, potatoes and spinach. The company tries to ensure as many farmers as possible can access the units when required, with each being able to store up to 4 t of produce. Solar Freeze uses a platform to inform farmers of any available space in the units and how the unit is functioning. “It works by using a sensor installed in the cold rooms. The information includes updates about the temperature level of a particular cold room,” says Kisilu. Using this system, Solar Freeze is also able to calculate when and how much farmers need to pay.
Working with local mobile phone companies SAFARICOM and AIRTEL, Solar Freeze has created a free app for farmers to connect with buyers, transport services and agricultural extension experts. Buyers and transporters, for instance, receive details on the quantity of produce that is available in the cold units and ready for delivery to markets. In addition, farmers can access an ‘Uber’-style pick-up service to deliver their goods – either from the units or directly from their farms – to the markets. Farmers enter their name and location into the Solar Freeze app and, depending on the produce amount, the service costs between €0.45 and €1.8 per transfer.
According to Kisilu,
farmers using the refrigerated units are moving away from diesel-powered
generators for cold storage, hence reducing environmental impacts. “Food waste
is an economic issue as well as an issue for climate change, as it is a big
contributor to greenhouse gas emissions globally, which we’re mitigating
through utilising solar,” he says.